Quite possibly one of the most unsettling bars in the world can be found on top of a beautiful mountain in Bavaria. The setting is majestic: spectacular sweeping views over the mountains looking towards Austria should provide the perfect backdrop to a cold glass of Müchner Sommer pilsner.
But the atmosphere, even on a warm summer’s afternoon, is undeniably chilling. For this beer garden was once Adolf Hitler’s home, Kehlsteinhaus, known the world over as the Eagle’s Nest.
After the destruction of Nazi Germany, one of the problems facing the occupying forces was what to do with its buildings. One particular worry was that in preserving places as monuments, they run the risk of becoming future shrines for neo-Nazis to visit.
Hitler’s bunker in Berlin was buried under an unmarked car park; the Nüremberg rally grounds became five-a-side football pitches surrounded by long distance lorry parking. Hitler’s grand home in Bavaria, the Berghof was dynamited into brick dust. But no one could quite bring themselves to destroy the spectacular Eagle’s Nest, so it was turned into a restaurant and beer garden, with little mention of its former owner.
As the Allies rushed through Western Europe following the German defeat on D-Day, one of the grand prizes to be taken was the infamous Eagle’s Nest. Seen as one of the jewels in the Nazi crown, Hitler’s home that soared over 6,000 feet high in the Alps was situated atop the Obersalzberg mountains in one of the most beautiful parts of Bavaria, overlooking the small town of Berchtesgaden.
In fact the Eagle’s Nest is so high up, Hitler hardly ever set foot in it. Rumoured to suffer from chronic claustrophobia and vertigo, Hitler preferred to spend his time in his opulent mansion further down the mountain, the infamous Berghof.
Getting to the Eagle’s Nest is quite the experience – the steepest mountain road in Germany is only accessible by special 4×4, and those only take you half way up. At the end of the road is a tunnel, cut into the mountain side. Venture in and you’ll find a gleaming brass elevator. With reserve power still supplied by a U-Boat engine, the elevator would Hitler and his guests to the summit.
Who captured the Eagle’s Nest is still debated; the French claim it was their 2nd Armoured Division who made it inside first, whilst the US argue it was Easy Company of the 101st Airborne.
The US Army kept hold of the Eagle’s Nest until the 1960s, when it was handed back to the West German government, along with the problem of what to do with it.
Walking through the marble floors and rooms is undoubtedly eerie. The Eagle’s Nest was designed as a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler, commissioned and overseen by Martin Bormann. The house itself is fairly modest, but luxuriously decorated; the red marble fireplace was a gift from Mussolini.
The beer garden leads out to the peak of the mountain. Climb to the highest point, and you’re afforded spectacular views over Germany and Austria, with the Eagle’s Nest in the foreground. It is so beautiful, for a second you can almost forget who used to live here.
What You’re Having: the Hofbrau Müchner Sommer. The Eagle’s Nest Historical Tours is first rate, offering a four hour in depth exploration of not just the Eagle’s Nest, but of Obersalzberg as well, the mountain side retreat of the Nazi party.