A favorite spot was Nurnberg, with its old medieval walled city and its world renowned Christkindlemarket, a wonderland of food, drink and shopping gifts open during the Christmas season. I also enjoyed travel to Hamburg where I saw a wonderfully modern city that had grown out of the rubble of its nearly total destruction in World War II.
No part of Deutschland, however, can compare in my opinion with the Alps in Southern Bavaria. The contrast between the craggy rocks with snow and the deep greenery of the lower woodlands and meadows with a deep blue sky backdrop is breathtaking. And one particularly interesting place deep in the German Alps is the Eagles Nest, or Kehlsteinhaus, a great source of one of the twentieth century's most important stories although a shameful one.
Eagles Nest was the special mountaintop retreat for Adolph Hitler, built by Martin Bormann especially for Hitler's fiftieth birthday. It was designed to be used as a place for the Fuhrer and his top brass to relax and have ceremonies and parties away from the war zone, particularly as the Allies began their invasion.
Set on the top of a peak, Kehlstein Mountain, high above the Obersalzburg and not far from the Austrian border, the above ground retreat has now been turned into a cafe, with indoor and outdoor seating to enjoy the breathtaking view of the lakes below and the surrounding alpine scenery. I visited it on several occasion, both in summer and in winter and must say that a visit in the winter can be, depending on the weather, a little unnerving.
The road to the top is very narrow and large tourist buses, the primary way to reach the summit, have to go around turns with only inches to spare. If you are seated by the window on the downslope side, you probably think that there is no road beneath you. And its not uncommon to scatter rock which falls below as you make the turn. But the drivers are very professional and I know of no major accidents on this roadway.
On the way to the summit you notice indented areas in the rocky cliffs where anti-aircraft guns were stationed for Hitler's protection. There are also more such on the ridge at the site with even one gunplate for emplacement still visible. Making an assault directly on the mountain was nearly impossible because of the one way up, the potential barricades available, and the impenetrable facility at the top. Allied bombing strikes on the top were practically useless as complete living accommodations and office space was built into the underlying mountain. One such attempt was carried out in 1945 with negative results although significant damage was caused to the Obersalzburg Nazi complex below the mountain. What's amazing is that Hitler didn't really use the facility much, opting instead for his luxurious estate below near Berchtesgaden..
As you reach the top of the roadway, you quickly notice that there is still a significant distance above to the summit, four hundred and seven feet to be exact. This is accomplished by walking down a long tunnel bored into the sold rock mountain and riding an elevator up the center of the core to the chalet. The interior of the elevator is polished copper and quite a site; Hitler's designers spared no funding in building the Fuhrer's surprise gift, including the heavy use of imported Italian tiles throughout. Most of them were chipped and damaged by Allied soldiers collecting war souvenirs at the drawdown of the war.
Eagles Nest offers a good glance at how dictators live in the lap of luxury while their citizenry labor on under terrifying conditions. It is a living example of what democracy-principled nations must guard against. After all, Hitler was freely elected as the Chancellor of Germany before his reign of terror came into effect. But it is worthy of a trip if you are in the area because it is truly an architectural marvel built under difficult geographical conditions.
If you have the chance to go, spend time as well in the beautiful town of Berchtesgaden at the base of the mountain. This was the vacation home of many Nazi leaders, but now has been turned into a beautiful mountain alpine retreat for millions the world over. The U.S. Army still uses it as a place for R and R of American troops assigned to Germany and, believe me, it was a wonderful place to go for a long three day weekend.
Berchtesgaden and Eagles Nest, two fascinating places which were the seat of terrible people, now finally being put to good use as a wonderful place to rest and take in the cool mountain breezes. Go find out for yourselves.