So with the Sound of Music tour behind us, Cheryl and I planned to take in a little history of the region by visiting the the Kehlsteinhaus or Eagle’s Nest (NOT to be confused with the Hawks Nest which is the bar we go to in Seattle before Seahawks games). Eagle’s Nest sits atop Kehistein Mountain 2,522 m (8,274 ft) in the Berchtesgaden Alps. Eagle’s Nest is part of the Obersalzberg complex built high above Berchtesgaden, Germany that was used as the southern headquarters for Hitler and his senior staff and included the sophisticated bunker system, residences, including Hitler’s residence known as Berghof. Eagle’s Nest was intended to be a place for Hitler to entertain visiting dignitaries, but he rarely visited the site as he was afraid of heights. Anyway, I had signed us up for a tour with Eagle’s Nest Tours, which was a highly, highly rated small group tour to Eagle’s Nest.
Cheryl and I ate another fabulous breakfast in our hotel. And speaking of our hotel in Salzburg. Oh. My. God. The building was an old converted residence that included amazing antiques, beautiful staircases and wonderful staff. Our room was simply perfect with an incredible view to the old town and the Fortress of Salzburg. In addition, the nearby church rang its bells every day starting at 7 and throughout the day until 8 or 9 at night. It could not have been any better.
Anyway, we set out for the bus station and jumped on the 840 bus to Berchtesgaden. The bus took us on virtually the same route we had traveled the day before to Anif (to see the Anif Water Castle). And then we realized what idiots we were. The bus continued on for another 10 minutes and took right past Marktschellenberg, the location for the MEADOW. Are you kidding me. Cheryl and I spent more than an hour driving narrow little, windy hairpin turn roads to get from Mondsee to Marchteschellengberg and all we had to do was drive another 10 mintues past Anif that morning and we would have been here. Good grief! What an idiot I am! In retrospect, I should have mapped out all of the stops on Google Earth and I could have saved us a lot of time instead of relying on Garmin. Oh well, we still had those “fabulous” memories of trying to find the dag blasted place….
So the bus ride across the German border (no checkpoint) to Berchtesgaden was a quick 30 minute bus ride. The day was another warm one and by the time we got to Berchtesgaden at 11:00, we had to take off our coats and find some water. We checked in to the Eagle’s Nest tour office and then headed outside to walk up the hill to the little town. And just our luck … as we headed outside the sound of cow bells began ringing out. Christine (our tour guide for the day) immediately yelled at us to run and see the cows coming down from the mountain. We had no clue what this meant, but it turns out that for a few days a year the farmers bring their cows down from the mountain meadows to the lower pastures and we happened to hit one of the days. The farmers (spouses, kids, etc.) were all decked out in their tyrolian best, with drums sounding, bells ringing and cows …. well cows being cows parading through the streets to the pastures. The farmers did their best to move the cows along, but their was a lot of dilly dallying and various side activities (if you know what I mean). All in all pretty cool to see.
After the cows moved on, Cheryl and I crossed the street and headed to the old town of Berchtesgaden about a 10 minute hike up the hill. Now Berchtesgaden had your typical cobblestones and tyrolean style buildings, but quite frankly it did not do a lot for me. However, as we wandered around, we ran into another farm family hearding the cows right through the square. One of the proprietors of a nearby shop came out with platter of shot glasses (appeared to be Shnapps) and toasted the farmers with a shot. Very cool.
We spent about an hour and half wandering around and then headed back down the hill to the tour office, but not before we stopped at at cafe and bought the best stuffed prezel I have had (cheese and bacon). And speaking of meat, this country is absolutely meat crazy. These folks have never seen a food they could not stuff or layer with meat (and cheese for that matter). And I have yet to have a bad meal … if your a vegetarian I do not recommend visiting Austria unless you want to starve. Not a lot of choices on the menu that are veg.
Anyway, we reached the office and met up with the rest of the group, about 30 of us, which by the way is NOT a small group tour in my book. Nevertheless, we boarded the bus and began the tour. Christine turned out to be a fabulous tour guide and her experience, enthusiasm and insights justified the high rating of the tour. (I could even get over the fact I was on a tour bus with 30 other people … although it never ceases to amaze how inconsiderate people are in making you wait for them beyond the time to board a bus. One of many reasons why I loath tour groups.)
Once we boarded the bus, we headed up the mountain to “Security Zone 1” with Christine providing an amazingly succinct history of the construction of the Nazi residences, including Hitler’s residence at Bercroft, seizure of homes and land to secure the area, and Hitler’s love of the mother country (Austria -which is why he had his residence constructed to look directly at Salzburg in the valley below.)
Most of the homes were destroyed in the Allied bombings, but wasn’t destroyed by the Allies were later destroyed by the Germans. A few remnants remained here and there and some of the SS homes were completely intact, but for the most part Christine was merely pointing out sights and providing history, which was still absolutely fascinating.
After the 45 minute drive around Security Zone 1 on the lower part of the mountain, we drove to the Documentation Center, which was the location of the bunkers as well as a history of the Nazi march to power and subsequent defeat by the Allies. We learned that all school children and military personnel are required to visit the site at some point in order to understand the history of the Nazi regime in hopes it is never repeated.
There are only two bunkers open to the public. One at the Documentation Center and the other at underneath a Pension that was seized by the Nazis and returned to its original owner after the war. The bunker we visited was an amazing labyrinth that amounted to an underground city, with bathrooms, storage rooms, a guard station (complete with machine gun portals), meeting rooms and unfinished tunnels. The tunnels could be accessed from virtually all of the senior Nazi commander homes. We also learned that it was the French and not Charlie Company, who were the first to enter the bunkers as evidenced by the insignia on the wall (sorry Band of Brothers). It was a fascinating walk through history.
The last stop of the day was to drive the narrowest road in all of Austria up to Eagle’s Nest on one of the special buses that journeys up to the top of the mountain. Over 3,000 men worked day and night, winter and summer, for 13 months to complete the road project. The road was blasted out of the mountainside, and featured a series of switchbacks,
one 180 degree hairpin turn and five tunnels tor each the top. Unfortunately, the fog had started to roll in and by the time we reached the top, it had started to rain. It looked like our luck had run out with the weather.
We entered Eagles Nest through a walking tunnel, that would take us to an elevator that would take us 406 m to the top. The elevator (and all of Eagles Nest) had been completely preserved and was now operated by the German government as a restaurant. The reason Eagles Nest was preserved was that it was under Allied control until 1952 and a German official decided that it could be used to generate tourism for the area. As a result, all of Eagle’s Nest is as it was when the Allies took over. The elevator was something else covered completely from floor to ceiling in brass. There was even an old clock and telephone dating to the early 1940s.
The doors opened at Eagles Nest to reveal the three original rooms, including the large octagonal room with the large fire place where Hitler was pictured meeting with his senior command. We wandered around the rooms and went outside, but it had really started raining. We waited it out and fortunately, the rain stopped after fifteen or so minutes and the fog lifted somewhat to reveal a beautiful view of the valley below and all the way to Salzburg.
By 4:30 we headed back down, boarded the special bus and wound our way back down the hill to the Documentation Center where we switched buses and drove back to Berchtesgaden. Christine was kind enough to have the driver stop the bus and let 4 of us out at the edge of town who were taking the 840 back to Salzburg because we were going to miss the 5:15 bus if we drove all the way into town.
By 6:00 p.m. we were back in sunny Salzburg, had changed our clothes and were headed back out to the old town to take in Salzburg’s version of Octoberfest. Now the great part about this little event was that you could order a stein of beer and just walk around all the venues. What could be better. We wandered by a tent were we saw Tyrolean folk dancing and a group of young boys doing slap dancing, (which requires some well choregraphed hopping and slapping of leather shorts). We even saw Tyrloean bowling. There were beergardens everywhere and lots and lots of prezels in various flavours (chocolate anyone?), roasted nuts of all kinds and gingerbread hearts (which is apparently a traditional food at these fests).
We finally wandered back out of the old town around 8:00 and headed back up to the restaurant we ate at the first night in Salzburg called Bausto. Because the waiter indicated it may rain tonight we ate inside. Cheryl had the Tyrloean dumplings (as selected by the waiter), I had the same pizza and salad and we each order a Trumer Pils beer, the award winning yummy beer.
And that’s when the fun began. We had been seated at a table for six and is per custom in Europe they will often seat other folks at your table. Half way through dinner our waiter asked if he could move the three young men seated at the adjacent table to our table so they could seat a party of six at the boys table.
Within a half hour we had new best friends. The boys, Max, Marcel and Lukas were 20 somethings, two of whom were still in school and the other already working. We ended up discussing WW II history, Austrian life, the fact that people think there are kangaroos in Austria (seriously) and a myriad of other topics. As the night wore on shots of this pumpkin oil liquor kept appearing in front of us. Soon the bartender started playing Austrian folk music on the sound system and the boys began standing up and singing along with the music (and the rest of the bar) and providing some dancing of their own. I am sure you had to be there, but it was one of those rare nights when you get to experience the life of the locals. And just for good measure Cheryl and I sang “Oh Canada”…. I think there is a video somewhere, but it will NOT be posted.
And before we knew it the bar was shutting down and it was time to go. What time was it you ask … the ungodly hour of 2:00 a.m. only 4 short hours before Cheryl and I had to get up to catch the train to Innsbruck. We said our goodbyes the boys, took a couple pictures and wandered back to our hotel. It had been a fabulous way to say auf wiedersehen to Salzburg.