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Hitler's seat of power Obersalzberg

Suzanne Cords
December 23, 2021

The idyllic spot served as Hitler's vacation home and second seat of government. The documentation center explaining the dark history of the site is getting a revamp.

Postcard with a picture of Adolf Hitler sitting on the terrace of his mountain house in Obersalzberg, Bavaria
Adolf Hitler — here on the terrace of his house at Obersalzberg — liked to portray himself as a busy 'father of the nation' Image: IMAGNO/Austrian Archives/picture-alliance

Nestled in the Bavarian Alps, not far from Lake Königssee, Obersalzberg lies at an altitude of around 1,000 meters, above Berchtesgaden, a town situated close to the Austrian border.

The view is spectacular here — Adolf Hitler thought so too, as he picked this place for his holiday home long before he became Reich chancellor of Germany in 1933.

Years before he started World War II and the Holocaust, Hitler was seen as a normal holidaymaker — an "agreeable person," as his first landlord there later recalled. 

In 1925, Hitler rented a log cabin in the woods, where the second part of his diatribe, "Mein Kampf" (English: my struggle), was written; later he had a country house called "Wachenfeld."

After Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he bought the modest property and had it converted into a luxurious mountain residence, boasting amenities that included panoramic windows, a cellar bar and a bowling alley.

Land for this 100-hectare "restricted Führer area" — that also housed the vacation homes of his Nazi entourage, Hermann Göring and architect Albert Speer— was either confiscated or bought from locals at laughable prices.

Seat of power

The summer residence became the Führer's second seat of government alongside Berlin, with SS barracks, administration buildings, workshops and underground bunkers.

Soon, politicians, heads of state and military leaders from all over the world met at Obersalzberg. Hitler negotiated here with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and dined with the leader of the Italian Fascist party, Benito Mussolini.

A postcard of Hitler smiling at a child being held up among a crowd.
Obersalzberg became a place of pilgrimage: People came in droves to cheer the 'Führer'Image: arkivi/picture alliance

The picture postcard idyll also proved to be the perfect backdrop for Hitler to present himself as a man who was close to nature and the people. Photos of him gazing pensively into the distance, patting blond children's heads, shaking hands, sitting on the terrace with his mistress Eva Braun or walking his German shepherds went global.

A place of remembrance

The Obersalzberg Documentation Center gives visitors a chance to explore the location's dark history. It was established in 1999 as a place of learning and remembrance and has now been expanded with an additional 1,000-square-meter (10,765 square feet) building.

The original building was designed for a maximum of 40,000 visitors a year and has long since become too cramped for the throngs of tourists from all over the world. Above all, many want to know where exactly Hitler lived on the grounds, but not much is left of the original buildings.

The documentation center in Obersalzberg, a building amid a mountainous landscape.
The existing documentation center had become too smallImage: Matthias Balk/dpa/picture alliance

A large part of the complex on Obersalzberg was destroyed in a bombing raid by the British Royal Air Force on April 25, 1945.

On May 4, the US Army moved into Berchtesgaden — and remained stationed there until 1995.

After the final withdrawal of the American troops, the state of Bavaria wanted to put an end to the "wild" Hitler tourism, and especially prevent pilgrimages by far-right followers. A luxury hotel and a documentation center were therefore built at the historic site to channel tourist and political interest.

Tourist magnets: Eagle's Nest and bunker

The "Hotel zum Türken," which had been spared the bombing raids, was returned to the heirs of its original owner, Karl Schuster as early as 1949, including the bunkers built underneath. While Hitler himself had not resided there, as is often falsely claimed, the Reich Security Service responsible for his personal protection did as well as men from the SS or the Gestapo.

Earlier this year, the hotel was sold to a Berchtesgaden family business, but it is not clear yet what the new owners plan to do with it.

The underground bunker of the Nazi documentation center in Obersalzberg.
The underground bunkers are accessible to the publicImage: Peter Kneffel/dpa/picture alliance

The Kehlsteinhaus, also spared bombardment, has since turned into another tourist magnet, better known internationally as the "Eagle's Nest.

Perched on a rocky peak, it is where many of the regime's decisions were made.

Hitler's close confidant, the NSDAP party secretary Martin Bormann, had it built at an altitude of 1,834 meters — supposedly as a gift for Hitler's 50th birthday.

Even if this has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt, the house on the rugged terrain is a symbol of National Socialist megalomania, writes Florian Beierl in his book "The History of the Kehlstein:" 

"A gleaming gold elevator in the middle of the mountain, through which one was lifted up to the 'summit of power,' as it were — all this was only too well suited to dazzle people."

Today, the Kehlsteinhaus is home to a popular restaurant.

Kehlsteinhaus in Berchtesgaden
Hitler loved the view from the Kehlsteinhaus. Today hikers stop here for a breakImage: Dominic Jones/Loop Images/picture alliance

Opening planned for 2022

It is not only the spectacular views, but also the "Führer" myth that draws people to Obersalzberg in droves. Most recently, there were around 170,000 visitors a year. The Documentation Center couldn't manage such crowds, which is why it has now been extended; it is scheduled to open in 2022.

Spread over 800 square meters (with an additional 230 square meters earmarked for temporary exhibitions), the curators from the Leibnitz Institute for Contemporary History want to completely revamp the permanent exhibition, entitled "Idyll and Crime" — through multimedia and numerous other exhibits, as well as a detailed landscape model. 

That way, they hope to attract history enthusiasts and ensure they do not set out on their own for a thrill or turn to dubious sources on the internet.

This article was originally written in German.