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Debate flares on protecting remains of Hitler's mountain retreat

The Local · 13 Sep 2011, 10:41

Published: 13 Sep 2011 10:41 GMT+02:00

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The "Berghof", half way up a Bavarian mountain, was damaged by bombing at the end of World War II and US occupation forces blew up what was left.

Cyclists riding through the Bavarian forest take a track that runs straight through the site, where just a piece of wall remains.

No signpost shows the way there, but a notice board does tell visitors they have reached the right spot once they find this historical no-man's-land, neither quite on, nor off the map, a symbol of how Germany still finds it difficult to deal with its Nazi past.

In contrast, Hitler's "tea house", known as the "Eagle's Nest", a nearby mountain top lodge, is well on the beaten track.

Tens of thousands of visitors follow a dizzying road to the top for breath-taking views of peaks and valleys in both Germany and Austria.

The 1,800-metre-high (5,900 feet) Eagle's Nest, which now houses a restaurant, a cafe, and shops selling books with titles such as "Hitler's mountain", was a gift from the Nazi party to its leader on his 50th birthday.

It is said he was scared of heights and visited only infrequently.

Historians want both sites preserved for posterity, but others fear highlighting any site too closely associated with the Führer could encourage perverse pilgrimages or turn the area into a Nazi Disneyland.

"You must be very careful not to foster a fascination with Hitler," said Axel Drecoll, a 36-year-old historian in charge of the local documentation centre whose exhibits, visited by 160,000 people a year, depict Nazi crimes as well as Hitler's domestic life on the Obersalzberg mountain, overlooking Berchtesgaden.

"You've got to satisfy the curiosity of the tourists without pandering to sensationalism," he said.

Locals were appalled when a newspaper this year reported that a British company was offering a "Hitler holiday" to Berchtesgaden, along with other sites associated with the Führer.

"That really made waves," said local tourism director Michael Griesser who recalls how Bavarian authorities sought to stop the 'Face of Evil Tour' before realising they were dealing with ordinary tourists rather than neo-nazis.

Of course, there are still a few of those, who lay flowers and candles at the Berghof on Hitler's birthday, or wreaths on the anniversary of his death, but the documentation centre a short distance away quickly disposes of them, said Drecoll.

The real problem, he said, isn't right-wing radicals but the fact that, as people grow less afraid of the Nazi past, "the line between historical enquiry and commercial kitsch gets blurred."

"I don't want to see the Obersalzberg become a chamber of horrors" attraction, he said.

The US military kept a lid on the place for years by turning it into a recreational area for soldiers before handing the mountain back to the Bavarian government in 1995.

Until then all ruins, including some 12 kilometres of tunnels and bunkers, much closed to the public, had been subject to an official, but secret, preservation order.

But the order was then lifted "for political reasons", says Egon Johannes Greipl, head of Bavaria's Office for Ancient Monument Preservation. And authorities started carting off what remained of the rubble.

A few marble paving stones from Hitler's terrace did get recycled, by mistake, into a small outdoors chapel, newspapers said.

Greipl now wants the preservation order to be restored.

"After all nobody would think of demolishing the ruins of Olympia (Greece) and argue it would be better preserved in a documentation centre.

"It is original historical evidence you have on the Obersalzberg," he said.

Story continues below…

Walter Schön, a regional official and the number two at the Bavarian justice ministry, opposes the idea of preserving the ruins. He said this, "would add no real, meaningful or worthwhile testimony to what took place" there, he said.

"Ascribing special cultural status to the Berghof" and surrounding Nazi homesteads "would only help create a sort of national-socialist hiking trail on the mountain", he adds.

Try as it may Berchtesgaden, like much of Germany, has trouble finding the proper balance when dealing with such history.

A five-star hotel recently build on the ruins of a house that belonged to Nazi leader Hermann Goering, near the Berghof, made sure all rooms were provided with a copy of a historical book on Hitler's crimes.

But such bed-time reading bothered some guests and the books were removed to the hotel library.

AFP/The Local/hc

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

13:42 September 13, 2011 by wpfaeffle
Your story quotes a historian as saying that "we must be very careful not to foster a fascination with Hitler." I got news for you: We ARE fascinated with Hitler! And have been for decades. This isn't going to change. Hitler and the Nazis are part of world history. Good or bad. The Berghof site ought to be preserved.
14:45 September 13, 2011 by delvek
I agree with wpfaeffle!

Why is this author afraid to acknowledge our fascination with Hitler and the Nazi party?!?! Time found him fascinating enough to put him in the top 100 people (#16) over the last 1000 years.
15:09 September 13, 2011 by Wyatt
It is History, and fascination with Hitler and the war will never stop. Just as in the United States we have the "Civil War" in which a lot of people would like to erase all memories and History concerning the Confederacy,as a History Buff I believe we can learn from our past and believe "Hitlers Mountain Top Retreat" should be preserved.
18:22 September 13, 2011 by Bushdiver
Germany can wipe out all remaining sites that have anything to do with Hitler or it's Nazi past and that still won't keep people from remembering him or the Nazi's. It's a very important part of history that shouldn't be buried. The retreat should be preserved. Hitler once said that he would be the most photographed person in the world. 66 years after his death he still continues to live on through Documentaries, Photo's, Magazines, newspapers etc.
18:53 September 13, 2011 by ChuChu
Totally agree that we must preserve our history..good or bad..it IS part of us. It is time we stand tall and not bow to the people that want to destroy everything German including our history.
20:14 September 13, 2011 by TRJ
I guess I'll be the first. Tear down these reminders. In Hitler's 12 years, he more than left a mark on nearly all of our families. His legacy will not be forgotten not matter how many of us wish he had never been born.

There is a great book out called German Genius which attempts to cover the amazing accomplishments of Germans historically and the influence of Germans on western culture. Compared to a true pantheon of incredibly brilliant German artists, scientists and humanists, Hitler is but a pile of dung and his memory still smells beyond the borders of Germany.

The country is literally full of reminders of his twelve years so it would be absolutely impossible to suggest that anyone is trying to deny history by saying enough is enough-- we don't need to preserve mountain monuments to Hitler's relaxation time. It is absolutely absurd even in a historical context relative to the thousands of other reminders of his rule already preserved or part of our daily lives.
22:34 September 13, 2011 by wxman
@TRJ, I understand you sentiment, but we all know that the more we try to bury memories, the more others try to dig them up. Leave them out where all can see, and it will remove the mysticism. Remember, these Hitlerphiles are like children. Tell them they can't do something, and they most certainly will go about doing it. Leave everything out in the open to be viewed by any and all, and the interest will wane.
23:09 September 13, 2011 by ratty79
I am currently visiting Germany and have done so on many occasions. I find this an increasingly positive nation when dealing with its recent past history.

The areas must be conserved because in 50 years time this horrific period will be regarded as an academic study by our new generations. By removing every physical trace of the Nazi era mythology will increase. While there is living evidence there is living proof of what went on.

The only time I have been offended by opinion on the Germany of the 1930s and 1940's was when I visited Europe on a so called historical tour of Nazi Europe with the most bigoted English academic I have ever had the misfortune to meet.

Don't be afraid Germany it is only a few who soil the work for Peace your country embraces.
23:27 September 13, 2011 by wood artist
This is, unfortunately, the ultimate question of balance.

Preserving history is generally considered a good thing, both for the historical value it holds and for the ability of future generations to see "where it happened." Clearly not all history is "good" but it remains history. World-wide we have more preserved "battlefields" than most anything else, which is probably a telling statement about mankind.

On the other hand, we all understand how places such as this can become altars to those who follow the beliefs. Sadly, in the Book of Rememberances at Buchwald are statements such as "Great Job, Hitler" and "Wish you'd won." Most sadly, they are obviously written by children and teens.

I think ultimately all we can do is preserve...and then educate. We will always find troublesome ideas amongst us, so maybe showing their result is the best was.

23:51 September 13, 2011 by TRJ
@wxman- thank you for a civil and fair-minded reply. I was not alive during Hitler's time, but Hitler came to my town many many times-- he was a politician-- he covered probably every square kilometer of Germany. I don't think we need to put a plaque up everywhere he stamped his mark or spent some time. And I don't fear Hitlerphiles visiting areas reflective of Hitler's time because that would be every single place in Germany. We don't see them congregating at his place of birth in Austria or in Berlin so I really believe it is no longer a realistic concern.

We don't need to erect a monument to maintain in the name of preserving history's hallowed place merely because evidence of Hitler's presence can still be identified such as with the Berghof. If that were the case, thousands of new monuments would need to be erected which would raise the question of whether Hitler actually won his war on some level. Let Hitler's Berghof wall and tunnels fall into disrepair without spending tax dollars to keep their remaining structural integrity intact.

How about this- for every dollar it takes to maintain the remnants of Hitler on the Berghof, we instead put into a fund to build a monument in every town which housed a temporary holding camp for the movement of slave labor and those killed in the concentration camps during Hitler's time. That would require hundreds of new monuments where there are currently NONE. This is how the public funds should be spent to preserve the history of Hitler's time on Earth- not to say "Welcome to the land of Hitler naps and photos of Blondie". And kudos to the people on the mountain who make the effort to throw away the inappropriate homages to Hitler.
00:07 September 14, 2011 by OldNSlow
All of the books and documentation I see when visiting the area say the Berghof was destroyed (and many other buildings in the area) by the Bavarian government after the war, to remove any Nazi "monuments." So why does this article state it was destroyed by US forces? Also, when visiting, you can still see many Nazi remnants including the train station and a war memorial in the square, so why this was destroyed is anyone's guess. Kehlstein Haus is an excellent way to capture tourist dollars as I am sure Hotel Zum Turken is with it's bunkers still available for tours. It is above all, a tourist trap, albeit it a beautiful area to visit, my favorite spot in Bavaria. The history is now a side note.
00:22 September 14, 2011 by wxman
@ OldN Slow, don't confuse the Berghof with the Eagles Nest, the later still exists and is toured frequently.

@TRJ, I understand your point and fully sympathize with your position. Let's face it, Hitler will be in history till the end of time as one of the great mass murderers and despots, but fortunately he's not alone. There is Stalin, Pol Pot, the nearly successful attempt to exterminate the Armenians, and many others in the last century alone. Then, look at all the hordes of evil people who came before over the centuries! In the grand text of history, Germany will eventually be just another place on the planet where human atrosities occurred. I don't say that to marginalize what happened, only to put it into perspective. Germans today have nothing to be ashamed of, what's past is past. Don't forget, but don't blame the innocent. Nor is it appropriate that they feel perennial guilt.
01:43 September 14, 2011 by bernie1927
The way this place looks right now is inexcusable. It is probably one of the greatest views in the area or it would not have been Hitler's favorite. Make a Hilton Hotel out of it or something like it and call it "Der Berghof" - that's a descriptive and neutral name and should not offend anyone. How come the Russians are able to live with their even more bloody past? Sure, there will be some crazies trying to spoil the site with their pro Hitler scribbling, but those characters will always be there and you will just have to live with them. Just be patient and this spot will just be a beautiful vacation spot.
02:23 September 14, 2011 by lenny van
In my opinion, roughly 15% of the population is far nastier and more cruel than those in any other population. Anything that might remind these modern day nasties that there is any chance that their horrible past could ever be resurrected is dangerous. They, like the awful history of the Nazi area, should simply be allowed to die out and fade away completely. Why would anyone even want to think of the most monstrous, gruesome and repulsive crimes against humanity that have ever been committed in the history of mankind.
03:06 September 14, 2011 by j2ink
The photo at the beginning of the story is not the remains of the Berghof immediately after the war...it is of the Turken Hotel.

In any event, there really is nothing left there to preserve. In 1952, the Americans blew up most of what was left of the bombed-out Berghof. I was there in 1992 when the remaining ruins of the sun deck and garage were still visible, but a few years later even that was plowed under, and now there is virtually nothing left of the Berghof, except an old retaining wall that ran along the back yard.
08:41 September 14, 2011 by milguy
@j2ink, Actually, there is a LOT left to preserve in the area. The aboveground structure of the Berghof is gone (save for the retaining wall), but the basement remains. A few years ago, the German government tore out all the basements of the SS Kaserne, so they could do it to the Berghof as well. As you mentioned, they took out the Berghof garage, and the authorities have been busy in the past 10 years, destroying or altering a lot of historic sites around there - Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus, Goering's hill, Berchtesgadener Hof hotel, Gutshof quarters, now the Jugendherberge. If the preservation authorities don't get to work and protect these sites, in a few years there will be nothing left, which future historians and visitors will lament, but it will be too late.

All because a few people in the Bavarian government fear a neo-nazi pilgrimage site on the Obersalzberg. The US Army left there in 1995, and in all the years since, there has developed no neo-nazi pilgrimage site there. I have been there MANY times (including on Hitler's birthday), and I have never seen anyone there except historians and tourists interested in history - not a single skinhead or Nazi sympathizer. These ruins simply don't attract neo-nazis.
15:39 September 14, 2011 by jbaker
I thought this guy was despised. Why have a memorial for him? Where is the proof he committed suicide? No body -no proof. Maybe he made it to Brazil or the USA like many in the SS did.
23:16 September 15, 2011 by baddaboom
the finger of blame for hitler rest squarely on the WOMEN of germany-weissenheit
01:49 September 21, 2011 by Bill Simpson
You would have to get rid of TV over here in the USA to erase the memory of Hitler. He nearly has his own channel over here. He is on nearly every night. That house would have made a teriffic tourist attraction if it hadn't been trashed. It isn't like AH is still alive or people don't know he was a bad person.
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