Geoff Walden

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Obersalzberg
Kehlsteinhaus ("Eagle's Nest")

 

   Without a doubt, the most popular tourist site on the Obersalzberg now is the Kehlsteinhaus. In English, this building is called the "Eagle's Nest," even though this is not a translation of the German name (simply "House on the Kehlstein (Mountain)"), and the Germans did not call it the "Eagle's Nest" (or Adlerhorst or any other such name). This name seems to have been first applied by British journalist Ward Price, who visited in September 1938, but was likely made famous by the visiting French ambassador André François Poncet in October 1938, and was picked up by the Allies.

   This building is also often called "Hitler's Tea House," but that is a misnomer. Although Reichsleiter Martin Bormann was inspired to build the Kehlsteinhaus by Hitler's obvious fancy for the Teehaus on the Mooslahnerkopf, Hitler did not use the Kehlsteinhaus as an afternoon tea house, nor did he visit it regularly. Hitler used the Kehlsteinhaus only to show off to visiting dignitaries, and he probably did not visit it himself more than twenty times (at the most), as he did not like the height and the resulting changes in air pressure, and the perceived dangers of lightning and the elevator. Bormann himself and Eva Braun did far more entertaining in the Kehlsteinhaus than did Hitler.

   The Kehlsteinhaus was the pinnacle of Bormann's building mania on the Obersalzberg, literally and figuratively. It was an engineering marvel of its day  --  the house was built on a rocky spur of the Hoher Göll mountain, some 2700 feet above the Obersalzberg (6017 feet above sea level). To reach this spur, a mountain road of some four miles was blasted into the mountainside, using only one hairpin curve (switchback), and five tunnels. The house itself is reached by a tunnel driven 407 feet into the mountain, at the end of which is a large brass elevator that rises 407 feet to the building. This was actually a two-story elevator: an upper car which stopped on the main level, and a lower car that stopped in the basement for resupply of the kitchens. The road and house were built in only 13 months, to be presented to Hitler on his 50th birthday in 1939 (although the house was finished before then, and most of Hitler's visits were in late 1938).

   Although the Kehlsteinhaus was a designated target for the April 1945 Royal Air Force bombing attack (the Allies thought there might be underground military facilities there, part of the mythical "Alpine Redoubt"), it was not hit. Apparently it was too small a target, and too difficult to pick out of the surrounding area from above. The "Eagle's Nest" became a popular stop for visiting GIs (for awhile, only officers were allowed to ride the elevator, and enlisted men had to use the footpath). Due to intense lobbying by the Berchtesgaden district administrator, the Kehlsteinhaus was spared from the 1951-52 destruction of Nazi ruins, and was returned to the State of Bavaria (now run by the Berchtesgaden tourism association). The house was restored and somewhat modernized, but its basic appearance today is much the same as during the Third Reich (some changes since 1945 are pointed out in the photos below). It is now one of the most popular tourist sites in the area, reached by special bus from the Kehlsteinhaus bus lot on the Obersalzberg, from May-October. For current information and news see www.kehlsteinhaus.de.

   The best published reference on the Kehlsteinhaus is Florian Beierl's book History of the Eagle's Nest (Berchtesgaden, Verlag Plenk, 1998, ISBN: 3922590772), which is highly recommended.

 

Tunnel and elevator entrance, with the Kehlsteinhaus above, in the 1940s and as they appear today. The buildings on either side of the entrance are post-1950. The plaque above the entrance shows that the project was completed in 1938.

 

Above, soldiers from the U.S. 101st Airborne Division guard the entrance in June 1945. My father, U.S. Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Delbert R. Walden, took the photos below in spring 1946 (my father appears on the right in the left-hand photo).  (above left - U.S. National Archives, RG 111SC, 333025; below - collection of G.R. and G.A.Walden)

 

Above left, a GI guards the tunnel entrance in 1945. The sign proclaims this entrance was only for officers ranking Major and above - all other ranks had to climb the footpath to the Eagle's Nest building. The photo below appeared in a French newspaper in 1945.  (U.S. Army Signal Corps photo collection; Archiv Hotel zum Türken)

 

The outer set of bronze doors originally had large pull handles in the shape of lions (the GIs in the photo above are pulling the doors open with these handles), but these were taken by souvenir hunters. One is in the hands of the Eisenhower family today while the other is owned by a private collector in the USA.  (U.S. Army Signal Corps photo collection; private collection)

 

Many Allied soldiers scratched their names and other graffiti into the bronze doors in 1945. Michael Greenstein of "B'klyn NY" left his mark on August 5, 1945 (left), and a soldier probably from the U.S. 79th Division left the insignia of his unit (right - although this could also be the insignia of the French 2nd Armored Division ... thanks to Henry Gresham for the suggestion of the 79th Division).

 

Just inside the outer set of doors, on the right, is a period indicator showing which direction the elevator was travelling, and its height (the indicator can be seen between the doors, in the photo on the left). This lighted indicator still functions - on the right it shows the elevator is going up, and has reached a height of 80 meters. The elevator was made by the well-known Otis company. (Note: This original indicator was replaced ca. 2010.)

 

The entrance portal of Untersberg marble leads to the tunnel that bores 407 feet into the mountain.  (author's collection)

 

At the end of the entrance tunnel is a circular domed waiting room (left) from which one enters the brass lined elevator car for the ride 407 feet up to the Kehlsteinhaus. On the right is the elevator exit on the main floor of the building. The photo below shows the original configuration of the sliding wooden pocket doors that closed off the car from the upper hallway (these doors have been replaced).  (above - Archiv Hotel zum Türken; below left - LIFE photo collection)

 

Interior of the brass lined elevator car. According to the staff, the telephone in the elevator car is original to 1938, and the clock came from a U-boat.  (right - courtesy Jamie Howes)

 

At the top, the elevator lets out into a corridor, from which one enters the dining hall. This is a secondary dining area today, but it was once the main area. Hitler had an office behind the right-hand door at the far end of the room (to the right of the bar in the modern view above; used as the Kehlsteinhaus director's office today and not open to the public), and the kitchen was further down the hall on the left. A small room for the guards was at the end of this hallway (sometimes used today as an additional dining area). The ceiling light fixtures seen today are postwar replacements, as are most of the light fixtures in the Kehlsteinhaus (many of the originals having been plundered after the war). The views below face the other direction, looking toward the main room. The china cupboard seen in the photos below was the only original piece of furniture left in the Kehlsteinhaus recently (the glass doors seen on the top are replacements for the original wooden doors), but this cupboard, seen on the right below in 2009, was no longer in place in 2012. This room has recently undergone modernization (including the modern-style light fixtures seen above), and perhaps the cupboard's removal is only temporary.  (above - U.S. National Archives, RG 111SC-207256-S; below - U.S. National Archives, RG 242-H)

 

On the left above is a 1945 view of the kitchen. The corridor seen on the right led from outside the house to the kitchen area (on the left). Note the original bronze door. On the right side of this corridor is a small room that was used by the guard force (the "Wachstube"), seen in the photos below.  (left - U.S. National Archives, Army Signal Corps Collection, RG 111SC-207257-S)

 

The main room, then and now, was the circular Great Hall, clad in granite blocks. The period view above shows the costly rugs and Gobelin tapestry above the fireplace, and the normal circular table for intimate gatherings. Below left, GIs from the 101st Airborne Division enjoy the surroundings in May 1945.
The doorway in the right-hand photo below leads down a short flight of steps to the Scharitzkehl Room (see below).  (U.S. Army photos)

 

The normal small table was replaced on 3 June 1944 for the reception after the wedding of Eva Braun's younger sister Gretl to SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein, of Heinrich Himmler's staff (on the left above). Below is a colorized and edited version of a photo showing Eva Braun seated at the fireplace, with Albert Speer standing nearby. The original photo also showed Speer's wife Margarete seated next to Eva Braun.  (U.S. National Archives)

 

The fireplace was of red Italian marble, reputedly a gift from Benito Mussolini, and the carpet was a gift from the Japanese ambassador. The fireplace suffered at the hands of souvenir hunters, with many chipped pieces missing along the edges. The rear wall of the fireplace shows two mounted figures and the date of the building's completion, 1938. The doorway on the right, seen above, is the main entrance from the dining room.

 

In the summer of 1945, American soldiers scrawled their names and other graffiti on the wall all around the fireplace, and also on the fireplace itself. Some of this graffiti can still be seen scratched into the fireplace today, as well as even in some of the stone blocks around the Great Room. The signs on either side of the fireplace in the period photo read "This building is the property of the United States Government. Any destruction or damage will be dealt with accordingly. By order of the Commanding Officer." By the time this photo was taken, the major damage to the marble fireplace had already occurred.

 

This comparison view of the Great Hall, then and now, shows the marble fireplace, entry doorway and stairs from the dining area, and doorway leading down to the Scharitzkehl Room. Note that the current wood and glass doors at the top of the stairs leading to the Scharitzkehl Room were not present during the Third Reich period - they were added later - one of the many small changes to the Kehlsteinhaus since 1945 (the windows in the Great Hall and the Scharitzkehl Room are also different).

 

The large doorway above is the main entrance to the Great Hall, and the smaller doorway on the right led down a short flight of steps to a cozy room called the  Scharitzstübe or Scharitzkehlzimmer, because it overlooks the Scharitzkehlalm meadow. It was paneled with decorative cembra pine (Swiss stone pine), and the original windows could be lowered into the casing for a magnificent view of the Hoher Göll, Watzmann, and Hochkalter mountains. The Gobelin tapestry cost 24,000 Reichsmarks in 1938 (about $103,000 today). Although the paneling and light fixtures appear original in the modern photos here, much of the room was stripped by souvenir hunters in 1945, and some items had to be replaced. This room is often erroneously called the Eva Braun Room today.

 

Left - two GIs give a playful "Hitler salute" in the Scharitzkehlzimmer in the summer of 1945; center - French officers visit in May 1945.  (left - courtesy Chris Munz; center - Archiv Hotel zum Türken)

 

Three of the Kehlsteinhaus bronze light fixtures. On the left, the type seen in the Great Room; in the center, those in the Scharitzkehlzimmer; on the right, a light fixture in the domed waiting area at the bottom of the elevator. Some of those seen today are not original, but replacements for fixtures that were plundered in 1945 (as are some of the cembra pine panels in the Scharitzkehlzimmer)

 

This doorway leads from the Scharitzkehl Room to the sun terrace. The arched terrace windows were glassed-in in the 1950s, and the terrace today is used to display a photo exhibit on the history of the Kehlsteinhaus. Below, Hitler rests on the sun terrace during a private visit to the Kehlsteinhaus (probably in 1939).

 

Period photo showing a partial view of the mountains from the sun terrace, and the outer wall of the sun terrace today. Below is a view of the Kehlsteinhaus from the Hinterbrand area, showing the glassed-in sun terrace.  (author's collection)

 

This photo, which probably dates from the mid-1950s following the re-opening of the Kehlsteinhaus to the public, shows the sun terrace and Scharitzstübe on the west side.  (author's collection)

 

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Photos taken shortly after U.S. occupation, along with similar views today.  ( above left - postcard in author's collection; below left - U.S. National Archives, RG 111SC 207108, courtesy Digital History Archive)

 

Two 1945 views showing the house from opposite sides of the mountain, showing the steep drop-off on either side.  (author's collection)

 

A rare period color photo of the Kehlsteinhaus from the rear, and the corresponding view today.

 

In the summer of 1945 there seemed to be some confusion about Martin Bormann, who was still not well known. The rectangular doorway (left-hand doorway) seen in the modern photos here is a recent (ca. 2004) modification of a window - originally, there was only the arched doorway here (see below).  (U.S. Army photos; modern photo below courtesy Jacqueline Wilson)

 

These photos from a slightly different perspective highlight the major exterior changes that have taken place to the Eagle's Nest building since 1945. The sun terrace (rounded doorway seen at the left) was glassed in and a large rocky area behind the house was leveled and turned into a terrace; this enlarged terrace also goes around the north side to an added doorway seen in the photos in the grouping above. This modification also resulted in the removal of some of the original terrace walls - just outside the entry to the sun terrace, and at the northeast corner of the house - where several period photos showing such visitors as Eva and Gretl Braun, Martin Bormann, and Robert Ley were taken. Modernizations include antennas, lightning rods, roof exhausts for the kitchen, and other roof modifications.  (U.S. National Archives, RG 111SC 207819a and 207108, courtesy Digital History Archive)

 

Two exterior views of the octagonal part of the building (housing the Great Hall). The doorway seen in the right-hand photo leads to a basement area beneath the Great Hall.

 

A 10 kilometer long security fence, patrolled by SS guards, ran all around the Kehlstein area. A rock wall formed the base for the fence in some areas. Part of this wall running between the Gipfel (summit) and the Mannigrat can still be seen some 600 meters behind the Kehlsteinhaus.  (courtesy Jacqueline Wilson)

 

From mid-1944, it was deemed necessary to guard the Kehlsteinhaus from air attack. Although Martin Bormann did not want any anti-aircraft positions at the Kehlsteinhaus, four 3.7cm guns were emplaced on the slopes behind. These remains may be the bases for two of these guns, similar to the bases for the small caliber guns mounted on the Berlin flak towers. (see the page on Obersalzberg Flak BatteriesNote: Some sources indicate this may have been the upper mount for a cable system used during construction, to ferry building supplies from the valley below, and indeed, these remains are in a bad position to be flak gun mounts; on the other hand, the cable system ran from the other side of the mountain and terminated just behind the house.

 

Running beside the main tunnel that leads to the elevator going up to the Kehlsteinhaus is a smaller service tunnel. The entrance to this tunnel can be seen today just to the right of the postwar ticket building. In one of the rooms off this side tunnel was located a U-Boat engine to serve as an auxiliary generator. Then as now, the Kehlsteinhaus was powered by electricity from the Obersalzberg below, but the U-Boat engine generator was provided for emergencies, so that visitors would not be caught in the elevator. The original engine (seen below in stills from a period film) is still in its original location, and can still act as an emergency generator. The exhaust stack for the engine is cleverly disguised as a rock formation (seen on the right above).
                                      

 


Kehlsteinstraße (Eagle's Nest Road)

Above are two views showing the entrance to the Kehlsteinhaus road at the Hintereck area, during U.S. occupation in the latter 1940s. The view on the left is looking up the road through the entrance gate, while that on the right is looking back through the entrance toward the ruins of the SS Kaserne behind. (Click here to see an aerial view of this entrance in 1945.) Below is a modern view of the entrance coming down from above (the small building is a post-war structure, and the ruins of the SS Kaserne were removed in 1952).  (left - private collection; right - U.S. Army photo)

 

A short distance beyond the entrance, the Kehlstein road passes over the only bridge along the route. This bridge was a difficult engineering design, as it has a 17 percent grade from one end to the other.

 

The Kehlstein road was and is an engineering marvel. The six kilometer road (slightly over four miles) was blasted into the mountainside, rising some 2700 feet, and using only one switchback curve (and another almost so). The road (along with the Kehlsteinhaus) was built in only 13 months. The switchback, called the Scharitzkehl curve (overlooking the Scharitzkehlalm valley) is shown above in a 1940s postcard and in a similar view today.  (postcard view courtesy Ray and Gilda Northcott)

 

The period photos above show the construction of the Kehlsteinstraße in the winter of 1937, and a view looking from the completed road up at the Kehlsteinhaus.  (author's collection)

 

The road was constructed as far as practical to take advantage of natural rock formations, but there were many places where the natural rock had to be reinforced, or rock bases laid for the roadbed. In these cases, sometimes concrete was poured and then sculpted to look like natural rock, or quarried rocks were mortared together to resemble the natural rock. A special acid solution was used to make these quarried rocks blend in with the surrounding weathered rock. Two examples of this work are shown above. The photo on the right shows a rock formation known as the Sidonase, familiar to modern tourists on the bus trip up to the Kehlsteinhaus. It was originally planned to put a tunnel here, but the road ended up just passing through the edge of the rock.

 

There are five tunnels along the Kehlsteinstraße. The first of these, going up the hill, was originally called the Südwest (Southwest) or Hochlenzer Tunnel (sometimes called the Recktunnel today). This was the longest tunnel, and had the most elaborately designed entryways. In common with the Südwand Tunnel, the Südwest Tunnel has an auxiliary entrance in its interior, in this case leading to a short side chamber whose original purpose is unclear. Some references say these side tunnels were for excavated building materials (rock, sand, and gravel), some say they were used for storage, and some say they were built as shelters along the route in case of air attack.

 

On the left, the Martinswand Tunnel as seen going up the hill. In the center is a 1945 photo taken by an American soldier on the other side of the tunnel, going back down the hill, with a similar view today (the guard rails have been extended over the years). The Martinswand Tunnel entryways and sides are just plain rock, without decoration (contrast with the Zigeuner Tunnel below).  (center - courtesy Chris Munz)

 

After passing the Scharitzkehl Curve going up the hill, the next tunnel is the Zigeuner (Gypsy) Tunnel, called the Gamstunnel (Chamois Tunnel) today. This short tunnel was finished inside and out with dressed stone. On the left is the view going up, on the right, the view going down the road.

 

A short distance up the road from the Ziguener Tunnel is the Südwand (South Wall) Tunnel, called the Hirsch (Stag) Tunnel today. In common with the Südwest Tunnel, it is clad with dressed stone and has an unfinished side chamber, in this case a tunnel some 50 meters long. Again, the original purpose of this tunnel is unclear, but it may have been meant as an air raid shelter. The remains of the original wooden doors at the entrance to this side tunnel can be seen above. Also in common with the Südwest Tunnel, the Südwand Tunnel had provisions at either end for mounting metal doors to close off the tunnel, presumably because of the side chamber inside (see the bottom photo). It is unclear whether metal doors were actually ever installed at either end of these tunnels.

 

The fifth and final tunnel on the Kehlstein Road is the Schwalbennest (Swallows Nest) Tunnel. A short distance above this tunnel, the road turns to the right and heads directly to the parking area at the end of the road, where the tunnel entrance leading to the Kehlsteinhaus elevator is located. In contrast to the other tunnels, the entryway going up (left) was decorated with dressed stone, but not the interior or the side going down (right). In the center is a photo taken shortly after the war, in which strands of camouflage netting can be seen hanging over the tunnel entrance.  (center - courtesy Ray and Gilda Northcott)

 

A curious tunnel that is not part of the Kehlstein road system, but was bored into a cliff face near the Scharitzkehl Curve, is the Schützenköpfl tunnel. The original purpose of this tunnel is unclear. Some sources say it was to produce building materials or to store explosives used in the road construction, while others say it was a test tunnel originally meant to reach the elevator from this point, thus eliminating the current upper stretch of the road. In fact, the tunnel is bored straight into the cliff face, with a sheer drop right at the entrance and no way to reach it except a narrow pathway right at the cliff edge.  (My thanks to my friend Ralf Hornberger for showing me this tunnel)

 


Tour Guide service is available to the Third Reich and WW2 sites in the Obersalzberg area - see the Tour Guide page.


For further information, including Internet links, check the Bibliography page.

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This page initially uploaded on 20 July 2000.


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