Berchtesgaden - a beautiful resort area in the German Bavarian Alps
High in the German Bavarian Alps lies Berchtesgaden, a quaint, charming and picturesque village of 9,000 people in a land region of spectacular natural beauty, majestic mountains, crystal clear lakes and an unspoiled natural preserve of an Alpine National Park.
It follows the Bavarian traditions of parades, beer fests, folklore events, charming villages and where alpine customs and sports are kept alive today. It even includes a royal castle for the Bavarian kings of old, and the Bavarian royal family today, specifically Franz, Duke of Bavaria.
Berchtesgaden is a summer retreat for hikers offering leisurely strolls around to exhilerating, majestic mountain climbs and hikes. During the winter it offers the winter sports of cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowboarding, sledding and ice-skating.
Berchtesgaden is located in the southern district of Berchtesgadener Land in Bavaria near the border of Austria, 30km south of Salzburg, Austria and 180 km southeast of Munich, Germany's capital city. South of the village is the Berchtesgaden (Alpine) National Park.
High above the village is the towering Alp, Watzmann, 2,713 m high and the third largest mountain in the German alps after the Zugspitz and Hochwanner. Watzmann is renowned for its rock climbing community on its Ostwand (East Face) and for a deep glacial lake, Konigssee.
Berchtesgaden is best-known, however, for Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle's Nest), originally a tea house for Adolf Hitler. The 1920s through WWII was a dark time in the history of Berchtesgaden as Hitler had a home, tea house, Nazi administration buildings, soldier barracks, and an underground bunker here.
Fortunately, Berchtesgaden overcame its dark blot in German history and today is a thriving recreation area for Germans and tourists alike. Also, nearby is the lovely glacier lake of Konigssee and it boasts neighboring towns and villages of Bischofswiesen, Marktschellenberg, Ramu, and Shonau am Konigssee.
The village of Berchtesgaden dates back to 1102 AD when the first historical document mentions the rich salt deposits here. The first salt mine was established in 1517. Today, salt mines still are being mined and much of Berchtesgaden's wealth comes from its existing salt mine.
Over the years. Berchtesgaden changed political hands several times and was ruled by Germany, Austria and France at different times throughout history.
By 1810, Berchtesgaden came under Bavarian rule and has remained so to present day. From the 1800's to present, tourism became popular here .
In the years following WWII and until 1995, Berchtesgarden was a huge sports resort for the American armed forces stationed in Europe. Any of the American soldiers could come here and take part in any of the winter sports. Fortunately, American teachers teaching the children of the American soldiers could also take advantage of this Armed Forces Recreation Center.(AFRC)
While I was teaching in Germany, I took advantage of this and did spend a weekend skiing in Berchtesgaden. It was beautiful with ski slopes for beginners, intermediates and advanced skiers. The most fun part was skiing down the alp from Germany right into Austria, with my passport in my back pocket, of course. Today, the AFRC is gone and Berchtesgarden has been fully returned to Germany to run as a sports resort.
Berchtesgaden and Adolf Hitler
Unfortunately and sadly the German Nazi's of WWII also found Berchtesgaden to be a beautiful spot to relax. The area of Obersalzberg was purchased by the Nazis in the 1920s for senior leaders to vacation and enjoy the many sports available here. Hitler's mountain residence, the Berghof, was located here also.
Hitler first came here in 1925 upon his release from Landsberg prison. This is when Obersalzberg became a huge private Nazi retreat and complex of Nazi buildings which was closed to the public. The mastermind of all this was German Nazi Martin Bormann.
Berchtesgaden and the environs around it were fitted to serve as an outpost of the German Reichskanze's office. (Imperial Chancellery). The Third Reich built a railway station, post office next door, and the Berchtesgadener Hof Hotel where famous Nazi visitors stayed: Eva Braun, Erwin Rommel, Joseph Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler.
Many of the appeasers and sympathizers of the Nazis also stayed here: Neville Chamberlain, David Lloyd Gearger and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. (Edward Windsor and Wallis Simpson)
The Kehlsteinhaus was built as a 50th birthday present to Hitler in 1939 and given to him by Martin Bormann. Today it is known as the Eagle's Nest, a name given to it by the American military of WWII. This was Bormann's most lavish accomplishment and built on a mountain spur almost 3,000 feet higher than the Obersalzberg.
It could only be reached by a road with only one hair-pin curve which was an engineering feat of the day.
Bormann also had built administration buildings, SS guard barracks, a green house which grew vegetables, (Hitler was a vegetarian), an experimental farm, hotel, and housing complexes for the worker's needed to serve the Fuhrer and his generals.
Here at the summit of the Alp were the homes of former Nazi leaders: Hitler, Herman Goring and Martin Bormann.
At the end of WWII, the Royal Air Force bombed the Obersalzberg complex on April 25, 1945 as the Allies feared Hitler would leave Berlin and set up his official headquarters here. The Allies were not aware that Hitler had a fear of heights and rarely came here during the war.
Most of the buildings and bunkers of the Bergdorf (Hitler's residence) were destroyed by the Allies at the end of WWII. After the war, Obersalzberg became a military zone and most of its buildings not destroyed were requisitioned by the U.S. Army.
One of the conditions of the return of Obersalzberg to German control in 1952 was the destruction of the remaining ruins. The homes of the former Nazi leaders - Hitler, Herman Goring, and Martin Bormann - were demolished in the early postwar years.
The U.S. Army appropriated some of the less damaged buildings for use as a soldier recreation facility and these were maintained until 1995 by the Armed Forces Recreation Center. (AFRC) The Platterhof was retained and was renamed the General Walker Hotel and served as a holiday and recreation retreat for the American military.
This served as an integral part of the U.S. Armed Forces Recreation Center for the duration of the Cold War and beyond. In 1995, fifty years after the end of WWII and five years after German reunification, the AFRC at Berchtesgaden was turned over to the Bavarian state and authorities to facilitate the U.S. military spending reductions. These were mandated by the Base Realignment and Closure program by the U.S.Congress and the Pentagon during Bill Clinton's presidency.
The General Walker Hotel was demolished and by 1996 the ruins, along with remnants of the Berghof, were removed.
The Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle's Nest) was retained and turned into a restaurant. A new bus line and bus station were installed to reach the new InterContinental Hotel Resort as no cars are permitted at the top. The InterContinental is quite the luxury stay as rooms go for a pricey 2500 euros per night.
The Germans built a new documentation center and museum and it is the first German museum of its kind to chronicle the entire span of WWII all in one spot.
Berchtesgaden has overcome its nasty Nazi history, and since 1995 has been in the hands of its rightful owners the federal state of Bavaria in Germany.
There is much to see and do at Berchtesgaden today, from hiking the Alps during the summer to winter sports in the Alpine snow, to viewing the spectacular views from the summit of the Eagle's Nest.
- First and foremost is the Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle's Nest) which is a restaurant today. It is located 1,834 m altitude above Berchtesgaden. While eating, tourists can see the majestic views over the eastern Alps high above the clouds. It can be reached by foot or by bus but it is not accessible by car. It is only open from May through October because of the heavy snows that come during the winter months. Also to see is the WWII documentation center and museum and Hitler's bunker below.
- Konigssee is the beautiful glacier lake three miles south of the village of Berchtesgaden. It is the deepest lake in the Alps and is nestled below a steep Alp that raises up to 2000 m above lake level. There are boat trips that can be taken around the lake and to the other side of the lake to visit the world famous Kloster St. Bartoloma, an Augustine monastery. Konigssee also offers bobsleigh, luge and a skeleton track for tourists to enjoy.
- Obersee is a smaller lake to see and visit and tourists can enjoy the wildlife of the Alpine National Park. Hiking here is very popular during the summer months.
- Berchtesgaden (Alpine) National Park is the only park in the German Alps. Its altitude is 2,300 m stretching from the Konigssee bed to Watzmann peak. It covers almost all vegetation zones and has all the typical animal and plant species. It is located in southeast Germany in Bavaria and adjoins with the Austrian federal state of Salzberg. It was founded in 1978 and is 210 square kilometres and is now owned by the federal state of Bavaria. It's mission statement is, "Leaving nature to its own devices." Areas without human intervention is where wilderness begins and its objectives are protecting natural processes of nature and conserving biodiversity.
- Jenner Alp is on the east side of Konigssee and is accessible by cable car. It boasts the most beautiful view over the Berchtesgaden valley.
- Berchtesgaden salt mine is one of two salt mines in the Salzberg area with the other one being on the Austrian side.
- Rossfelt Alp is three miles from Berchtesgaden and 1600 m high above the village. It is a beautiful spot for walks and skiing above the clouds and also greast for downhill skiing. It can be reach by toll road or by bus.
- Obersalzbergbahn is the second, smaller cable car in Berchtesgaden and brings tourists onto the Obersalzberg where bob sledding can be enjoyed during winter and summer.
- Bobbahn at Konigssee has a bobsleigh run and is a popular venue for world cup races. The gastbobs are runs for tourists and there is an eishalle, an ice arena for ice skating. There is also the Watzmanntherme which is a giant action whirlpool, hydro massage facilities, saltwater pools with a 80m slide. Ski slopes are at Obersalzberg ,Gotschen, Rossfield and Jenner Alp. There are also several runs for cross-country skiing and touring in the Berchtesgaden Alps
- German Olympic champion Georg Hackl, multiple Olympic medal winner and famous sports personality makes his home at Berchtesgaden. He was the first to win five consecutive medals - three gold medals and two silver medals - in men's single luge event. He is usually out and about for tourists to meet and watch him hurtling down the luge.
- Hotel InterContinental Resort was built by the Germans after they took over Berchtesgaden in 1995. It is located on the Obersalzberg and is a beautiful spa and resort, although it is pricey.
- German food is delicious and below are some of the best places to eat around the Berchtesgaden area.
Eateries in the Berchtesgaden area
Berggaststaate Kehlsteinhaus - Enjoy food and drink above the clouds
Braustuberl Berchtesgaden - local beer brewery which specializes in Weissbier, a wheat beer that is consumed with Weisswurst and sweet mustard.
Cafe Lockstein offers some of the the best views over Berchtesgaden.
Gasthof Goldener Bar offers delicious local German food.
Zum See Wirt has the best German deli food in the village of Berchtesgaden
Berchtesgaden and Konigssee
© 2014 Suzette Walker