Combining infamy and stunning natural beauty, the tiny town of Berchtesgaden is a German travel wonder. Surrounded by dazzling turquoise lakes, towering snow-capped mountains, brooding dark green forests, cute steep-sided churches and tumbling falls, Berchtesgaden seems unsuited to its sinister past.
Perched on the appropriately named Eagle’s Nest (Kehlstein), one of Hitler’s most faithful generals built a remote and highly secure meeting place for Hitler during World War II. Only accessible via a twisty mountain road and a final lift deeply embedded into the bedrock, the Kehlsteinhaus now serves as a tea-room with tasty, calorie-rich snacks. With staggering panoramic views of the Bavarian Alps, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest House is more suitably sited as a fancy hotel or tea-room than a location to hatch battle plans and invasions.
Off the mountain is an outstanding and detailed museum called the Dokumentation Obersalzberg, rich in documents, photos and video footage of the Nazi war regime along with a section of the underground bunkers designed to protect the elite German senior officers.
A local salt mine can be entertainingly toured dressing in old mining gear and sliding down a wooden chute polished by thousands of slithering backsides into the mine area into a salty underworld. Travelling via a small mining train and riding a raft across a briny lake, the valuable salt was dug from these pits for over 500 years. Strange salt formations have been carved and lit a misty orange colour to add to the overall mining mood.
A highlight of the area is to ride a small silent electric boat that cruises along the deep emerald waters of Königssee in an amphitheatre of snow-capped alpine majesty towards the onion-domed church of St Bartholomä. Looking more Russian Orthodox than traditional church, the red domed whitewashed house of worship reflects across the gentle ripples of this glacial waterway. A short walk leads to the tumbling Röthbach Falls and another emerald lake.
Combined with the natural beauty of the Berchtesgaden National Park, the small town of Berchtesgaden is often a visitor’s last glimpse of Germany before rolling into the heartland of Austria. As a final taste of Germany, Berchtesgaden represents a superb last course, combining a major element of twentieth century history with an area of intense and lasting natural wonder.
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