Tuesday, 31 May 2016

berchtesgadener land oder alpine redoubt

We learned that the name of the town Berchtesgaden means “hayloft-hayloft,” once in Latin and again in old German—the denizens having forgot what the original toponym meant, the settlement still known for the same feature and utility, and though that was an apt introduction for our weekend tour through the beautiful but haunted Alpine landscape on the Austrian border.
We encamped near the shores of the serene Königsee and once through the souvenir-stalls, enjoyed the amazing views of the towering mountains protecting this body of water—which awkwardly bore the redundant designation “Lake Königsee” for the tourists—not quite yet hoarding and given it was so vast, there was never a high density of holiday-goers. On the peak of the Kehlstein, visible from the lake and later, illuminated from the campsite—it was eerie to think about being looked down on even though Hitler visited the mountain-top retreat built on the occasion of the Fuhrer’s fiftieth birthday only a couple of times, stood the Kehlsteinhaus, known in most contexts as the “Eagle’s Nest” (conflated with the Adlerhorst near Bad Nauheim).
The structure has been given over to a charitable trust that runs a restaurant and not much mention is made about the place’s past in order that these places not be made pilgrimage destinations—an effort that does not seem quite so effective, given the throngs of visitors and the infrastructure in place to manage them all. Thanks to a rather ingenious bus pass whose network had a stop nearby, there was no need to decamp and find further parking and were chauffeured around quite at ease. A second bus took us more than a mile up the mountain on quite a harrowing journey, alighting before a long tunnel that led to a bronze elevator—the original, that hoisted us up the final hundred meters.
The views were breath-taking and we were treated to absolutely perfect weather. Descending below, we went to the Documentation Centre—a museum that is dedicated to the story of this area during the Third Reich, built on the razed ruins of the Obersalzburg half-way down the mountain side. This compound housed the elite of the Nazi party, and constructed over an ancient salt-mining operation, sits atop a system of cavernous bunkers, which had all the life-support and connectivity capacities to allow the regime to retreat underground—an Alpine Redoubt (Alpenfestung)—and continue persecuting the war.
Only a retaining wall of Hitler’s favoured residence, the Berghof, remains. It wasn’t that the outstanding beauty of this place was besmirched by its past but we did need something to cleanse the palette with so much to think about, and so went back to Königsee and took a little cruise down the lake.
Our guide played the flugelhorn in front of one flat rock face to have his tune echo and resound through the valley and told us more about the natural history. The trip took us to the very picturesque church of Sankt Bartholomä, named for the Apostle Bartholomew, patron saint of dairymen and Alpine farmers—and having miraculously, the ability to make things either very heavy or light as a feather, depending on what the situation called for.