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Hitler’s perfect birthday treat

A chalet atop a mountain as a gift to celebrate 50th birthday? Wow! This sounded completely unreal but I was determined to discover more about this cottage. Eagle’s Nest or the Kehlsteinhaus, as known to the locals in Germany, was indeed a gift to Adolf Hitler on his 50th birthday by his personal secretary, Martin Bormann, who was also the head of the Nazi Party Chancellery. It was a tea house to entertain guests and dignitaries. Located in Obersalzberg on the German-Austrian border, resting on a mountain peak and nestled in the Bavarian Alps, the Eagle’s Nest has stood the test of times, the bombings and the battles of World War II. This glorious blast from the past now rests proudly, almost in vindication.

This anecdote intrigued me and I decided to pay Austria a little visit. Landing in Vienna, I took a train to Salzburg which has a special bus trip to take you to the Nest and is one of the shortest distances. It takes about three-and-a-half hours from Vienna to reach Salzburg. The immaculate train and the gorgeous landscapes during the journey assured me that I had made the right choice. Booking ahead for my Eagle’s Nest trip through the travel agents, I didn’t have to bother buying bus tickets at the last moment. Salzburg greeted me with chilly winds and slight rain. I was disappointed seeing it rain because my bus trip was dependant on the weather and now it was at the risk of getting cancelled. I headed straight to my hotel and hit the bed hoping the weather would mend its way and at the same time, containing my excitement about next day’s trip to the Eagle’s Nest.

Golden sunshine was lighting up my room next morning and I was relieved to see a sunny day despite the weather being downcast. Gorging on delicious Austrian breads for breakfast, I decided to walk to the sightseeing office from where I would be boarding a special bus that would take me to Eagle’s Nest. I was informed by the guide that the journey will take about 45 minutes. Making most of those 45 minutes, I resolved to unravel the mystery of the name ‘Eagle’s Nest’ that was given to the tea house. Why Eagle’s Nest? I asked the guide on the bus to throw light on this and he politely obliged. Though he wasn’t sure about this but suggested that it was the French Ambassador Andre Francois Poncet, while on his visit to the tea house, who called it the Eagle’s Nest. The Americans and the British were quick to follow and by the summer of 1938, when the construction was complete, the tea house was commonly known as the Eagle’s Nest.

Time flew and by the time the historical anecdote ended, we were nearing Kehlsteinhaus. The road leading to the Nest was in itself an architectural marvel. About 6.5 kms long, the road passed through five tunnels and one hairpin bend to reach a height of 1834m. Getting off the bus, I was startled by the magnificent panorama the place had. A 360 degree view of the Alps! It was the most amazing site. The day was not clear enough, with clouds playing hide and seek with the sun, and I wasn’t able to view the villages that lay in the valley ahead. I was informed that on a bright, clear day, even Salzburg was visible from there. A short walk from the parking lot took me to a 124 metre long tunnel, cut through the mountain, lined with natural stones. The tunnel ended in an elevator shaft. It was the most astonishing elevator I had ever seen. It was lined with brass; reason being Hitler’s claustrophobia. The brass lining ensured that the elevator’s reflection made it appear double in size. This grand elevator then climbed for about 41 seconds to ascent 124 metres again and finally took me to the entrance of the Eagle’s Nest.

It was interesting to note that the Fuhrer himself didn’t visit this place much; only about 14 times since it was gifted to him on April 20, 1939, apparently because of his fear of heights. Once there, I explored the rooms and the dining hall that once played host to Hitler, Eva Braun and other foreign dignitaries. I stepped outside and the terrace gave a marvellous view of the Alps. I absorbed and soaked in the view while enjoying a pint of Bavarian beer in the beer garden on the terrace. Tourists could also order lunch/dinner although there weren’t many options for vegetarians.

Walking back inside, I noticed that the Eagle’s Nest boasted of beamed ceilings and granite walls that marked the interiors of the rooms. A fireplace made up of red marble caught my attention. I came to know that this was also a gift to Hitler by Mussolini. Chips of the fireplace were taken away as souvenirs by the soldiers but the fireplace still stands. One of the many highlights of the Nest was the Scharitzkehl room or Eva’s tea room where she spent most of her time. She also entertained many guests, family and friends here.

The walls of the Kehlsteinhaus are lined with photographs of Hitler and his visitors. The terrace beer garden leads to a trail from where tourists can take off for a short trek to a nearby mountain peak. When raining and misty, this trek is best avoidable. The Eagle’s Nest is open only in summers due to its location and the best time to visit this historical destination is from mid-May to October.

History is always fascinating and for all history lovers, Eagle’s Nest was definitely a window to get an insight into the world of Hitler and the Nazis. I soaked in all the interesting information that I could but it was time for me to go back. Getting out of the tunnel, I spotted a souvenir shop and decided to pick up some mementos that included Kehlsteinhaus jackets, socks, magnets and much more. It was raining when I boarded the bus back; the moment had come to bid adieu to Hitler’s tea house. There was a certain enigma about this place and I wanted to stay back and revel in the historical past but Alas! All good things must come to an end.

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