As the Allies rushed through Western Europe following the German defeat on D-Day, one of the grand prizes to be taken was the infamous Eagle’s Nest. This estate, which sat 6,000 feet high in the Alps, had actually been given to Hitler as a birthday present.
The name “Eagle’s Nest” was adopted by the Allies, but it was known throughout Germany as the “Kehlsteinhaus.” It was situated atop the Obersalzberg mountains in one of the most beautiful parts of Bavaria, overlooking the small town of Berchtesgaden.
The Eagle’s Nest was designed as a 50th birthday present for Adolf Hitler. Commissioned and overseen by Martin Bormann, the home remains an impressive feat of engineering even today. It was reached by what is still today Germany’s steepest road. Bormann recruited Italian engineers and road makers, experts in carving thoroughfares through the Alps.
The steep mountain road ended in a tunnel that was dug into the mountainside, at the end of which was, as there still is today, a gleaming brass elevator. With reserve power still supplied by a U-Boat engine, the elevator would carry guests and its infamous owner to the final summit. The house itself was fairly modest, but luxuriously decorated (the red marble fireplace was a gift from Mussolini), and the views over Germany and Austria were spectacular.
In reality however, Hitler rarely set foot in his extravagant present. Rumored to suffer from not only chronic claustrophobia, but also vertigo, Hitler preferred to spend his time in his opulent mansion further down the mountain, the infamous Berghof. The famous photographs of Hitler relaxing in the summer with Eva Braun, his dog, surrounded by children, were all taken down the mountain. Much of the inner circle of the Nazi party also built homes here, as Hitler spent roughly a third of his time in power here. A village for around 2,000 members of the party was constructed, with kilometers of still hidden bunkers and tunnels burrowed into the mountainside beneath them.
But the Eagle’s Nest retained such symbolic power that various divisions of the Allied Forces raced each other to be first to Berchtesgaden, then to the mountain top home. Several claim the honor of being first to the Eagle’s Nest, including the French 2nd Armored Division, and more famously, as commemorated in the HBO drama, Band of Brothers, the U.S. 101st Airborne’s Easy Company.
In 1960, control of the Eagle’s Nest was handed back to the German government, along with the problem of what to do with it. As with many ex-Nazi sites, there was a worry about preserving a monument for neo-Nazis to visit. And so, the spectacular Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s 50th birthday gift, was turned into what it is today: a beer garden and restaurant, with little mention of its former notorious owner. The guided tours available however make compulsory stops at a “Documentation Center” at Obersalzberg, a museum that tells the full story of the horrors of the Nazi party era in Germany.
At night, in the peaceful, beautiful Alpine town of Berchtesgaden, it is still possible to look up to the mountains soaring high above, and on one of the highest, see a distant twinkling light coming from the Eagle’s Nest.
Update as of September 2020: The Eagle’s Nest is closed and will reopen in 2021.