Nestled in the Bavarian Alps, not far from Lake Königssee, Obersalzberg at an altitude of around 1,000 meters, above Berchtesgaden, a town situated close to the Austrian border, became the holiday home for Adolf Hitler, long before he became Reich chancellor of Germany in 1933.
Years before he started World War II and the Holocaust, Hitler was seen as a normal holidaymaker — an “agreeable person,” as his first landlord there later recalled.
In 1925, Hitler rented a log cabin in the woods, where the second part of his diatribe, “Mein Kampf” (English: my struggle), was written; later he had a country house called “Wachenfeld.”
After Hitler came to power in 1933, he bought the modest property and had it converted into a luxurious mountain residence, boasting amenities that included panoramic windows, a cellar bar and a bowling alley.
Land for this 100-hectare “restricted Führer area” — that also housed the vacation homes of his Nazi entourage, Hermann Göring and architect Albert Speer— was either confiscated or bought from locals at laughable prices.
The summer residence became the Führer’s second seat of government alongside Berlin, with SS barracks, administration buildings, workshops and underground bunkers.
Soon, politicians, heads of state and military leaders from all over the world met at Obersalzberg. Hitler negotiated here with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and dined with the leader of the Italian Fascist party, Benito Mussolini.
Obersalzberg also houses a Documentation Center which gives visitors a chance to explore the location’s dark history. It was established in 1999 as a place of learning and remembrance and has now been expanded with an additional 1,000-sq m (10,765 square feet) building. The original building was designed for a maximum of 40,000 visitors a year and has long since become too cramped for the throngs of tourists from all over the world.
Above all, many want to know where exactly Hitler lived on the grounds, but not much is left of the original buildings. The existing documentation centre had become too small A large part of the complex on Obersalzberg was destroyed in a bombing raid by the British Royal Air Force on April 25, 1945.
On May 4, the US Army moved into Berchtesgaden — and remained stationed there until 1995. After the final withdrawal of the American troops, the state of Bavaria wanted to put an end to the “wild” Hitler tourism, and especially prevent pilgrimages by far-right followers.
It is not only the spectacular views, but also the “Führer” myth that draws people to Obersalzberg in droves. Most recently, there were around 170,000 visitors a year. The Documentation Center couldn’t manage such crowds, which is why it has now been extended; it is scheduled to open in 2022.
Spread over 800 sq m (with an additional 230 sq m earmarked for temporary exhibitions), the curators from the Leibnitz Institute for Contemporary History want to completely revamp the permanent exhibition, entitled “Idyll and Crime” — through multimedia and numerous other exhibits, as well as a detailed landscape model.
That way, they hope to attract history enthusiasts and ensure they do not set out on their own for a thrill or turn to dubious sources on the internet.