The Kehlsteinhaus (known as the Eagle's Nest in English-speaking countries) is a Third Reich-era building erected atop the summit of the Kehlstein, a rocky outcrop that rises above the Obersalzberg near the town of Berchtesgaden. It was used exclusively by members of the Nazi Party for government and social meetings. It was visited on 14 documented instances by Adolf Hitler, who disliked the location due to his fear of heights, the risk of bad weather, and the thin mountain air. Today it is open seasonally as a restaurant, beer garden, and tourist site.
The Kehlsteinhaus sits on a ridge atop the Kehlstein, a 1,834 m (6,017 ft) subpeak of the Hoher Göll that rises above the town of Berchtesgaden. It was commissioned by Martin Bormann in the summer of 1937. Paid for by the Nazi Party, it was completed in 13 months. Hitler first visited on September 16, 1938, and returned on April 20, 1939, for its inauguration. Contrary to widespread assumptions, however, the Eagle's Nest was not a gift for Hitler's 50th birthday in 1939. A 4 m (13 ft) wide approach road climbs 800 m (2,600 ft) over 6.5 km (4.0 mi). Costing RM 30 million to build (about 150 million inflation-adjusted euros in 2007), it includes five tunnels and one hairpin turn.
From a large car park, a 124 m (407 ft) entry tunnel leads to an ornate elevator that ascends the final 124 m (407 ft) to the building. The inside of the large elevator is surfaced with polished brass, Venetian mirrors, and green leather. Construction of the entire project cost the lives of 12 workers. The building's main reception room is dominated by a fireplace of red Italian marble presented by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, which was damaged by Allied soldiers chipping off pieces to take home as souvenirs. Much of the furniture was designed by Paul László. The building had a completely electric appliance kitchen, which was unusual in 1937, but was never used to cook meals; instead meals were prepared in town and taken to the kitchen on the mountain top to be reheated. The building also has heated floors, with heating required for at least two days prior in order for the temperature to be comfortable enough for visitors.
There are two ways to approach and enter the building: the road and the Kehlsteinhaus elevator. Hitler did not trust the elevator, continually expressed his reservations of its safety, and disliked using it; his biggest fear was that the elevator's winch mechanism on the roof would attract a lightning strike. (Bormann took great pains to never mention the two serious lightning strikes that occurred during construction.)
The Kehlsteinhaus lies several miles directly above the Berghof. In a rare diplomatic engagement, Hitler received departing French ambassador André François-Poncet on October 18, 1938, here. A wedding reception for Eva Braun's sister Gretl was held there following her June 3, 1944, marriage to Hermann Fegelein. While Hitler more often than not left the entertaining duties to others, he believed the house presented an excellent opportunity to entertain important and impressionable guests.
Referred to as the "D-Haus", short for "Diplomatic Reception Haus", the Kehlsteinhaus is often conflated with the Mooslahnerkopf tea house at the Berghof, which Hitler visited daily after lunch. The teahouse was demolished by the Bavarian government after the war, due to its connection to Hitler.
The Kehlsteinhaus was to be the aiming point of an April 25, 1945, Royal Air Force bombing raid conducted by No. 1, No. 5, and No. 8 Group and No. 617 Squadron. The small house proved an elusive target for the force of 359 Avro Lancasters and 16 de Havilland Mosquitoes, which bombed and severely damaged the Berghof area instead.
It is uncertain which Allied military unit was the first to reach the Kehlsteinhaus. The matter is compounded by popular confusion of it and the town of Berchtesgaden taken on May 4 by forward elements of the 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division of XV Corps of the U.S. Seventh Army of the Sixth Army Group.
Reputedly, members of the 7th went as far as the elevator to the Kehlsteinhaus, with at least one person claiming that he and a partner continued on to the top. In a Library of Congress interview and more recent interviews, Herman Louis Finnell of the 3rd Infantry Division said that his regiment entered the Berghof, not the Kehlsteinhaus.
However, the 101st Airborne maintains it was first both to Berchtesgaden and the Kehlsteinhaus. Also, elements of the French 2nd Armored Division, Laurent Touyeras, Georges Buis, and Paul Répiton-Préneuf, were present on the night of May 4 to 5, and took several photographs before leaving on May 10 at the request of US command. and so says the numerous testimonies of the Spanish soldiers who went along with them.
Undamaged in the April 25 bombing raid, the Kehlsteinhaus was subsequently used by the Allies as a military command post until 1960, when it was handed back to the State of Bavaria.
Today the building is owned by a charitable trust, and serves as a restaurant offering indoor dining and an outdoor beer garden. It is a popular tourist attraction to those who are attracted by the historical significance of the "Eagle's Nest". The road has been closed to private vehicles since 1952 because it is too dangerous, but the house can be reached on foot (in two hours) from Obersalzberg, or by bus from the Documentation Center there. The Documentation Centre currently directs visitors to the coach station where tickets are purchased. The bus ticket is ostensibly an entry ticket as it permits the holder entry to the lift up to the Eagles Nest building. The buses have special modifications to take on a slight angle, as the steep road leading to the peak is too steep for regular vehicles. The Kehlsteinhaus itself does not mention much about its past, except in the photos displayed and described along the wall of the sun terrace that documents its pre-construction condition until now.
Informal tours of the Kehlsteinhaus are available to be booked through the official website. Due to concern about neo-Nazis and post-war Nazi sympathisers no external guides are permitted to conduct tours.
The lower rooms are not part of the restaurant but can be visited with a guide. They offer views of the building's past through plate-glass windows. Graffiti left by Allied troops is still clearly visible in the surrounding woodwork. The red Italian marble fireplace remains damaged by Allied souvenir hunters, though this was later halted by signage posted that the building was U.S. government property, and damage to it was cause for disciplinary action. Hitler's small study is now a store room for the cafeteria.
A trail leads above the Kehlsteinhaus towards the Mannlgrat ridge reaching from the Kehlstein to the summit of the Hoher Göll. The route, which is served by a Klettersteig, is regarded as the easiest to the top.
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