Mountain haunted by Hitler's ghost
Updated: 2011-09-13 08:57
By Francis Curta (China Daily)
This undated handout picture shows the Kehlsteinhaus, formerly known as Hitler's "tea house" or the "Eagle's Nest", a mountain top lodge near the "Berghof", a favorite residence of Adolf Hitler on the Obersalzberg mountain near Berchtesgaden, southern Germany. [AFP Photo / Bayerisches Landesamt Fuer Denkmalpflege, Huber 2010]
BERCHTESGADEN, Germany - On a mountain bike, the cyclist comes barreling through the Bavarian pine forest, racing along a rough alpine track straight through what would have been Adolf Hitler's living room.
He does not stop, or even glance, at the grayish stone wall set in the nearby hillside which is all that remains of Hitler's mountain retreat, known as the "Berghof", his favorite residence for more than 10 years until his death by suicide in a Berlin bunker in 1945.
The Berghof, half way up a Bavarian mountain, was damaged by bombing at the end of World War II and US occupation forces dynamited what was left.
No signpost indicates the way to it, but a notice board does tell visitors they have reached the right spot once they find this historical no-man's-land, neither quite on, nor off the map, a symbol of how Germany still finds it difficult to deal with its Nazi past.
In contrast, Hitler's "tea house", known as the "Eagle's Nest", a nearby mountain top lodge, is well on the beaten track.
Tens of thousands of visitors follow a dizzying road to the top for breathtaking views of peaks and valleys in both Germany and Austria.
The 1,800-meter-high Eagle's Nest, which now houses a restaurant, a cafe and shops selling books with titles such as Hitler's Mountain, was a gift from the Nazi party to its leader on his 50th birthday.
It is said he suffered from a fear of heights and visited infrequently.
Historians want both sites preserved for posterity, but others fear highlighting any site too closely associated with Hitler could encourage perverse pilgrimages.
"You must be very careful not to foster a fascination with Hitler," said Axel Drecoll, a 36-year-old historian in charge of the local documentation center whose exhibits, visited by 160,000 people a year, depict both Hitler's domestic life on the Obersalzberg mountain, overlooking Berchtesgaden, along with Nazi crimes.
"You've got to satisfy the curiosity of the tourists without pandering to sensationalism," he said.
Locals were appalled when newspapers this year reported that a British company was offering a "Hitler holiday" to Berchtesgaden, along with other sites associated with the Fuehrer.
"That really made waves," said local tourism director Michael Griesser, who recalls how Bavarian authorities sought to stop the so-called Face of Evil Tour before realizing they were dealing with ordinary tourists rather than neo-nazis.
Of course, there are still a few of those. Some, surreptitiously, lay flowers and candles at the Berghof on Hitler's birthday, or wreathes on the anniversary of his death, but the documentation center, a short distance away, quickly disposes of them, says Drecoll.
The real problem, he believes, isn't right-wing radicals but the fact that, as people grow less afraid of the Nazi past, "the line between historical enquiry and commercial kitsch gets blurred".
"I don't want to see the Obersalzberg become a chamber of horrors" attraction, he said.
Ingrid Scharfenberg, 80, who runs the "Zum Tuerken" guest house, one of the few original buildings still standing near the Berghof, feels she's herself treated like a Nazi exhibit.
"People say this is the brown (Nazi) mountain and that everyone in Berchtesgaden is Nazi. You can't blame generation after generation just because (Hitler) once lived here," she said.
The US military kept a lid on the place for years by turning it into a recreational area for soldiers before handing the mountain back to the Bavarian government in 1995.
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