Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

August 2007 : Berchtesgaden

The little town of Berchtesgaden and the wider area that takes its name, the Berchtesgadener Land, seem like a far-flung, alpine outpost of Germany. Like neighbouring Salzburg, the area was once an independent principality; but whereas Salzburg was eventually absorbed into Austria, the Berchtesgadener Land was annexed by the kingdom of Bavaria and thus found its way into Germany, where it was to become a player in that country's 20th Century history.

Leaving the history aside for a minute, it is a region of outstanding natural beauty, much of which is carefully preserved through National Park status. If I'm honest, what initially attracted my attention was the unexpected presence there of an InterContinental hotel and resort, but it didn't take much research to establish that this was a corner of Germany that was well worth a visit.

Better still, having completed my first visit, I now believe that there's enough there to support a follow-up visit at some stage.

Eagle's Nest

Well, there's just no getting away from that history. My first objective on Saturday morning was a visit to the Kehlsteinhaus, known in English as the Eagle's Nest. Now operated as a mountain-top restaurant, the structure was built and presented to Adolf Hitler as a 50th birthday gift. He rarely made any use of the place, however, and perhaps this fact was instrumental in winning it a reprieve at the end of World War II - other structures in the area that were associated with the dictator were blown to bits. The road itself is reckoned to be an amazing feat of engineering, achieving a huge difference in elevation with the use of only one hairpin bend. Cars have been banned for many years now, the journey being made every 25 minutes by convoys of buses. The views are breathtaking, with even the city of Salzburg being clearly visible in the distance.


Sunday morning brought what was probably the highlight of the weekend : a trip to Königsee, sailing on the crystal clear waters in electric boats, deep in the National Park, well away from roads, surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and basking in glorious sunshine. Sounds idyllic? It was! I stopped at the famous St Bartholomew Church, before continuing to the head of the lake at Salet, where I was able to make the short walk to the more isolated Obersee.


The town of Berchtesgaden is itself well worth exploring, but be warned - the town is built on two levels and if you stick to the lower level around the railway station, you'll really miss out. You have to make that climb up into the historic central area.


And finally, it's back to the history books again. The still-new InterContinental lies high above Berchtesgaden in the tiny hamlet of Obersalzberg. Tiny and remote it may be, but this was the place that Hitler selected as the site of his secondary command centre for World War II. A short walk from the Interconti is the equally new Dokumentation Obersalzberg centre, an interesting exhibition where documentary evidence of what went on here is presented in a matter-of-fact way. The facility also allows access to part of the command bunker complex which, on a warm summer day, I found chilling in more ways than one. The final photo shows a piece of etched graffiti that I spotted on the way out. All I can say is : Amen to that!

Salt mine

Berchtesgaden still has a working salt mine, which nowadays supplements its earnings through being a major tourist attraction. Visitors are invited to don miners' clothing and experience underground train and funicular rides, a number of presentations, changing levels via wooden slides and a rather mystical short cruise on an underground lake.

Base : InterContinental