WWII Buffs

Chasing the Ghost of History, All the Way Across Europe

Would you track Hitler's beginning and end?

By Bill Wiatrak October 19, 2018

The Eagle's Nest today in Bavaria.

Adolf Hitler’s home was obliterated off the map by Allied Forces in 1945, but there are little bits of his life and dwellings that are mysteriously still in existence today.  

Now, vacations are traditionally supposed to be about “happy things,” but European tourism focused around the history of World War II—including visits to concentration camps and even the places where Hitler plotted out the Third Reich's atrocities—seems to be at an all-time high. Perhaps it’s to gain an understanding of how things in the world went so terribly wrong. Maybe it’s akin to the fascination of watching a horror movie.

Remnants of The Berghof.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

Whatever the case, I found myself standing on the floor of what used to be The Berghof, the small chalet Adolf Hitler built in Bavaria, near the border of Austria, with the money he made from the publication of Mein Kampf. He soon expanded the building and his henchmen followed him to the Bavarian Alpine settlement of Obersalzberg.

He tried to purchase the Zum Türken hotel next door but the owner refused to sell, until he was sent to Dachau concentration camp for two weeks and changed his mind. The hotel was used to house the SS and defenses put into place to ward off any potential attack from the Allies.

In 1945, as the Germans were losing World War II, the neighborhood was bombed, The Berghof set on fire, and the remaining walls were eventually torn down a few years later.

Over the last 70 years, though, the trees have grown back, and you can still find part of the foundation and driveway of the house. It’s creepy enough to be walking in the place that Hitler spent most of his time. It’s hard for me to think of Hitler as having been a real person, but he had a house and a girlfriend. He painted. He lived in one of the most beautiful areas of Bavaria. The town looks like a pristine mountain resort.

Tunnels beneath the Zum Türken.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

But underneath the Zum Türken hotel,  which was rebuilt in 1949 by members of the original owner's family, reside Hitler’s tunnels. Pay a few Euros, and you can climb down the stairs and view the holding cell for short term prisoners, corridors that went to different Nazi’s homes and secure bunker rooms, where soldiers shot their victims with machine guns surrounded by several feet of cement. It’s a sobering DIY tour and hard to believe that such a place exists.

Equally bizarre is the famed Eagle’s Nest, one of the few Third Reich buildings left in the world. The building was constructed as a gift to Hitler for his 50th birthday. It wasn’t far from his home, but high on a neighboring mountain top.

Hitler didn’t love the place as much as his contemporaries had hoped for. He had a fear of heights and disliked the frequent bad weather. He did, however, visit the mountain retreat over a dozen times for various meetings. The building was somehow spared during the Allied bombings, and after the Nazis were deposed, the Allies used it as a military command post until 1960.

Now the complex has been repurposed into a restaurant and beer garden. You can take a bus to the top of the mountain, ride the elevator to Hitler’s former headquarters and have a beer and some German sausage. Ironic, but true. Hitler’s study has been demoted to restaurant storage.

The monument for the millions killed by Hitler, in front of his birthplace.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

From Obersalzburg, you can drive straight north an hour and a half north and arrive in the small Austrian town of Braunau am Inn, the birthplace of Adolphus Hitler. The building where he was born remains intact to this day—Hitler’s childhood home in Leonding, and another home in Linz, where he lived for seven years, have somehow survived, too—in spite of efforts to tear it down. The current owner of the building is involved in a legal battle with the Austrian government over the seizure of the property. Fears that neo-Nazis or other radical groups might gain control over the area and use it as a “mecca” for their ideologies has caused a lot of controversy.

You can’t get inside the building, but there is a large monument in front of the house, where visitors can commemorate victims of The Holocaust. If you’d like to clear your mind, there’s a little bakery across the street and the strudel is amazing.

Gas chamber ruins at Auschwitz.

Image: Bill Wiatrak

For a gristly reminder of the atrocities committed by Hitler’s Third Reich, many tourists visit concentration camps, including Sachsenhausen and Bergen-Belsen, where Ann Frank died from typhus, in northern Germany.

Dachau is in a suburb between Munich and the airport and is easily accessible if you’re visiting Bavaria. It’s difficult to believe the torture, scientific experiments and human abuse that took place in the quiet suburb that reportedly went unnoticed by the local residents.

Auschwitz is more comprehensive and has three remaining camps in the southwest corner of Poland, but it’s a bit of a drive from Germany. Auschwitz was a much more blatant death camp where prisoners were incarcerated, stripped of their belongings, gassed and burned with no mercy. You can still see the ruins of the buildings where this took place.

Hitler spent his last days in Berlin at the Fuhrerbunker, an underground complex created to protect him and its other residents from air raids. Realizing that he was about to be captured, he hurriedly married his girlfriend Eva Braun, and the two of them took cyanide pills. Hitler then shot himself in the head. Both bodies were burned according to his orders.

Unlike his childhood homes, the Fuhrerbunker was not spared. The Soviets leveled it and residential buildings and a parking lot were put over the bunker, so there would not be a trace of anything. In 2006, a sign was placed at the site and has become a popular stop for Berlin tours.

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