Berchtesgaden: So much more than the guide books tell you

Berchtesgaden, Germany

September 29-30, 2009

September 29th:

I was coming to Berchtesgaden because my father put it in my head a year before that I should check it out. We are both World War II history buffs and on the European front, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) falls under a must-see. In all the guide books that I read before leaving, the only information given is that it’s the home to the Kehlsteinhaus and that Lake Königssee is just up the road. What it fails to tell you, are the amazing hikes to take, the National Park Museum, the quaint charm the local part of the town has and how there is an amazing view around every corner.

I took the train into Berchtesgaden from Salzburg. It was a short ride, but scenic nonetheless. I dropped my bag off in a locker at the station and crossed the street to the tourist office. I needed to find a place to stay and information on the Kehlsteinhaus. I walked in wearing a Leinenkugel’s Beer shirt and was looking at brochures waiting for the girls at the desk to be free. A guy comes up to me and asks if I’m from Wisconsin, like him. I let him know that I was and ask where he’s from.

“Oh, I’m from a small called Shawano, you?”

“I’m from an even smaller town called Wabeno.”

We both got a laugh out of it, as we’re from towns not that far away from each other. He and his wife were on their 4th or 5th trip to Berchtesgaden so he went right into telling me everything that I would “like.” I let him know that I was looking for a place to stay and hoping the tourist office would be able to help me find a place. He recommended the Hotel Demming, their favorite place to grab a bite to eat in town. They were staying in the Hotel Bavaria down the road, mainly because it offered rooms with hot tubs, which is what they needed after the miles upon miles of hiking they were doing each day. I talked with the girl at the information desk, she gave me all the information I would need on the Kehlsteinhaus, Lake Königssee, the hiking trails, bus schedules and she called the Hotel Demming to arrange a room for me. The couple from Shawano offered to drive me to the hotel, which is up a steep hill. Even though it’s only a few blocks away, they assumed I had some luggage and wanted to take the chance to offer up some more advice on things to do. I gladly accepted their offer for a ride.

So the Hotel Demming has to be one of the quaintest, coziest hotels I’ve ever stayed in. It’s a total Ma and Pa stand—the owner was running the front desk, the daughter was the waitress in the restaurant and they personally cooked the continental breakfast in the morning. When I came in the owner gestured if I was the one they called about. I let her know that I was and she handed me a key to the room and pointed me in the right direction. No paying in advance, no holding a credit card (turns out they didn’t accept cards), etc. All the reservation info was to be filled out in the room. I got up to my room, unloaded my stuff and headed out to see what Berchtesgaden had to offer.

I started out by walking around the main business district, which overlooks the rest of the city. I did everything from explore an old cemetery to shop for traditional German wear. I learned that most of the town businesses don’t accept credit cards, so I found the bank with the ATM and withdrew my money then so I wouldn’t run into any trouble. I decided to head to Lake Königssee just before dusk to check it out. It’s a quick boat ride up from the town, but I learned pretty fast that it’s better to get their before 6 pm, as all of the businesses around the Lake shut down then. I walked around for a bit and then headed to the only place open—McDonald’s, to grab a bite to wait for my bus. When I got in there, I realized this would be my first meal in Germany and no way was it going to come from a McDonald’s. I opted for some ice cream instead.

I headed back into town to grab a beer before retiring for the night. I was excited to check out the Kehlsteinhaus the next day.

September 30th:

My original plan for the day was to head to the Dokumentation Center in Oberslazburg before arranging to take the tour of the Eagle’s Nest through the tourist office. I was informed that the only way to get a tour of the whole building was through the TO. I knew that it included parts of the Dokumentation Center, but mainly just the bunkers. So I figured I would do the main part of the exhibit and then have the rest filled in by the tour. Yeah, that didn’t happen. You really need to set aside a couple hours to go through the Center in Obersalzberg. It’s the largest in Germany and focuses not only on WWII in the region, but the whole of Germany as well. Obersalzberg was where Hitler had vacationed and finished Mein Kampf before going into power. Once he became Chancellor of Germany, he and his administration took over the town by offering exuberant amounts of money to the locals for their houses and lands. Those that refused to sell were constantly pressured and eventually some of them literally lost their roofs in the dead of winter. Here, Hitler built his Berghof, a place where he could appear one with nature and the people. It was a pretty neat exhibit that put a lot of focus on Hitler and his administration. I also found it to be a strait-forward view on WWII from the German perspective. I didn’t come away with any biased opinions, just a “this is what happened and this is how life is today” feel. From the Dokumentation Center you can explore some of the underground bunkers. When the Americans and the Allies came in May of ’45, they took over the area and Hitler’s possessions. The bunkers belonged to the Americans until the 90’s, and it’s pretty obvious as they etched their names, towns, states, etc. all over the walls. I took advantage of being the only one in a specific bunker for a few minutes and etched my name and town as well.

I opted not to take the tour offered through the Tourist Office since I spent a few hours already in Obersalzberg. Instead, I headed up to the parking lot to catch the bus to the Kehlsteinhaus. You do have the option of getting a general tour for 5 Euro once you get to there. A local girl gave a couple Norwegians and me a basic tour upstairs of the history, the current dining room of the restaurant, one of the viewing windows, the terrace and general information. I then walked up the path on the mountain away from the building to partake in some of the most amazing views. On a clear day you can see Salzburg, Austria 20 KM to the east. That day, it was nothing but clouds, but it made me feel more on top of the world than I have ever before. After, I ate lunch in the beer garden and then headed down the path back to where the busses pick you up at. I ran into the couple from Shawano again, who invited me to meet them near the Oktoberfest grounds the next day in Munich. I was never able to join them, but once again, it was nice talking with someone from back home.

My time in Berchtesgaden was finished. I had to catch a train to Munich so I could begin my drinking the next day…

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Filed under Oktoberfest and other musings ’09

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