Wednesday, September 9, 2015

From Hitler to Mozart (Exploring Germany and Austria)

"These were the best times of my life. My great plans were forged here." Adolf Hitler.

Billy loves history, so for his 40th birthday this past weekend, we returned to Berchtesgaden, Germany, and were able to locate the remains of Hitler's primary residence, "The Berghof".  Hitler's retreat in the mountains of Bavaria was one of the most important centers of government in the Third Reich. Hitler spent more time in the Berghof than in his Berlin office. It was in this oversized chalet that Hitler planned the invasions of Poland, France and Russia and the events that would change the lives of millions.

Hitler's Berghof, 1936

Hitler's Berghof, Today

All that stands today is the foundation of one of the walls as well as the skeletal remains of the grand staircase leading up into the home. The residence was destroyed after WWII, and Mother Nature has reclaimed the spot. A narrow path into the woods leads up to the home; not even a sign marks it. The German government did this on purpose, not wanting to draw attention to such an ugly part of history.

It was very odd and eery to be standing in the exact spot, the exact center, of where all of these events began. The morning we were there it was very cold, raining, and the area was surrounded by mist and fog. The elements fit the place.

Hotel zum Turken (left) and The Berghof

Hotel zum Turken, today

Literally just feet from the Berghof, stands Hotel zum Turken. This is the Obersalzburg's oldest building. It dates back to 1630, hosting a number of important guests. In 1933, the Nazis seized the hotel. Not only was the hotel next-door to Hitler's personal residence, it was also used as the headquarters for his guards. After the war, the hotel's original owners finally were able to regain the property back, where to this day, it continues to function as a hotel.

We stayed at zum Turken one night and were able to tour a huge underground bunker system connecting the hotel to Hitler's home. The decor looks like its from the 60s, and there are no amenities such as TVs or hair-dryers in the rooms. I'll admit it; I'm not a fan of that, but being here truly was mind-blowing. Incredible history! The woman who runs it today is the great-granddaughter of the man who operated the hotel when the Nazis stole it from him.

 (Clockwise: stairs take you 105 feet underground to the bunker, bullet holes still remain today, a Nazi sign points to the tunnel leading to Hitler's home. That tunnel is now bricked up.)

For our second day, we traveled less than 45 minutes up the road to Salzburg, Austria.  It is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps. Tourists come here to visit the city's historic center, many palaces, and the scenic Alpine surroundings. However, its real claim to fame is being the birthplace of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The city was also the setting for the musical play and film, "The Sound of Music".

We got to visit Mozart's childhood home, "The Hagenauer House" at #9 Getreidegasse. Although pictures weren't allowed inside, we were able to see some of his musical instruments and the actual room where he was born. He was a child genius who had already learned both the piano and violin at the age of 5 and soon began touring. Just amazing!

Looming over Salzburg from the Alps, is The Hohensalzburg Fortress. Built in 1077, it is the largest, fully-preserved fortress in central Europe. The more than 900-year-old citadel boasts beautiful views and old armor. We didn't spend too much time here just because we were c-c-cold! (Well, at least I was.) Believer it or not, it had already started snowing in this area, Labor Day Weekend, when most of our friends and family are still frolicking at the beach and lake! Who knew when I packed my bags to come to Italy for the summer I would need winter maternity clothes?

Next weekend we plan to explore a few more parts of Germany, and I can't wait to tell you all about it! Until then, Ciao or maybe I should say Tschuss! (German for bye)

However, it is most famous for being the birthplace of 18th-century composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The city was also the setting for the musical play and film, "The Sound of Music".