Salzburg to Berchtesgaden

On The Road Travel Essays

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Salzburg to Berchtesgaden

After leaving Salzburg, you will pass the small town of Hellbrunn on your right, whose chief attraction is Hellbrunn chateau, the former summer residence of Archbishop Marcus Stickus (1615). It is built in ornate baroque style of the 18th century. Its gardens feature many surprises including fountains which suddenly shower the unwary visitor. It is also the home of the Salzburg zoo.

Markt Schellenberg  First town after crossing the border. Notice the old border guardhouse and tower just before you enter the town. The tower dates from the 14th century and is the object of many a spine-chilling tale, just as the mountain behind, the Untersberg. The following legend is just one concerning this mountain, often referred to as the Wonder mountain. The story goes something like this. (You could use this on an uninteresting stretch from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden.) In the days of old, dwarfs hollowed out great halls and passages in the Untersberg. In one such mighty hall, Charles the Great sits upon a marble throne, surrounded by his advisors and a horde of brave warriors. His white beard, interwoven with a string of pearls has curled itself twice around the table. Once in awhile, he and his followers wake and a messenger is sent to the cave door to see if the ravens are still flying. Should this be the case, he once again will fall into deep sleep. But when twenty-four raven, no more no less, are circling the mountain and when his beard has grown to circle the table a third time, the moment of awakening will have come. He well emerge as head of his army and fight a great battle against the Germans — the archenemy — in which he will be victorious. He will emerge at the end of the battle riding a three-footed grey carrying off the flag of victory.

The town itself straddles the river Aache and is an old salt refining center.

A little farther on in a small valley to your right, the only remaining water-powered marble mill in the world is to be found; it is now a well-known tourist attraction.

Oberau  A small mountain village - one of the many ski centers around Berchtesgaden. It was near here that some of the mountain scenes in "Sound of Music" were filmed.

Obersalzberg  This was once a tiny mountain hamlet, popular in the latter 19th century with writers and artist until Hitler and his entourage made it their home.

Hitler at Berchtesgaden  After Hitler's unsuccessful Putsch in 1923 and his brief prison stay, he settled in the town, where he had family friends and acquaintances. It became his favorite place, not only for these family connections, but because of the high, spacious lookout from the mountain top, where he could feel he was "overseeing" the world from Mt. Olympus.

Obersalzberg: The place Hitler actually stayed was a little village up the hill from the town of Berchtesgaden, called Obersalzberg (name means "over-Salzburg," since it overlooks the city from a height of several thousand feet). In 1934, now in power, he purchased a chalet known as the Berghof, and had it decorated in the most pretentious style: massive furniture, large rooms, heavy fireplaces, etc.

Here during the 1930's, Hitler gathered his cronies around him. Several of them built their own villas in the area, chief among them Martin Bormann, the most influential member of his inner circle.

Living with Hitler: The amazing thing about Hitler's daily routine here was not its grandeur but its mediocrity. He would rise about 10:00 a.m., have a long breakfast. Then out for a walk in the gardens. Long lunch around 3:00. Nap in the afternoon. Then a "formal" dinner around 9:00. Then out comes the movie screen for several films at a time — sometimes three or four a night. What kind of films? Leni Riefenstahl documentaries? Art films? Porno even? No — Hollywood slapstick, cheap romances, Tallulah Bankhead stuff. High party functionaries had to be present for all of this: hours and hours of tedious small-talk, bad jokes, vulgarities, barnyard humor. Hitler never had any Germans of high education of culture present — even Nazis. The reason: he was ashamed to show them how down-to-earth the Fuhrer actually was. An unforgettable account of life with Hitler at Obersalzburg is given by Albert Speer, Hitler's brilliant architect, in Inside the Third Reich.

Low drama: But spectacles could be staged for the occasion, such as the visit in 1938 of the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. At his occasion, details were worked out for the surrender of the Sudentenland (the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia) to Nazi Germany.

Another example of low drama: a special hotel, called the Platterhof, was built (it has been restored) for visitors who would come here on "pilgrimages" to demonstrate their zeal and loyalty to the Fuhrer. The hotel is now named "General Walker" in honor of one of the American commanders whose troops finally took the village.

Destruction: Most of these buildings, including the Berghof, were destroyed in an Allied air raid on April 25, 1945. Shortly afterwards, on May 4, Allied soldiers stormed the site (French and American). The reason the Allies were anxious to secure this area is that they believed — wrongly — that Hitler had plans to make a last-ditch stand here, instead of in Berlin. They called this area of Germany the "Bavarian redoubt," where they expected the final Armageddon occurred in Berlin.

Berchtesgaden  Dominated by the pincer-like summit of the Watzmann (8900 feet) this old trading settlement on the confluence of two small rivers has retained much of its old character, while at the same time is has become a major tourist resort both in the summer and in the winter. Originally however it was the existence of salt in the surrounding hills which brought in wealth and trade. The town was the object of continuous political squabbles between Bavaria and Austria until 1809 when it passed firmly into the hands of the Bavarian kingdom. It remained a sleepy provincial outpost until Hitler adopted it as his new home. Since the war it has become one of Germany's principal ski centers and the largest leave center for American troops. Although tourism is now easily the largest industry, salt mining continues much in the same way as in the 16th century, having become a tourist attraction in itself. The salt mines boast slides and a subterranean lake.

Most of the important historical buildings worth seeing are situated around the 'Schlossplatz' in the center of town, particularly the Castle, one of the residences of the Bavarian royal family, and the 'Stiftskirche', a Romanesque church which is the earliest building in the town.

Another well-known legend concerning this part of the world tells the story of the Watzmann mountain and how it came into existence. Once upon a time, a vicious, blood-thirsty king named Watzmann oppressed the peasants of this land. He, his wife and children hunted the valleys and forests, killing deer mercilessly in the passion of the hunt. One day in the course of the hunt they came upon a shepherd and his family tending their flocks. First the hounds killed the shepherd's faithful dog, to the amusement of their cold-blooded boss. Soon the mother and child also fell to his lust and the shepherd himself was driven into the woods. Upon this, God's wrath followed - a great storm arose and the king, his wife and children were ripped apart by his own dogs and were then turned to stone and grew into mountains to remain as an everlasting reminder to mankind. (Point out the mountain - the king to the right, wife to the left and the kids in between.)

Konigssee  As the name indicates this is one of the most spectacular lakes in the Alps with its steep clifflike banks and its charming pilgrimage chapel of St. Bartolema. (Walk group from bus park through town to lake front. Point out the electric boats to the group - no pollution is allowed). It is one of the deepest lakes in the Alps (750 feet). (10 minute walk along the left bank). The best view is to be had from the Malerswinkel. Point out the small red cross on the other side of the lake from here - 80 pilgrims drowned here when their raft capsized in a storm. Cows are still ferried over the lake in the fall after spending the summer on the surrounding alpine pastures. Also note the bobsleigh run on the other side of the lake near the town; one of the most modern in the world, and home of the German national team.

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