My Travel Map

My Travel Map

16 April 2011

Bavaria, Germany

Berchtesgaden: a beautiful resort town in the Bavarian Alps.

It's incredibly pleasant here with incredible views to the high Alps all around the town. Missy and I had lunch at a little cafe on a terrace overlooking the town and mountains. The food was great (tomato and sour cream soup with basil and frankfurters and sour kraut), as was the beer of course (heffeweisen), and you just could not beat the atmosphere!

Bavaria is very picturesque. Bavarian architecture is neat and clean, and the geography is remarkable. It encompassing everything from green rolling hills and bountiful fields, lush forests, and sheer Alpine mountains.

Looking down over part of Berchtesgaden and the Alps in the background. There is a small river/creek running through town that had the clearest water running in it. Based on the bus ride up, this crystal clear water is typical of the region.

Good example of many of those geographical features I mentioned previously.

Despite all this beauty, Berchtesgaden has a truly dark and troubling recent past...

It was home to the southern administrative center of the Nazi empire, including Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Many of the Nazi high command had vacation homes here.

I'm not going to do a thorough history of Adolf Hitler or the top Nazis here. I recommend however that you read up on them. Briefly though, Hitler came to power by taking advantage of WWI-ravaged Germany. He used the general plight of the German people during the 20's and 30's to rise politically and seize totalitarian authority in 1933.

An old (original?) copy of Mein Kampf: Hitler's "My Struggle" written while he was in prison for extreme political activism in the 20's. This book became his "little red book" of sorts, defining his social philosophy. It was something his followers could use as a guide book, to unite them all under one fascist goal.

Hitler was most obviously not a trusting man. This map shows how the policed state of Nazi-Germany was split up into two zones: one overseen by Heinrich Himmler, the other by Hermann Goering. This essentially hedged Hitler's bets; neither man had full control over the Gestapo (secret police) in Germany. Only Hitler himself had that authority. Thus, it would be difficult for either man to organize a coup unless the other was also involved, which would be highly unlikely.

Two of history's most evil men. Himmler, leader of the SS and in charge of all their activity, including the death camps responsible for murdering millions of innocent men, women, and children. Goering, leader of the Nazi Luftwaffe (airforce) and Wehrmacht (army), responsible for much of the military activity during the blitzkrieg and Battle of Britain.

Himmler's SS knife and ring, featuring the SS skull and crossbones, totenkopf emblem. This symbol is a very old German symbol of the deathman's head. It symbolizes human death and the dead themselves. Fitting I think for the SS, which were responsible for bringing death to so very many during the Nazi-era.

It was very unsettling and interesting to see the examples of the various propaganda put out during the Nazi-era. Nazi propaganda like this was organized and overseen by Joseph Goebbels. The Dokumentationszentrum Obersalzburg (the name of the museum where all these pictures were taken) also includes a haunting description of the intricate Nazi "undesirable" classification scheme. This included different symbols to mark Jews, gypsies, Poles, political dissidents, homosexuals, and various other types of people that the Nazis considered sub-human. Goebbels and the Nazi high command all played key roles as architects of this system, which ultimately ended up in the death of around 10 million innocent people.

You can see my blog post on Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland here. Note the map in this picture: it shows all the railroad links to the camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. Throughout the Nazi empire, Jews and other "undesirables", were being rounded up by the SS and sent off to the various concentration camps. I had interesting discussions with Missy and our friend Simon about the camps and how the average citizen at the time should have known or suspected something. These conversations led me to a new understanding of German citizens and non-undesirable occupied citizens during the war. Many might have known something awful was happening at the prison and labor camps; I mean, most people knew that great numbers of certain types of people were being rounded up and sent away. However, living in the Fascist police state that was Germany or one of the occupied countries, what option would you have of doing anything about it? If you tried to protest, you would be silenced, and you would put the lives of yourself and your ENTIRE family at risk. If your protests were at all effective, you AND YOUR FAMILY would be marked as "undesirables" yourselves and be hauled away by the SS to meet the same fate as all those others. For the option of trying to leave, where would you go? Being at war, the world was not an easy place to travel around then. It's not like a German family could just up and "escape" to Britain or North America to get away and protest the issue. I don't know about Switzerland and Sweden; perhaps those provided the relatively wealthy Germans with an opportunity of escape. However, I'm pretty sure any citizens of occupied nations would simply not be allowed to flee. This forced most people to simply live through it and try to ignore what was happening around them. They thought about themselves and their families first, which I think is a perfectly understandable reaction in a time like WWII. However, I must point out that there were citizens, both German and occupied alike, who put EVERYTHING at stake to try and help Jewish (and other Nazi-marked "undesirable") friends and neighbors and even absolute strangers. These people are truly heroic and should serve as role models for anyone who ever has to go through such horrific times.

A French police officer saluting a Nazi Luftwaffe officer under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

More Goebbels propaganda: this poster showing a British bomber piloted by a bomb-wielding death and descending on a German town.

By the end of the war, Hitler, through Goebbels, called for all German citizens to take arms and defend their homeland from the surrounding Allied forces (see photo below for some of the Allied propaganda...I particularly like the arms emblazoned with the US, French, UK, and Soviet flags tearing apart the swastika).

Being focused somewhat on the Nazi high command (since most of them had vacation homes in Obersalzburg), it was interesting to see a wall devoted to brief biographies of each man. It was also interesting to see how many of the bastards took their own lives when they realized they had lost (Hitler himself included). I honestly wish they hadn't. I don't believe in an eye for an eye punishment, but, in my opinion, these men deserved the worst kinds of slow, horrible death. We can at least know that they died miserable. I guess thinking this puts me closer to their level, that I would want to do such things to other human beings. Considering this time in history gives you some disturbing and conflicting feelings.

The Dokumentationszentrum culminates in an actual bunker used by the Nazis. This is really just part of an intricate system of fortified tunnels and bunkers which ran underneath most of the Obersalzburg area. This is one of the main staircases down into the bunker...

at the bottom of the stairs are these three holes in the wall: machine gun emplacements.

View up the stairs from one of the emplacements. I can easily imagine SS MG-42 gunners stationed here, looking up waiting for Allied troops to break through at the top. The long staircase would have turned into a brutal and effective killing zone.

This was inscribed into one of the walls inside the bunker. I'm torn on which of the Allied groups would have inscribed it. It's not Russian since the D is using the Latin alphabet. It may be American (DB = ?-Brigade?), but I'm confused by the patriarchal crosses (2-barred cross) on either side of the date (5th May 1945). I know the Americans took Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest, so maybe the guys that wrote this (AG, PS, DA initials?) were members of an Eastern Orthodox church or of Slovakian heritage. Regardless, it was amazing to see this and know it was probably carved in there by Allied troops at the end of the war in Europe.

The bunker included airlocks to ensure that a gas attack wouldn't poison and kill those inside. It was also self-powered by gas generators.

Back outside the bunker, the views from Obersalzburg are stunning...back into the beautiful wonderland that is Bavaria.

Wandering around and enjoying the scenery up here gave me a kind of odd and disturbing feeling, knowing that the Nazi's high command all enjoyed the same thing. It gives them an all-too-human side, which I really don't enjoy admitting. I mean, here they are, literal demons from human history, responsible for one of it's darkest periods, and they thoroughly enjoy some of the same things I do (hiking, climbing, beautiful mountain scenery, and fresh high-altitude air). Disturbing is the better way to describe how I feel about that I guess.

But wait...what is that on top of that mountain (very highest point on the mountain in the back center of this photo)? If you guessed: Hitler's Eagle's Nest, you're correct.

This mountain-top fortress was built for Hitler by Martin Bormann (another top Nazi) as a gift to Hitler for his 50th birthday. Amusingly, Hitler barely spent any time there as he suffered from vertigo!

Looking down on the museum building at Obersalzburg. On this site was originally a guesthouse for visitors to the Nazi stronghold in the mountains. There are pictures in the museum of the effectiveness of the Allied bombing campaign on Obersalzburg however. Most of the original buildings were destroyed.

Back in Munich, the capital city of Bavaria. This is the elaborate Rathaus, a.k.a city hall.

Munich's city center is beautiful and great to just wander around.

Proud showing of the German tri-color. I know the Germans are often reserved about national pride (entirely thanks to the Nazi era), but it is nice to see their flag displayed.

The Rathaus and cathedral.

They are big on painting on their buildings in Bavaria. Lowenbrau is one of the many famous Bavarian beers, of which they are truly proud.

Beer is a huge part of the culture here, and there are beer gardens and halls all around the city. They do the seating en mass, picnic table style, which is great for meeting new people!

The outdoor beer garden at the Viktualienmarkt. This is where we hung out for a good part of the day spent at Oktoberfest (covered in a previous post from 2007). Once again, I found myself relaxing at a table with friends and strangers (who we inevitably ended up having a great conversation with) over some delicious Bavarian lager!

The Rathaus' beer cellar.

One of the deli stalls along the Viktualienmarkt (the main city market). The market is just awesome to wander around, with stall after stall of fresh fruits and vegetables, mouth-watering cuts of meats, flowers, cheeses, and more! I love Bavaria. It is one of those places that I see myself returning to again and again to continue to explore and enjoy.

1 comment:

Keir said...

My students keep asking me if I don't find Munich the best city in Europe but I find it less a place to live than to enjoy a nice afternoon cafe-crawling. If you're interested, I have a site comparing sites in Munich to the way they appeared under the Nazis at next time you visit the place.