The Führer's Flagstones: The Twisted Legacy of Hitler's Mountain Retreat
They may be simple flagstones, but they were once part of Adolf Hitler's mountain retreat in Obersalzberg. Now, a historian's claim that stones from the dictator's villa were used for the construction of a local chapel has many in the region up in arms.
It was a pleasant, dignified and very Bavarian celebration. There was a brass band, a group in lederhosen and dirndls, local dignitaries and even a close associate of the pope. All of them were there to attend the dedication of the Wegmacher chapel, a small roadside chapel in Obersalzberg, Adolf Hitler's mountain headquarters in the southeast corner of Germany.
Matthias Ferwagner, head of the building authority in the nearby town of Traunstein, told a touching story about a girl named Sophia who had cancer and placed daisies on the chapel's walls as a way of comforting her parents and how, shortly thereafter, the chapel was able to open its doors and fulfill its purpose of bestowing divine protection on Bavaria's road-construction workers and drivers.
Now, 13 years on, many of the guests who attended the dedication are starting to wish the chapel had never been built. It is difficult to ascertain, of course, whether the building is fulfilling is sacred function of protecting travelers. What is clear, however, is that the chapel is causing nothing but trouble in the secular world.
The red marble flagstones on the chapel's floor are now rumored to have an unpleasant past, and many locals fear that the nearly 10 square meters (108 square feet) of stone used to build it could become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and National Socialist die-hards, thereby creating a problem for the tourist industry serving the surrounding area.
The reason for this apprehension is a belief held by some that these flagstones may once have adorned the terrace of the Berghof, Adolf Hitler's mountainside retreat on the Obersalzberg, towering above the town of Berchtesgaden. Florian Beierl, a historian who has been looking into the history of the Berghof, is one of those who adheres to this idea.
Since Beierl went public with his theory in the International Herald Tribune in February, the chapel has been a major topic of discussion in the region. And now that some people are calling for the chapel to be demolished, local newspapers, Bavarian television stations and the online media have been debating whether Beierl should have just kept his mouth shut. In his defense, Beierl says that sweeping his suspicions under the rug would have gone against the seriousness called for when dealing with Germany's Nazi past.
A Matter of Symbols
This fight over Hitler's flagstones may seem absurd at first, but they are nevertheless of high symbolic value. After falling in love with Obersalzberg in the 1920s, Hitler established an informal, second seat of government in the Alpine region and many of his henchmen likewise built villas near Hitler's Berghof. Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress and future wife, once lounged on the flagstoned terrace in her bathing suit. Hitler greeted children and petted German shepherds on the stones. And the Nazi dictator played host to leading party officials, including Heinrich Himmler and Martin Bormann, on them. Indeed, speaking of the Berghof, Hitler once declared that "all of my great plans were developed there."
Once World War II was over, the US Army demolished most of the remaining buildings belonging to the bombed-out Alpine complex in order to obliterate Hitler's retreat once and for all. Grass was allowed to grow over the site, and a soccer field replaced the area where SS barracks once stood.
In 1996, Bavaria's state government took over control of the historically charged compound. To keep away those who might harbor nostalgia for the Nazi past, officials drew up plans to build a luxury hotel and a documentation center on the site, and the government began demolishing the Berghof's remaining walls and digging out their foundations below ground.
Then, in 1999, an excavator working on the site sank into the ground, leading construction workers to stumble across a huge system of subterranean bunkers. Boiler rooms, supply shafts and secret shelters stretched across several hundred square meters. The rooms had been abandoned since 1945.
The Bavarian Finance Ministry responsible for the project decided to act quickly. It didn't want to leave open any chance that news of the discovery would reach Hitler's admirers -- or authorities in charge of preserving historic monuments. The ministry couldn't bear to think of being forced to preserve the ruins of Hitler's compound for posterity. Quickly -- and without getting historical-preservation authorities involved -- the Bavarian government began a second wave of demolition, this time underground.
Indeed, the instructions from Munich dictated that every stone was to be crushed into small pieces and all debris was to be removed from the site. In February 2000, a geological engineer was even brought in to supervise the ultimate destruction of the material. Security personnel with German shepherds guarded the fence around the site against neo-Nazi pilgrims. "We have eliminated the past insofar as it was there in the form of ruins," then-Finance Minister Kurt Faltlhauser told Bavaria's state parliament at the time.
- Part 1: The Twisted Legacy of Hitler's Mountain Retreat
- Part 2: Too Nice to Destroy
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2010
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH