The Führer's Flagstones: The Twisted Legacy of Hitler's Mountain Retreat

By Conny Neumann

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.

Photo Gallery: Hitler's Paving Stones Photos
Walter Frentz Collection, Berlin

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.

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1. The future is another country; they do things differently there
plotinus 04/01/2010
Well, it seems somehow appropriate that elements of one system of foolishness should be used by a different system of foolishness. However, I strongly disapprove of the destruction of Berchtesgaden. The future, I hope, will be even more disgusted by the Nazi epoch than we are, but they will want to have information about it. By destroying these relics of a terrible time, we are denying future generations of historical knowledge, and that is wrong. .
2. Enough
hektoranastigmat 04/02/2010
Hitler has been dead for nearly sixty five years. Can't we move on to other evil characters. There certainly have been many more and possibly even worse. At the end of the day, Hitler and his gangsters were dysfunctional political opportunists. They were neither the first or the last, but why the media continues to innundate us with banal stories such as the building blocks of Hitler's house at Berchtesgaden amazes me. Yes, a hotel was built there a few years ago; the area is one of great beauty where many people have gone for holidays before and after Hitler. That they do so today does not mean they are neo-Nazis making some sick pilgrimage. I am not German, and was born some years after the war on the other side of the world. Please lets change the subject.
3. Move on?
Insulaner 04/02/2010
---Quote (Originally by hektoranastigmat)--- Hitler has been dead for nearly sixty five years. Can't we move on to other evil characters. There certainly have been many more and possibly even worse. ---End Quote--- There are probably some more "playing in the same evilness league" as Hitler. The Nazi-regime is outstanding in my eyes, they really industrialised the extermination of whole population groups, with no other reason than their racistic madness. There were many racistic crimes in history, slavery, colonialism or the conquest of the American continent. None of them has realised an industrialised process as Hitler has done. ---Quote (Originally by hektoranastigmat)--- At the end of the day, Hitler and his gangsters were dysfunctional political opportunists. They were neither the first or the last, but why the media continues to innundate us with banal stories such as the building blocks of Hitler's house at Berchtesgaden amazes me. Yes, a hotel was built there a few years ago; the area is one of great beauty where many people have gone for holidays before and after Hitler. That they do so today does not mean they are neo-Nazis making some sick pilgrimage. I am not German, and was born some years after the war on the other side of the world. Please lets change the subject. ---End Quote--- You are right, not everyone spending holidays in the Berchtesgaden region is a nazi. On the other hand the apprehension that even just some parts of Hitlers buildings might become the destination of nazi pilgrimages unfortunately is justified. The history of the nazi-era has played a much larger role in the past, especially because of still pending accusations against officials with a nazi past. It is a very important part of Germanys history, and with Hitlers death and the end of the Third Reich the most important turning point in German history. Just go on? I do not think that this would be appropriate. But talking about single building blocks of Hitlers Berghof which are being reused in other buildings? Well, I am not convinced that this is a story worth being published by Der Spiegel. Regards Insulaner
4. In modern Hollywood, he probably would have won an Oscar!
plotinus 04/02/2010
I think part of the reason that people are still fixated on such a buffoon as Hitler is that he was probably the greatest theatrical producer of politics in history. Stalin was probably a much worse character than Hitler, but he was dull as dishwater, and few people are interested in him. Stalin may have won all the battles, but Hitler had all the great stage-sets! .
5.
BTraven 04/06/2010
Indeed, the marble on which Eva Braun practise gymnastics and Blondie urinated could cause a lot of trouble especially the luxury hotels which were opened just three years ago could be affected very much. It may be quite interesting to spend some days on a place which thanks its fame just to Hitler because, perhaps, the Obersalzberg is the only site where it is possible to have sympathy with him. The man, at least, had a could taste for landscapes. And it is quite natural that you won’t share the site with other people, even more when people use the place (chapel) to honour him openly. Well-educated people enjoy it silently, they do not need any shrine for it.
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