Berchtesgaden is a small town in Bavaria, one of the federal states of Germany. It has a population of approximately 8,000 and can be found in immediate vicinity to the Austrian border. Berchtesgaden is only 15 kilometres from Salzburg and a popular day-trip destination among visitors of this Austrian city.
This is partly because of the scenery of Berchtesgaden′s surroundings, which includes the beautiful Lake Königssee, partly also because Hitler′s holiday cabin is hugely popular among international tourists. The Kehlsteinhaus or Eagle′s Nest is one of the region′s top-attractions. A day-trip to Berchtesgaden can also be combined with a stop-over in nearby Bad Reichenhall, a pretty and prosperous spa town.
Berchtesgaden was first mentioned in a written document dating back to 1102. The name is probably derived from the word Perchta, referring to ancient Germanic demons. The word "gaden” refers to an enclosed stretch of land - the linguistic ancestor of "garden”. The town developed around a monastery that was founded by Pope Paschal II and which was under direct papal supervision.
Some History of Berchtesgaden
Over the course of centuries, Berchtesgaden developed very well and gained a peculiarly ambivalent position between political independence and affiliation with both Bavaria and Salzburg. Only in the course of the Napoleonic Wars did it lose its privileges and was finally merged with Bavaria in 1810.
Due to the beautiful scenery of the surrounding mountains and the pretty outlay of the town, Berchtesgaden became a popular holiday destination from the beginning of Alpine tourism. Some very popular paintings of the Romantic period depicted landscape around Berchtesgaden, including one by Caspar David Friedrich. Royalty and aristocracy came to Berchtesgaden and starting with the second half of the 19th century, the developing middle-class enjoyed holidays in the town. Adolf Hitler spend some time here as early as 1923.
Berchtesgaden & the Nazis
In 1937, the Nazis acquired a piece of land and developed the now demolished Berghof into a political headquarter. It was supplemented with barracks, administrative buildings, new roads and Berchtesgaden′s station was massively enlarged. The latter feature is still a striking aspect of the town′s Nazi heritage.
The deeply religious people of Berchtesgaden like to emphasise that the local population was not particularly happy about the Nazi′s love for their town; the local rifle association of the Berchtegadener Weihnachtsschützen was even classified as a "resistance-like group” (wiederstandsähnliche Gruppe) in the de-nazification attempts after the war. Nonetheless, the Nazis launched ambitious buildings programs in Berchtesgaden: These included the construction of the Kehlsteinhaus, further roads and lots of tunnels.
End of the Nazi reign & Berchtesgaden today
Hermann Göring had his private art collection stored in one of them. A friend of one member of the editorial team, who is familiar with the caves in this region, claims that the network of Nazi tunnels and natural caves even linked the Kehlsteinhaus with Salzburg. In April 1945, Berchtesgaden was taken over by US troops who demolished parts of the military facilities and made the rest their own local headquarter. They stayed until 1996.
In the 1970ies, Berchtesgaden lost much of its administrative importance. At the same time, tourism increased dramatically: The Nationalpark Berchtesgadenerland was developed and the Kehlsteinhaus became a popular attraction. Skiing and other winter sports had an important impact on the town, as it is quite visible in the high number of large (and often unappealing) hotels.
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