Berchtesgaden is often synonymous with Hitler's infamous "Eagle's Nest". But this site was barely visited by the Führer and there is much more to this tiny German town in the Alps.
Location of Berchtesgaden
Located in the Nationalpark Berchtesgadenerland, this is a sporting travelers' paradise. Though only 9,000 people call Berchtesgaden home year-round, visitors flock to this southeast corner of Bavaria.
It sits in a valley at 6,000 feet and is surrounded on three sides by Austria, as if gently tucked into the mountain landscape by the gods. There is Untersberg to the north, Obersalzberg to the east and Watzmann to the south. It's just 30 km south of Salzburg, and 180 km south-east of the Bavarian capital of Munich.
Transportation to Berchtesgaden
Berchtesgaden has its own train station connected to Salzburg, Munich, Frankfurt, etc.
Driving from Munich: Take A8 towards Salzburg. Exit at Bad Reichenhall / Salzburg Süd and follow signs to Berchtesgaden before the Austrian border. (Make sure you have proper snow tires and equipment for travel between October and April).
What to Do in Berchtesgaden, Germany
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Most foreigners come to Berchtesgaden to gawk at Kehlsteinhaus, better known as the the Eagle's Nest. This perch at 1,834 meters (6,017 feet) provides panoramic views of the surrounding Alps, but most people come to see where Hitler stepped foot....no matter how briefly.
This outpost was a gift to Adolf Hitler on his 50th birthday in 1939. Lavish decor like a red marble fireplace gifted from Mussolini made this remote site perfect for receiving official guests of the state. The construction was difficult because of its location and includes Germany's steepest road which is still closed much of the year. A 400 foot elevator inside the mountain, powered by the same motor as a UBoot, performed the mammoth feat of transporting people up the final incline. Too bad Hitler's fear of heights and claustrophobia prevented him from visiting often.
As the Allies stormed across Europe, Kehlsteinhaus was a major capture. It was narrowly saved from bombings and though it was looted of artifacts, it still looks much as it did during the Third Reich's rule.
The Bavarian State took over management in 1960 and opened the Eagle's Nest to the public with proceeds donated to charity. There is little mention of its former owner on-site and visitors could make use of the beer garden and restaurant without a thought to its darker history.
Note that access to the Eagle's Nest depends on the weather so it is frequently closed from the mid-September to end of May. Check their website for current hours.
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Delve into WWII History
For visitors that want to hear all about the unpleasant past, a guided tour takes visitors back in time. The Documentation Center at Obersalzberg doesn't shy away from the horrors of the Nazi party.
Visitors also see the site of Hitler's actual home in Bavaria, Berghof. Located at the foot of the mountains, this mansion complex was surrounded by homes of his followers. He spent more time here than anywhere else, including his Berlin headquarters.
It was heavily bombed by the end of the war and set on fire by the SS after learning of Hitler's suicide. Allies looted the property and in 1952 the Bavarian government decided to finish it off by demolishing the structure.
What remains is the underground bunker system. These extensive tunnels deep within the mountain acted as tunnels, air raid shelter, headquarters for the party and a safe room for top Nazi members.
To reach the Documentation Center at Obersalzberg, bus 838 departs hourly from Berchtesgaden train station. Admission € 3; Hours Apr-Oct 9:00 - 17:00 daily / Nov-Mar 10:00 - 15:00 Tue-Sun.
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Find the Murals in Old Town
The town of Berchtesgaden was formed around the Collegiate Church of St Peter and St Paul, built in 1102. From there, the town grew and by the 1500s there was a bustling Marktplatz (market square) with a farmers' market still held every Friday from 8:00 - noon. The tower of the Hirschenhaus (deer House) punctuates the Alp-backed skyline, but visitors should keep their eyes at street-level.
The Altstadt (old town) is beautifully adorned with intricate murals. Known as Lüftlmalerei (Bavarian frescoes), Berchtesgaden has the oldest non-religious murals in the Bavarian Alps. The Hirschenhaus's 1610 Monkey Facade looks like a historical scene when standing back, but on closer review you see the townspeople have monkey faces. According to a local historian, this unusual work of art was done to spite the family who wouldn't pay.
Another Lüftlmalerei of note is the memorial to Bavarian soldiers from both World Wars near the Royal Palace.
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Berchtesgaden owes its wealth to the profitable salt mines which turn 500 years old in 2017. It has been in continuous operation since 1517 and is now open to visitors.
Guided tours take guests through 6,000 square meters of underground complex and cover the history of “white gold”. Dress the part by donning coveralls and board a train to explore the mines. Mining equipment is on display, although giant wood slides get more use these days. At the bottom, a mirror lake 150 meters below the surface gives off other-worldy beauty and - occasionally - a laser light show for a special event of “light and sound”.
If you need a little pampering after your visit, the salt mines also have a salt themed spa to ease your aches and pains.
Tours lasts an hour and tickets cost €16.50. Dress warmly with sturdy shoes as the mine maintains a climate of 12 degree summer or winter.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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The town is centered in the heart of Berchtesgaden National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The park borders Austria and is centered on Königsee.
Besides epic views, the park features some of the best hiking in Germany. Start on the 1 mile trail from St Bartholomä Church at Königssee to Watzmann-Ostwand. The park's office offers maps and advice on the best trails.
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Königssee is a picturesque emerald lake. It has a reputation as Germany’s cleanest lake with only electric powered boats allowed to part its peaceful waters...occasionally broken by the musical trumpeting of the boat horns. It is the deepest lake in the Alps with depths of 630 feet and fits the name "King’s Lake".
As you tour the lake, look for the Church of St. Bartholomä. Once used as a hunting lodge for Bavarian Kings, it is one of the most photographed sights in Germany. Get off the ferry and hike to the Ice Chapel, a glacier with natural cave. Or continue to Salet and hike 15 minutes to the charming Obersee and impressive Röthbach Waterfall, the highest in Germany.
The lake is just 3 km from the town and a short bus ride gets you to the water. Return ferry tickets are €10.50 - 17.80 (depending on destination) for adults, €7.90 for children over 6 and family tickets are available.
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Try saying Bobbahn. It's fun. Almost as fun as the bobsled run itself.
This venue for champion racers allows breathless fans to watch teams hurtle down the icy track. It is one of the first tracks of its kind and still one of the most technically demanding runs.
Once the pros step off, amateurs step on. Rennbob-Taxi is not cheap at 30 euros per person, but is worth it for a few precious seconds riding like an Olympian. Sleds reach speeds of 80 miles per hour with an experienced pilot at the wheel. Rides are available on specific weekends throughout the winter (mid-October to end of February).
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If you arrive in summer, you can ride the rails down a mountain. The Sommerrodelbahn (summer sled) offers 2,000 feet of twists and turns above Berchtesgaden. Heart-racing views whiz by as you race your way to the bottom.
Children are allowed with an adult passenger and are free up to age 6. The track is open from April til November (barring bad weather) and a single ride only costs €2.80.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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The Jennerbahn Cable Car gracefully carries two travelers at a time to the top of the mountain. From here you can look out at over 100 German and Austrian peaks, or gaze down at Königssee on one side, and Salzburg on the other.
There are two stops along the Jennerbahn. The midway point, at almost 4,000 feet, is parallel to hang-gliders taking flight. At the top, Bergstation, enjoy your position atop the world. Follow well-marked trails around the mountain, but if you make it to the top you can gather under a massive wooden cross.
Return prices for the cable car are €20.80 for adults, €11.30 for children and family tickets are available.
Note that the cable car will soon be closed for renovation.
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Rising up behind the town, Watzmann Mountain dominates the landscape. It reaches an impressive 8,900 feet, making it the 3rd tallest peak in Germany (below Hochwanner and Zugspitze). It is the tallest mountain completely located in Germany - the others share their footing with Austria.
The historic Watzmannhaus Hotel offers lofty accommodations for up to 200 guests a night. It was built in 1888 and is one of the highest hotels in Europe at 6,332 feet above sea level.