Adolf Hitler and the Kehlsteinhaus

Adolf Hitler’s first visit to the Kehlsteinhaus would take place on the 16th of September 1938, some seven months before the it would officially be presented to him for his fiftieth birthday. The Nazi leader, probably much to Martin Bormann’s disappointment, would only make fourteen trips up to the house between his first visit and October 1940: he had long made clear his aversion to heights and the rarefied air at the top of the mountain, and would also continually express his reservations over the safety of the elevator and the risk of bad weather.

Perhaps Hitler’s biggest fear was of the elevator winch mechanism on the roof attracting a lightning strike, and as much as he thought the house presented a wonderful opportunity to entertain important and impressionable guests he would more often than not leave the entertaining duties to others. His fear about lightning hitting the house would not be without foundation, and Bormann would take great pains to avoiding mentioning the two serious strikes that had taken place during construction. Of course, had Hitler even got wind of these incidents, the Kehlsteinhaus might very well have turned out to be the most expensive and useless birthday present ever.

October 1938 would see Hitler make a number of trips to the Kehlsteinhaus in what would be a very short period: between the 16th and 24th, he would visit on no fewer than half a dozen occasions. In all, thirteen of his fourteen documented visits would be made before the start of the war in September 1939. Visitors would include important domestic political figures such as the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front) head Dr. Robert Ley and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, while from overseas the likes of Italian foreign minister Count Gian Galeazzo Ciano and French ambassador André François-Poncet would be suitably impressed.

Adolf Hitler takes in the view from the sun terrace, during what would have been a very rare moment of solitude

Adolf Hitler takes in the view from the sun terrace, during what would have been a very rare moment of solitude

Hitler with Joseph and Magda Goebbels and their first three children Hildegard, Helmut and Helga

Hitler with Joseph and Magda Goebbels and their first three children Hildegard, Helmut and Helga

Having made the journey up to summit in August 1939 – just weeks before the declaration of war – the Führer would wait over a year before his making his final visit on 17th October 1940 where he would play host to crown princess Marie-José, sister of Belgian King Leopold III. infoDid You Know?Princess Marie-José, who married Prince Umberto of Italy in 1930, would become Queen of Italy for a month following the abdication of King Victor Emmanuel III.

Hitler’s infrequent visits to the Kehlsteinhaus would also be very short: he would tend to spend just a few hours at the summit, and would usually depart well before the evening. Not one dish would ever be cooked in the specially-fitted kitchen, while the study specially created for the Nazi leader would never be used. Meanwhile, the attractive house on the mountain would turn into a popular destination for others in the Nazi leader’s inner circle, with one of the more frequent visitors being his mistress Eva Braun.

In spite of the fact that he would not actually visit the Teehaus very often, Hitler would actually have a degree of input with regard to the basic layout and furnishing of some of the rooms – which would be captured in a number of “storyboard” watercolours. These pieces would capture the essential spirit of the house, which would be both relaxed and informal – the perfect opportunity to remove oneself from the violent conflict raging outside.

Hitler's take on the kitchen...

Hitler’s take on the kitchen…

The reception hall...

The reception hall…

And the "tea room"

And the “tea room”

Many of the ideas on the decor and furnishing in these watercolours would take their cues from the Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus, which Hitler would often use to escape from his role as leader and warlord: this was of course the idea that had motivated and driven Bormann’s commissioning of the Kehlstein project in the first place.

It is difficult to avoid painting a more ordinary picture of the Nazi leader, but it is well known that he liked nothing better than to get away from it all by relaxing with those willing to endure his monologues accompanied by a plate of sweet cakes and a pot of hot tea. Unfortunately for Bormann, he was not to know that the Führer’s love of tea, cakes and agreeable company wouldn’t extend to taking trips up a brass elevator to a mountain summit.

Most Frequent Visitor: Eva Braun

While Hitler would not be massively keen on visiting his mountain eyrie, it would be very popular with other members of his inner circle and the “Obersalzberg set”. Among the most frequent visitors would be his mistress and eventual wife Eva Braun, who would make the journey to the summit with friends and relatives well into the 1940s. Eva would often visit with Bormann and his family, and she was also close to house administrator Gretl Mitlstrasser, who had been her one-time personal maid at the Berghof.

Video footage can be seen of Eva at the house – usually with other Nazi leaders, her sister Margarete (“Gretl”) or best friend Marion Schönmann – and she would often talk walks with her dogs along the mountain paths before retreating to her favourite room, the Scharitzstube. Her association with the room has as a result often led to it being called the “Eva Braun Zimmer” or “Eva Braun Room”.

A smiling Eva Braun with an awkward-looking Hitler in the main reception hall

A smiling Eva Braun with an awkward-looking Hitler in the main reception hall

Eva takes her dog for a walk on the Mannlsteig path towards the Kehlstein Summit

Eva takes her dog for a walk on the Mannlsteig path towards the Kehlstein Summit

The house would be particularly popular with the Braun family, in that it would also host the reception party following the wedding of Eva’s younger sister Gretl to SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein on 3rd June 1944. Numerous photos exist of the happy couple and their guests celebrating in the Kehlsteinhaus reception hall, but true to form Hitler would not be present, having left after attending the ceremony in Salzburg.

Bormann would continually use Eva’s love of the Kehlsteinhaus to try and encourage Hitler to make further visits, but even this would not be convincing enough to make the Führer make his way back up to the summit. While Hitler would be more than happy to remain in residence at the Berghof and continue with his frequent walks to the Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus further down the mountain, Eva would continue to take almost every opportunity to visit the Kehlsteinhaus until the summer of 1944 when Bormann finally found himself having to give in to having anti-aircraft artillery units installed on the mountain. With the war having made its way to the peak and the summit now crawling with military personnel, much of its appeal as a quiet place of solitude would suddenly be lost.

Eva’s carefree mountaintop jaunts would finally come to an end in July 1944, when Hitler and his entourage would leave this small corner of the Berchtesgadener Land for the final time. Following the Normandy landings the Allies were rapidly advancing towards Germany, and the writing would soon be on the wall for the beleaguered Nazi leader and his regime. As for the Kehlsteinhaus itself, it would survive the massive bombing raid by the Royal Air Force that would take place just days before Hitler’s suicide in Berlin in April 1945: while much of the Obersalzberg complex would suffer serious structural damage, the house at the top of the mountain would prove to be a more elusive target.

Had the Kehlsteinhaus been half as popular with Hitler as it had been for Eva Braun and some of the regime’s lesser lights, one could argue that it might not even be there today. While Bormann’s creation remained standing and was slowly transformed into one of the popular tourist destinations in the region after the war, all of the other Nazi-era buildings elsewhere on the Obersalzberg – including both the Berghof and the Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus – would be completely destroyed and subsequently erased from the landscape.

Those who have been able to take the bus ride up the mountain road and visit the Kehlsteinhaus should perhaps be thankful for Hitler’s fear of heights, aversion to the thin mountain air and his irrational sense of paranoia concerning the elevator – an outstanding piece of machinery that has not failed on one single occasion since its installation seventy-five years ago.

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