2 weeks crossing Germany

2 weeks crossing Germany

2 weeks in Germany is surely not enough to absorb a country’s culture let alone navigate its compass points sufficient well. In truth though we were only passing through en route to Poland, so we knew that it would be ‘short and sweet’.  Although now into year three of our full-time travels, we have evolved our travel philosophy and rather than racing from A-B, we have come to appreciate the journey so much more and to stop along the way to smell the roses, or the Lime trees as we have come to enjoy here in Germany.  Every journey is precious and should never be taken for granted.

It’s a bit like Dorothy’s dance up the Yellow Brick Road. Without the path on the way to see the Wizard of Oz she would never have met the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin-man.  It feels the same for us now.

So with hopes high and anticipation strong inside Scoobie’s walls, we donned our leder-hosen and turned our wheels to the Fatherland. Myles had three years in Germany as a Force’s child, so we had the added advantage of his fluency as we coursed our way through the Germany countryside. So what would Germany teach us along the way – plenty we were sure of that.

Check out our Interactive Map that shows our route, Points of Interest and of course our Camping spots with co-ordinates.

I’ll be honest, our arrival into Germany wasn’t blessed as a joyous occasion as I was nursing sciatica so it made for an uncomfortable initiation. Well I say initiation, we have been to Germany in Scoobie before – as we visited Bavaria in 2016, although this year our entry point was from The Netherlands so it did feel like completely new territory.  Whether it was my state of mind I’m not sure, our first day didn’t bowl me over. What did interest me though was to see how the Dutch culture seemed to temporarily fuse with German, as we crossed the border.  For a good 50km, bicycles continued to be ever-present and traditional style windmills still speckled the flat landscape with their sails. We’ve seen it before with other border crossings, although on this particular trip it really hit home how cultures blend before claiming their own unique identity. I wonder if it will be the same in Poland?

Rees 

Rees was our first stop, on the banks of the Rhine. Sadly we didn’t get to explore the town; well nothing much more than Lidls, and I even say ‘we’ loosely. I saw it from my bed at least. We were told how nice Rees is as a town and the Promenade along the river, certainly seemed to have promise as we shimmied past it.   There was a well organised Stellplatz just five minutes from town for €8 including EHU (co-ordinates 51.76422, 6.38886)

Dülmen

Our next station stop was driven by the wet stuff – no not rain, water…. we love being by water of any kind, although Dülmen sadly fell short despite the blue patches on the map. Our overnighter was though by the river, which was some consolation although sadly no exploration was permitted until sciatica decided to ‘do one’. Still the Stellplatz was lovely and worth the short diversion for one the few freebies in Germany.  Hausdülmen Stellplatz – 51.8074, 7.24697 no services

Heading for the mountains

After the disappointment of far too many autobahns, an enormous volume of traffic that we are just not used to in Europe and an uninspiring landscape, I headed for our trusty, slightly disheveled map, in search for bumpy green bits. We don’t use paper maps very much with our digital resources, although on this occasion with a weak internet that plagues much of the country, the map was actually a great source of info that guided us eastwards.

I found mountains, I found ski stations and I found Natural Parks. Yeah, at last! This was more like it and our sort of landscape. Perhaps finally Germany was going to deliver. Our vista changed after we hit Meschede and we thankfully exited the painstaking movement from the caterpillar style autobahn. Rolling hills, forest and reservoirs had our hearts sighing with relief. These mountains were simply gorgeous.

With red kites flying overhead and fresh forest pines as our borders, the ride was just lovely. And this region’s houses were changing too. Characterful black and white Tudor style buildings welcomed you into the countryside. No more cities to bypass, no more industry, just warmly embracing villages that oozed charm and delight. We finally came upon Schmallenburg, a delightful spot that is just hugged by forests and mountains. Our stop for the night was Winkhausen, a lovely Stellplatz in someone’s back garden; for just €8 per night with EHU and water extra, payable with coins. Why not treat yourself to a discounted visit to the Spa, which for guest of the Stellplatz was only €8 from 1800-2200  (co-ordinates 51.16073, 8.34074).  With walks, lakes and a 5* Spa just next door, there is everything you could wish for, for an outdoor experience.  

Now on first glance, Winkhausen may seem like a backwater place, although come April and you will be treated to an annual musical festival that puts this place on the German map.  

Edersee

Riding high on our success at finding some wonderful countryside, our spirits were raised and our hopes soaring as we continued our path towards Poland. It was amazing to think though that we had been travelling four days and still we hadn’t reached half way across this great land. I don’t think either of us had realised quite how expansive Germany was.

So water was our calling yet again and as we wound through the beautiful countryside full of bountiful crops and quaint towns, we found our home for the weekend – Edersee. A man-made reservoir that is heaven on a water-sport lover’s plate.  With wildlife abound, especially the nightly chorus of frogs, we withstood some pretty full-on thunderstorms that gifted us some amazing lake-side views in their  aftermath.  We stayed at a great Stellplatz – Rehbach (co-ordinates 51.18388, 9.026714) for €6 per night and it was ideal. If you have yourself a kayak or bicycles, then this is the place for you.  

Sondershausen

We love getting off the beaten track and if we can find ‘home’ in the middle of nowhere, then that is what drives us (and water!!) Just off the A38 autobahn is Sondershausen which, like so many of its village neighbours has an oversized castle for the size of town. And the houses are just so incredibly ornate, stately even.  Yet just ten minutes outside of the town you will find dense forest, which offers shelter to an amazing Wildlife and Adventure Centre for kids. After what seems like miles driving through the pine-scented woodland we arrived at a huge clearing where they have created this Adventure Park and you are allowed to park there for €4 per day, although there are no services.  A super diversion. (co-ordinates 51.33821, 10.86295)

A bit of Modern and Ancient History coming up

I have to be honest that our trip to Colditz came completely out of the blue. Whilst looking for a sensible halfway point to the Kromlau Rhododendron Park, which was my border crossing aim, I found a church icon on Search for Sites.  It revealed the name Colditz. With a growing excitement about the World War 2 links and our desire to expand our knowledge of this period, it surely had to be our next station stop?  And indeed it was.  With a small ACSI campsite about 1 mile from the town (co-ordinates 51.1302 12.8308) whose silence was only punctured by the orchestra of birds, we made our way for a tour of this infamous Prisoner of War camp.  Read more about our exploration of this fabulous spot on our blog by clicking here – Escaping from Colditz.  The history, both old and new (relatively speaking) was exhilarating and I got an overwhelming sense of resilience, camaraderie and respect and not the War-time horror that we are taught to expect from camps such as these. It was a great trip that enriched us beyond belief and one that will most certainly stay in our memory banks.

Meißen

With our European travels we have come across many beautiful sights and some stunning cities and towns. We are fast accumulating our Top 10 lists of these stunners. And a new addition to the Medieval Towns compilation will be Meißen, famous for its porcelain – and so much more.  Poised on the edge of the Elbe river, this grand yet exquisite town will charm you and take away your breath. With its 12th century castle, its orange-roofed buildings and atmospheric square, you could almost have stepped into a scene from Pinocchio.  Scaling the heights to the castle to take in the river panorama will certainly impress; as will the descent to the hub of the market square, where horse and carts wait to escort you on a sedate tour. The chocolate-box houses with their brightly coloured facades draw you as if wanting you to be part of the cartoon animation waiting to be played out and all you can do is look and stare. So many different angles, shapes, colours – it truly is a feast for the eyes. And if you’re lucky a quick saunter over the bridge will give you a river reflective perspective of the castle as it states its regal place on the banks of the Elbe. 

We had a lovely, if not a tad noisy Stellplatz that was right on the river’s edge, with the castle as our back drop and our foreground the fast-flowing river. What a joy this place was and I think in truth two days would be perfect at this iconic town to really do it justice.  (co-ordinates 51.16767, 13.47332)

Not bad – Bad Muskau

Our final German destination was calling. Kromlau – a place that appealed to the photographer in me. This tiny hamlet may well be in one of the most remote places in Germany, right on the eastern border with Poland and certainly not on any tourist itinerary. Yet it was its Rhododendron Park and famous Devil’s Bridge that intrigued me.  And what a great shout it was too, although not for the reasons we expected. 

It was a really interesting drive here from Meißen as the landscape changed completely. We drove through a huge expanse of forest with not a car to be seen – not even a fast one! It was like we had entered the twilight zone. We found ourselves at Weißwasser, a place where we considered for overnighting, although throughout our whole German experience, it was the one place I felt the least safe. So needless to say we moved on. Bad Muskau in contrast, was a breath of fresh air and couldn’t have been more different from its neighbour. 

Bad Muskau is a delightful town that rubs shoulders with Poland – the border being in the middle of the river that dissects the two countries. Bad Muskau is full of goodies, each one with their own unique pleasure.  It has two churches, the most ostentatious castle I think I’ve ever seen, Russian War Memorials and gardens that serious put some of England’s Stately Parks to shame.  There are four official cycling paths that give you between 4-10km routes, each one allowing you to dip your toe into Polish water if you wish. Truly a delightful place that we would highly recommend.

Although what of Kromlau, the very reason we ventured this way, I hear you ask?  Well we knew that we would be too late for the Rhododendrons thanks to my back, although it was the iconic bridge that truly caught my eye. The Park is free to enter, you just pay €2 for a two hour car park, that leaves you free to wander around the grounds. Sadly even the bridge wasn’t presented at its best, as after 150 years, it has been fenced off for reconstruction so that it may be protected for generations to come. And much of the lake it spans has been drained in preparation for the work. So I did manage to get some shots, although not quite the iconic masterpiece I was hoping for. Still our joy at Bad Muskau completely made up for it, it has to be said.  We had a super Stellplatz run by Eric a fast-speaking Berliner who liked Myles’ fluency that he gave us free bread on our three day stay. It had all the facilities and was only a mile from this stunner of a town and all for €10.50 per night (or €10 if Eric has been out drinking the previous night and can’t be bothered to work out the detail!). Stellplatz Heideweg can be found at the following co-ordinates (51.53378, 14.71925).

What we’ve learned in Germany

So as we sit here with Poland reaching out its hand of friendship, what of our German experiences?  With memories of red kites soaring above us, a daily dawn chorus that made for a beautiful alarm call, mountains, lakes, castles and history, we will look back fondly at our two-week German route. 

The journey was seriously worth the ride and despite our initial disappointment, we came to love the country and all it has offered us. Interestingly it has been one of the places that we have planned the least and yet has given us some of the most memorable experiences – how often is this the case?  It seriously promotes the ‘travel loosely and let the plans evolve’ philosophy, which we will most certainly be adopting. This has been my most beautiful revelation on this trip.

Germany has many more insights, that we thought we would share as we close this blog.  We hope it helps and informs ready for your tour through Deutschland.

  1. Germany, much like its neighbour France, is very well set up for motorhomes. Stellplatz appear in almost every town and village we passed through. They are well signposted and many of them offer you electrical hook up as well. So never worry about having somewhere to stay. And it feels so very safe here. I never felt threatened in any way – except for Weißwasser.
  2. There’s not much wild camping here, although the Stellplatz are so cheap, it still makes for a great value trip. I think the most we spent on a Stellplatz overnighter was €10.50.
  3. You will not find many touring vans in Germany, especially once in the centre of the country. Most seem to head south to Bavaria, The Black Forest and The Romantic Route. Central to east Germany certainly we saw very few Brits – 2 to be exact. All the other vans were German. No Dutch, no French, just us and our German friends. 
  4. The autobahns are horrible. When you look at a map of Germany, the web of motorways connecting all the major industrial areas and cities are extensive and on every single one, you will always encounter a right lane caterpillar of lorries. It doesn’t make for pleasant driving. So if you can, avoid them.
  5. If however you do decide to take one, then they are toll free for any vehicle under 7.5T.  
  6. Do be aware that there is no universal speed limit on Germany motorways. Although there are guidelines of 81mph, no one sticks to them and speeding is not punishable. So do take care when overtaking as the road may look clear and before you know it, there will be someone royally up your bum flashing you.
  7. Sunday is a great day to travel on autobahns as lorries are forbidden to drive on them and there is a huge fine if they are caught doing so. It made a huge difference to our journey experience on the day we had to course through the country via autobahn.
  8. Take plenty of cash with you (münzen is coins in German). The Stellplatz often have automated machines that only take coins. Manned areas only take cash and in fact in many places we went, cash was preferred and sometimes our Caxton card didn’t work. We were fine in petrol stations and supermarkets though. 
  9. Due to the lack of Brits travelling through, surprisingly there was less  English spoken than I expected. Although with a few phrases you can certainly get by sufficiently. The Germans we met were lovely, warm and welcoming and of course it did help that Myles is fluent. 
  10. Deisel is, outside of the main cities, cheaper than its west European neighbours (@ June 2018). The cheapest we found was €1.239. LPG is freely available and we had no problems filling up. 
  11. Internet is very weak in Germany – we remembered this from our trip here in 2016. So just be prepared that connection may not be easy at all times. Strange how we come to rely on internet…..
  12. And just a little side note – I’ve heard more cuckoos here, in June than anywhere in UK ever! 

 

And so with the heady smells of the Lime tree blossom hanging in the air, we say auf Wiedersehen to Deutchland, and genuinely hope that more Brits head your way to indulge in your joys. We have loved this short and sweet road trip and know that we will back.  Tschüss.

 

 

Escaping from Colditz

Escaping from Colditz

The day that Colditz suddenly appeared on my radar was a delight and a surprise given that I had no idea where it was in Germany let alone the intriguing history that it would surely reveal to us.

One of the things I have come to enjoy most about travel, is the heart-beat that appears in-between our planned destinations. Research is great and creates a real anticipation, although for me nothing beats the moment when I find somewhere on the map that instantly changes our direction and takes us into new and unexpected territory. As I start to explore my amazing find, I feel in a surge of excitement rising up from my feet with the realisation that I have stumbled upon something special, unexpected and a priceless experience that will enrich our adventures. 

That was exactly what happened for us with our Colditz visit. Out of the blue, searching for a place to stay en route to Poland, I saw a castle icon. And with a mere click of the mouse it revealed its identity – Colditz. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind it rang a bell and then its war-time story started to connect as I started a little interaction with my mate Google. So our next destination was sealed and the next chapter of World War education could unfold. 

Colditz so much more than a prison 

Whilst Colditz Castle, infamous perhaps for its escapades from 1939-45, it is worth remembering that this is so much more than a prison  – and the town so much more than a poor relation ebbing to the flow of visitors destined for a Castle tour.  

Commercially renowned for the manufacture of ceramics, Colditz has a surprising tale to tell with its porcelain and stoneware production that date back centuries.  The mining of clay in the early 1700 put this little town, south east of Leipzig, on the map and changed its financial fortune forever. So when ‘dining’ turn your plate upside-down and if you see a small ‘cp’ mark on it, then you are eating off a piece of Colditz porcelain treasure.

The Castle

Ok, so back to the star of the show! The Colditz Castle is indeed the main draw here, it has to be said. This regal building has a rich history dating back almost 1000 years and has had more identities than Madonna; from a hunting lodge back in the Medieval days, to a psychiatric hospital, a State Poor House, a general hospital and, more recently a youth hostel. And that’s before two fires completely refigured it and it became the centre-piece for a War-based film. How can one building reinvent itself so many times and still remain intact and magnificent?

Built 30m up on a solid rock face, this impressive building packs an immediate punch as you approach the town from Grimma – which also looks like it’s worth a visit. With its recent cosmetic facelift, Colditz Castle maintains its integrity as an impenetrable and imposing watchtower across the Saxony land.  The once grey building now offers visitors a visual feast with its cream and yellow fortress walls and orange tiled roofs typical of this region.  You cannot fail to be instantly wowed by this initial view as you cross the river Zwickauer Mulde into the magnetic belly of the town’s historic centre.

Of course World War 2 tells many harrowing stories of Prisoner of War camps during its epoc and I set out with a mixture of anticipation and a desire to learn. Colditz is one of the many places during our war-torn history that symbolises bravery and a fight for freedom. Yet there was a twist to this story which we were about to experience as we entered the Whispering Gate of this High Security Prison.

The Extended Tour

Armed with an extended tour with Steffi, we immediately got access to the inner sanctum of the Castle, where we could throw ourselves into the lives of the guards, prisoners and life behind these imposing walls. The first thing to notice was the ‘guest list’ of this place. Whilst between 500-600 prisoners were imprisoned in Colditz at any one time; these were not just any old prisoners. These were high ranking officers who had a reputation for being serial escapees. A collection of some of the greatest, most creative and imaginative minds of the war all in one place! Engineers, designers and ingenious inventors – surely a recipe for some of the best bid for freedom stories of the war! And it is this fact that serves as the backdrop for the Colditz story.

Our exploration starts with an immediate sense of respect; these prisoners had something special about them and as we continued our tour, craning our necks to the lofty roof lines, you got the feeling that this Prison Camp was pretty unique. Getting access into prisoners’ quarters set out with a bed, wardrobe and a desk with views, this was not what I was expecting. And as our tour unfolds we heard stories of the fair treatment of the ‘inmates’ and how well fed they were and how, thanks to the Third Geneva Convention, their well-being was high on the priority list for their captives. A theatre where shows were masterminded (indeed perhaps even an escape or two planned), visits to the local pub, regular exercise outside the grounds of the castle were some such activities allowed for these prisoners of war. Let’s not forget though, that outside of these walls we are still talking about the ravage of war, battles and horrifying death. Although strangely as we walked through the castle’s gates, horror is not the first sensation that struck me; no sombre feeling that reaches deep into my soul demanding my tears. That I’m sure will come when we visit Auschwitz in Poland.

No, Colditz has a different vibe and even the staff portray a deep respect for the events that occurred here over that six year period. A respect for the prisoners’ fair treatment and the masterminded exploits of the imprisoned. And it is this theme of admiration and respect that emerges time and time again from our tour guide. Unlike so many other camps, there were no murders or intended deaths here. Only one man died. The Guards’ policy was not to ‘shoot to kill’, only to injury and yet in September 1944, British Officer Michael Sinclair was unintentionally killed when, after attempting to escape, he was shot in the elbow that then ricocheted into his heart.  He was subsequently buried with full military honours and a seven-gun salute. 

The Escape Stories

Colditz is immortalised by the tales of attempted and successful ‘Home Runs’ as they were called, each one captivating us during our tour  as we got the inside scoop on so many of the failed attempts and some of the 30+ successful ones.  The French, British and Dutch were the most successful, with the British attempting some 191 escapes; by far the most prolific activists. 

Some of the plans were hatched in the most ingenious ways, which goes to show the brilliance and resilience of the human spirit when faced with adversity how their determination is fuelled.  From tunnels, shafts, impersonating German guards and even dressing up as a woman; every method was a serious consideration conceived by genius minds, shared during furtive conversations and whispers in corridors.  

The escapees generally headed for the neutral territory of Switzerland, which alone was a journey full of hazard and danger. So not only did they have to get through the challenge of this high security prison, they still had to negotiate their onward journey to final freedom.

The Colditz Cock 

Bar far the most elaborate of them all though has to the epic Colditz Cock – where a team of British Officers designed and built a glider that they planned to launch from the roof behind the Clock Tower, that was hidden from guards’ view.  Such an elaborate plan brought together thanks to a book in the prison library on ‘how to build an aircraft’, constructed behind an artificial wall in a tiny space with tables at the ready for the temporary runway. Fortunately the gallant attempt was superseded by the end of the War and the surrender of the Colditz Prison to the Allied forces. Interestingly there is only one photograph of the constructed plane and all other evidence was destroyed – the reasoning behind which we can only imagine.  

Beyond the castle

Outside of the castle, which is the main reason for many people’s visit, the town itself is a beautiful and strangely serene place despite its master’s reputation. With a subtle market square with café bars, I was struck by the surprising lack of tourist tat that so often accompanies itinerary hot-spots such as these. Throughout the town, architecture as creative as the prison escape plans will feed your eyes and intrigue your soul as you inevitably walk towards the panoramic bridge viewing point. Here you will gaze in historical wonder at the yesteryears of this evolving masterpiece that has stood the test of time and will be forever immortalised in people’s memories and hearts. 

Get yourself to Colditz

Colditz was an intriguing experience. From the facade, this impenetrable building defies you to even think about escape let alone successfully complete what they called a ‘Home Run’.  Yet within its walls you get a strange fusion of bravery, ingeniousness, creativity, solidarity, resilience, craft and above all respect. This is the one thing I have been gifted from my visit. Whilst war is a terrifying and horrible waste of life, the Colditz story shares something more colourful and offers a sense of how strangers with differing beliefs, can not only live and work together they can also create a peaceful culture built on respect and compassion. Perhaps after all there is hope for humanity.

Some practicalities

  • There are two tours available. The first is one hour duration from 10.30am that is €8 per person. The second is called the Extended Tour which can take up to 2.5hrs, depending on the passion of your guide. If you get Steffi, then you will be blessed with the best ever tour host. This tour costs €18 per person and gets you into cellars, rooms and up staircases that the other tour will not. So in our opinion completely worth the investment.
  • From April to October, there are three Extended Tours available; 1030, 1300 and 1500. And November to March there are two; 1100 and 1430. 
  • You can get access to just the museum for €4 and then do a self-tour.
  • Colditz can be reached from either Leipzig in the west, Dresden in the east or Chemnitz in the south.
  • If you are camping, then Campingwald Colditz is a large site just a mile up hill from the castle which out of season costs €20 for a pitch and two people. You can get an ACSI discount if you have a card.
  • Parking for the town is generally limited to 2hrs and is chargeable, which can feel restrictive. We found a free parking area next door to Lidl supermarket, which accommodated our 7.5m motorhome, which is right in the shadow of the town. We parked here for over four hours without any problems. 
  • Tours for the castle get busy in high season, especially as this is on the Tour Itinerary from Berlin. So worth checking availability to avoid disappointment.
  • For more information, check out www.schloss-colditz.com  
Humbled by Obersalzberg’s History

Humbled by Obersalzberg’s History

When it comes to remembering my lessons at school, I have to be honest and say that History wasn’t my favourite – I was more interested in English and Geography.  Although I do remember that the two Great World Wars of the last century most certainly made it onto our curriculum.  And rightly so – they significantly shaped our lives today and so understanding how soldiers gave up their lives fighting for our freedom seems such an important lesson.

So when Myles, who is a bit of a history buff, said he wanted to go to Bavaria’s Berchtesgaden in South-east Germany to see Hilter’s summer retreat, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.  For three nights, we wild-camped at the Visitor’s Centre in Konigssee, which itself is a must see, and from Scoobie’s door we had a bird’s eye view (if you pardon the expression) of Kehlsteinhaus – Eagle’s Nest.  This is a lofty building constructed 1,834m up in the mountains above Obersalzburg, to mark Hilter’s 50th Birthday. It isn’t difficult to see why he retreated to this place, as it is literally on top of the world.  I’m sure in some sense this was a symbolic location that fed his obsessional world, as it truly give him a bird’s eye view across his beloved kingdom.

Although it is now a restaurant, there are daily tours up there from May to October depending on the snowfall, where I guess you can get a feel for Hilter’s diplomatic soirees which he conducted up there during his Third Reich reign.

Hitler's Eagle's Nest, Bavaria

Hitler’s Tea House – Eagle’s Nest, Bavaria

After the combination of rain, low cloud and weekend visitors had dispersed, we headed up the mountain towards the car park at Obersalzberg, in eager anticipation of what the day ahead might entail.  We had read that in addition to the special bus ride that you must take up to Kehlsteinhaus, there was also the Dokumentation Obersalzberg, which is a museum recording Hitler’s rule.  However our anticipation soon dissipated as we acknowledged the overcrowded car parks and streams of coaches full of visitors all looking to grasp that  little piece of history from Hitler’s vantage point.  Now it is worth mentioning at this point, that we don’t do queues at the best of times and in the middle of August, in increasingly warm temperatures, the prospect of joining this ensemble of tourists, which looked more like a trail of ants as the minutes went by, did not motivate us one bit.  So we decided to visit the less-talked about Dokumentation Obersalzberg instead, which everyone seemed to be bypassing for some reason.

Dokumentation Obersalzburg

Dokumentation Obersalzburg, Bavaria

This unassuming building, erected in 1999 is an historical site, museum and a place of remembrance. It offers the visitor a detailed guide into the role that this Obersalzberg region played in Hitler’s carving of twentieth century history and a reflective tale of all those who perished under his reign.  Not only that, this building holds many ghosts and secrets that are etched into the walls of the maze of bunkers, dug underneath this unassuming construction, which you are allowed to visit.

So with no queues and virtually the place to ourselves, we gathered up our 2€ Audio Guides (which apparently in German is Audio Guide!!!) and our 3€ a person entry ticket and entered into the halls of history.  Now we did wonder, with curiosity, how the Germans would present this epoch of history, given its potentially sensitive nature and their patriotic values.  So you can imagine our amazement when the first visual image you are greeted with is a huge poster of Hitler in dominant pose surrounded by crowds of adorning fans like he is some sort of pop idol.  And then the images of the emaciated bodies of the concentration camps and public hangings of Jewish Priests, giving you a very clear message that this museum is going to offer a completely ‘no holds barred’ representation.  It was at this point that the historical journey I was about to take would rip at my heart with unforgiving purpose.

What we didn’t realise was that this region of Bavaria known as Obersalzburg, was key in Hilter’s crafting of dominance.  He bought a house on the mountain called Berghof and soon when the German population realised that this was his home, flocked here to capture a glimpse of him, to share the same air he breathed or a stone of gravel that he had walked upon.  They even had to build the current day Train Station in Berchtesgaden to accommodate the crowds. So to protect his territory from invading patriots, Hitler removed the local residents, buying up their property for a pittance.  If they refused his offer, the consequences were forcible eviction or even being sent to the concentration camp in Dachau.  This was one of the many things that shocked me.  I hadn’t realised that his Concentration Camp strategy was significantly before the outbreak of war.  Millions died before war even broke out.

Berghof played a key role in his propaganda campaign which set about manipulating the population to appreciate his greatness.  There were pictures that showed him as a child-friendly, father figure who loved nature.  Equally there were pictures of him with his mistress Eva Braun and of him reading a paper with glasses on – both which he refused to have published because it showed him as being weak and unfocused.

The policies he put in place to raise a generation of Hitler’s youth started from the moment of birth – if children were born imperfect, not only where they ‘removed’, their mothers were sterilised to prevent them from having any more imperfect babies. At the age of 10 children were enlisted into Hitler’s Youth Groups, grooming them with his doctrines.  His dominance was at every level, in every corner and there was no where for you to hide, especially if you happened to disagree with his vision.

The other thing we learnt about the Obersalzburg, was how on April 25 1945, the American allies carried out a bombing raid on this Nazi area, resulting in Hitler’s main residence being flattened – with only one wall now remaining.  The raid was purely an act of defiance, as Hitler had already vanished into the depths of Berlin and the war, for all intents and purposes was over.  It is reported that the flattening the area that had played such an important role in the execution of so many, either in concentration camps or on the battle field felt significant.  And even more interestingly, we didn’t realise that the American’s occupied this region of Bavaria as a recreational area for US troops, building Golf Courses and hotels – and was only handed back to the Bavarian people in 1995.  Never knew that!

The final piece of our Obersalzberg lesson was a trip into the largest remaining bunker of the maze that was built under the mountains linking the Nazi Leaders’ property. Now whilst the modern building housing the museum is fascinating and penetrates deep into your soul, this remaining piece of history is eerily decorated with ghosts from the past and graffiti from the American soldiers who occupied this area after the war.  The bunker is damp, dark and silent with echoes of German plotting.  Rooms set out as hospitals, kitchens, stores and toilets, all hallmark the underground life that epitomises Hitler’s reign and fight for dominance.  There is nothing you can say as you walk through the tunnels, as they leave you haunted by the evil and the sense of death.  Although this may not have been a place of physical death, it is most certainly the representation of death, as those who walked the floors of this Nazi maze were entirely responsible for the horror that will be with us for centuries to come.  The man, that prior to World War 2 was the most loved leader in the world, soon turned into the most hated figure in history, responsible for the deaths of over 60 million people.

Dokumentation Obersalzberg

Dokumentation Obersalzberg

Coming out of the Dokumentation was a surreal experience as the museum draws you into its past and into the soul of the perpetrator who changed the world as we know it.   How could you put that 90 minute’s experience into words? I felt very humbled by the whole thing and we both agreed that adding to that ant-line of tourists to visit the Kehlsteinhaus to see what was probably a stunning view, might feel a bit superficial  after our historical submergence.  So we left the queues, knowing that for us the Dokumentation remembrance tour had affected us deeply.

As we reflected, Myles acknowledged that this was just the experience he had hoped for, being able to fill in so many gaps of our historical tapestry. We felt bizarrely enriched by our visit, forever affected by its raw honesty and humbled by the death and fight of so many in their pursuit of our freedom.  If you are ever in this region, we implore you to visit – there will be a bit of you that will never be quite the same again.  Until then, ‘Lest we forget!’

Dokumentation Obersalzberg website

Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany

Berchtesgaden, A small town nestled amongst the mountains of southern Bavaria in Germany, due south of Salzburg will charm your senses. With Obersalzburg, Hitler’s summer retreat to one side , Kehlsteinhaus ( the eagle’s nest) looking down and Königssee to the other side, this area is a must for a visit.

Königssee, Bavaria, Germany

Ah, Königssee in Bavaria is an absolute must see especially when the Oompah bands strikes up a tune or two on you return from a days outing on the lake. From Echo wall to Obersee, you’ll have a great day out…