AFRC Berchtesgaden

AFRC Bertchegaden Map

Oh this map brings back wonderful memories!

When Roberta and her brother and sister were cleaning out their mother’s house a few weeks ago they stumbled on this map tucked away into a souvenir booklet of the German region of Berchtesgaden. Their mother picked it up during a visit to Germany in the mid-1980’s when we and Roberta’s brother were stationed in Germany with the US Army.

Bertchesgaden has a twisted history. First let me say that the region, nestled in the southeast corner of Germany right along the border with Austria (the city of Salsburg, made famous in The Sound of Music is just a few miles away) is drop-dead gorgeous, one of the most beautiful places on earth. The high Alpine allure of the Bertchesgaden/Obersalzberg region is undeniable. And that’s why one of history’s biggest monsters, Adolph Hitler, chose to live on the Obersalzberg just above Bertchesgaden. While he was an evil SOB it is undeniable that he had an eye for composition and landscape. In the early 1930’s, using royalties from the sales of his book ‘Mein Kampf’, Hitler bought and started expanding a small gasthaus (hotel) on the Obersalzberg, turning it into his official residence known as the ‘Berghof’ (mountain home). Very quickly the upper echelon of Nazi leadership followed, with Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann and even Hitler’s personal architect and later minister of armaments Albert Speer establishing residences on the mountain.

During WWII the Obersalzberg was heavily and repeatedly bombed by US and British air forces on the off chance that Hitler or any of his cronies might be at home. They never did kill anyone important but they managed to reduce the buildings on the mountain to rubble. Then the 101st Airborne showed up (a scene made famous in the book and HBO series Band of Brothers) and took over the town and the mountain residences. We gave the town back, but not the mountain. Frankly, the post-war German government didn’t want it back. Too many bad memories. The US Army turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse and converted the entire mountain into a world class recreation center for American service members and their families. Berchtesgaden became one of two premiere Armed Forces Recreation Centers (AFRC) in Germany, the other being Garmisch-Partenkirchen, another former Nazi stronghold and site of the 1936 Winter Olympics,

But Roberta and I especially loved Berchtesgaden and all it offered. While the Garmisch recreation center focused on more intensive sports like skiing and climbing, Berchtesgaden was somewhat sedate and more family focused, perfect for a young couple with a new baby. But what drew me back to the Berchtesgaden AFRC time and again was the history of the place. The main hotel, the General Walker, was a former lodging center for high ranking Nazis and German officers who came to the Obersalzberg to confer with Hitler. When the Nazis owned it they called it the Platterhof, but when we rebuilt it and opened it as a hotel it was named after General Walton Walker, who had recently been killed leading American forces in the early stages of the Korean War.

The main entrance to the General Walker Hotel in the mid-1980’s, as Roberta and I knew it

Roberta on the terrace of the General Walker Hotel, 1984

You could easily stroll from the General Walker to the houses or the ruins of houses of all the key Nazi leadership. The Obersalzberg mountainside was literally littered with Nazi history. The US Army rebuilt some of the structures for their own use, tore down others or just left the ruins in place. On one visit we arrived late to Berchtesgaden to find our room at the General Walker would not be available until the next day, so the hotel management billeted us for the night in what had been Albert Speer’s personal studio, shown in the map above as the Evergreen Lodge. I spent a good part of the night lying awake wondering just what sort of conversations had taken place within those walls as Speer first catered to Hitler’s outlandish architectural dreams and later as the Reich Minister of Armaments he charted the inevitable downfall of the German nation as depicted by the nation’s declining stocks of raw materials and her industrial facilities being pounded to rubble by Allied bombers.

Albert Speer’s design studio, later renamed the Evergreen Lodge by the US and used as VIP lodging on the Obersalzberg. It was located just down the road from the General Walker Hotel

Albert Speer and Hitler conferring over an architectural drawing in Speer’s studio (later the Evergreen Lodge) on the Obersalzberg

But perhaps the most fascinating, and infamous, ruin on the Obersalzberg was Hitler’s official residence, the Berghof. In the early 1950s the US Army blew up the ruins and carted away most of the rubble. However, they didn’t get it all, and some significant remains of the building still stood. While no official US Army map or booklet showed the location of the ruins (note that they are missing from our map above), they were easy to find with just a little research or, in my case, simply by asking the hotel concierge. Immediately below the General Walker terrace (just over Roberta’s shoulder in the picture above) sat the ruins of an old gasthaus known as the Hoher Goll that the Nazis used as an administration office. Just below that, along an abandoned road, sat the remains of Hitler’s Berghof

Gasthaus Hoher Goll, used by the Nazis as an administrative office and a guard house controlling access to Hitler’s Berghof. The General Walker terrace wall is in the foreground. I took this picture in 1984

The Gasthaus Hoher Goll when the Nazis owned it, taken from roughly the same perspective as the previous picture. The German soldier at the gate guards access to the Berghof on the road that goes past the Hoher Goll

The Berghof was an expansive villa, more a compound than a house, and it served both as Hitler’s personal residence and a place where he conducted the business of state. Prior to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1938 and the opening of WWII, Hitler regularly hosted foreign leaders at the Berghof. Most came away impressed by the building and location but troubled by Hitler’s brand of international diplomacy.

So one afternoon while Roberta was taking a nap I wandered down the road past the ruins of the Hoher Goll and soon found myself looking up at this:

The last standing ruins of Hitler’s Berghof, taken in 1984

All that stood was the remains of the garage on the ground floor of the Berghof, seen in the foreground of this photo:

The garage structure has an interesting history because it supported the outdoor patio that Hitler so loved to sun himself on, and on which so many Nazi luminaries were photographed or filmed

In poking around the ruins I found a piece of brick from the garage that had ‘fallen’ from the wall and ‘accidentally’ made its way into my camera bag. It sits on my mantle today as a unique reminder of a fascinating part of American and German history.

Let’s fast forward a decade or two. In 1995, after the fall of the Soviet Union and troop reductions in Europe the US Army decided to close the Berchtesgaden AFRC and turn the Obersalzberg over to the Germans. We spent millions of dollars getting the facilities ready for the turn over. When we handed the keys to the Germans the facilities were in top-notch condition. Still, the Germans wanted nothing to do with the place and all the buildings stood empty for a few years, including the grand old General Walker. Then one year the Germans ‘forgot’ to winterize the plumbing and steam heat system in the hotel. During a particularly cold winter pipes froze and burst all over the hotel. The Germans declared the hotel uninhabitable, tore it down and turned the location into a parking lot. Fourty years of American memories unceremoniously knocked down and bulldozed away. I still have not forgiven the Germans.

In addition to knocking down the General Walker the German government went after all the remaining ruins on the mountain, to include the last remnants of the Berghof. Any remaining ruins were completely bulldozed and the rubble hauled away. The Germans simply did not want any visible reminders of the Nazi era left on the mountain. The last remnant was the ruins of the old Gasthaus Hoher Goll. It had sat a neglected ruin for over 40 years, but the German government decided to renovate it and turn it into something of a museum that describes just what used to be on the Obersalzberg. Known as the Dokumentation Obersalzberg Museum, it showcases the history of the Obersalzberg from the time when Hitler arrived in the late 1920s to when the Americans left in 1995.

So let’s wrap it up here. There’s a lot more I could talk about in regards to the Obersalzberg, in particular the extensive underground tunnel system the Nazis dug through the mountain to connect all the key residences and facilities. But that’s a topic for another day.

Instead, let me leave you with a link to an excellent video produced by Ruiter Productions in Germany that shows how the Obersalzberg looks today in relation to the 1940s. For old Soldiers and their families who spent time at the Bertchesgaden AFRC it is a nostalgic look back at what was.

– Brian

19 thoughts on “AFRC Berchtesgaden

  1. I was lucky to have been a ski instructor at AFRC Berchtesgaden 1975-1976, and also was at Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Chimsee for about two weeks each on the way to Berchtesgaden. Swimming in Bad Reichenhall, visiting crazy Ludwig’s castles, skiing Austria and Italy. Having a few beers at the Hobelbank Bierkeller. I think we were staying in the Skytop Lodge. We were told the ski area/golf course had been a demonstration farm. At the end of the ski season we had a ski jump into a pond. I then returned to Wildflecken, another beautiful part of German, at the very north part of Bavaria. Super memories, thanks!

  2. I was there with two friends in 1972 and will never forget that beautiful place .The restaurant was a magnificent place with old world charm. The view of Berchesgarden from the hotel was breath taking with all that snow .

  3. Excellent article on the history of the GW hotel. Recently recalled a ski week I spent there Dec ’74. Was wondering if it had survived the 80’s troop draw down and was hoping it might still be a functioning MWR facility that I might visit – sadly not in the cards.

  4. Was especially sad to hear about afrc. I was director of hotel and restaurant operations for all of afrc from 1981 to 1984. At that time we had hotels in garmisch,munich,lake chimsee,and berchesgarten. Was like living in a Christmas card. Have some fond memories

    • John, Would you be able to provide me any information or links to information on AFRC recreation programs during the 70s and 80s? Or could you suggest someone who might have information? I am looking for details on a “Blueberry Tour” that we made in 1974. Thanks!

      • Elaine—we had so many programs it is hard to remember them all–ones I can remember are the ski packages from beginner to expert–these packages included equipment and instruction–we even had our own tour buses that would travel to the various military bases and furnish free transportation. Lake Chiemsee offered sailing,water skiing,and cross country skiing–we also had golf,tennis,kayaking.bowling, and various tours. Don*t know of any contact to get info although you might try web site for former AFRC employees,especially ski instructors). Hope the info was helpful.

  5. Thank you for the article and photos. I was the AFRC deputy comptroller from 1973 to 1975 living in Garmisch but spent time at all the AFRC facilities in Berchtesgaden as well as those in Munich and Lake Chimsee.

    • Earl, I hope that you can help me. I have been trying for the longest time to find someone who can answer a question about the “Blueberry Tour” that my husband and I made from the facilities in 1974. We practiced kayaking on a lake one day and then climbed a mountain and stayed in a hut overnight before hiking down into Austria the next day. I’m trying to learn the name of the mountain that we climbed. Would you be able to tell me that? Thank you so much! Elaine Phillips

  6. Thank you much for the refresher of memories so sad to hear about the general walker I did two tours in Germany and visited many times with family and friends very well done video!!👍

  7. Thank you so much for this article and pictures. I was stationed In West Germany, Bindlach, Delta FIST, 1st Squadron, 2 Armored Calvalry Regiment from summer of 82-summer of 84. I went to Berchesgarten both winters and stayed at the General Walker. I recall my leave in winter of 84 when I took the train from Bayreuth by myself all the way to Obersalzberg. What a great experience. One morning after a heavy snow, I decided to try to find the Eagles Nest. I got some general directions and started hiking up the mountain through the snow until I reached it. It was secured but I was able to take a few pictures and crawl over a barrier and stand on that rear deck and view the mountains. I am deeply saddened that the Walker Hotel was torn down. I have my opinions about why it was demolished but thats for another day.

    Thank you again – it meant much to me to relive those few moments again.

  8. A very nice article, well written, thank you. I stayed in the General Walker Hotel in 1982 for several days. I was led to believe that Hitler finished writing Mein Kampf in the basement or bottom floor of the General Walker, but was always skeptical of this assertion. Plus, was there a guest house for the high ranking SS officers near the General Walker location?

    • Carl, Hitler used the profits from the sale of “Mein Kampf” to buy the property that eventually became the Berghof, so I doubt he sat in the basement of the gasthaus that became the General Walker and finished the book.

  9. In the early 70s, I believe, my husband and I participated in an AFRC “Blueberry Tour.” We climbed a mountain, stayed in a mountain hut, and the next morning the group hiked (and briefly kayaked) down into Austria. We cannot remember which mountain we climbed. Do you have any information on this tour or know where I might find it? Thanks!

      • Watching the video brought back MANY MEMORIES.It is sad that they destroyed the General Walker, I stayed there on many times.1978/79-83. While as a dependent, I the military, I’d travel to Berchtesgaden about one a yr+ for a convention..I enjoy the surrounding area and took many of the historical sights, being a WWII “buff” it was very enlightening to be among the history of that place. That step hill with the hairpin curves up to the Keihlhase was interesting to say the least. An Excellent video that brings back the memories.

  10. I never made it to the AFRC Berchtesgaden on my first or second tour of Germany. I did make it while on leave from Ft. Sam Houston, TX back in 1990. I’m glad I made it before it was gone. We were book into the General Walker but when we arrived we found out we were overbooked and sent to the Pension Belvedere in town. What an upgrade. A two room suite on the top floor overlooking the town. Best week ever. While there we had the opportunity to use the facilities at the Walker, when gave time to explore the few remaining ruins left in the woods. Even then, tunnel rats had little holes and tunnels dug in the woods all around the Berghof trying to find souvenirs. I still have a small piece of ceramic tile I picked up from one of the dirt heaps. Interesting times.

  11. My one regret from my Army service is that I was never assigned to duty in Germany. I certainly would have been here often!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s