Driving past Lake Chiemsee, south of Munich, Germany, the foot hills of the Alps appear as hints of darkened vapor looming on the horizon. I was half way through my journey to an old Bavarian town steeped in history.
It took 13 months of non-stop work to blast the road leading to the summit of Kehlstein Mountain in the Bavarian Alps. The steep single lane road incorporates numerous 180 degree switchback turns and rock tunnels that lead to a rather infamous mountain retreat.
The road abruptly ends at a small parking lot at the base of the mountain summit. Here you enter a long dark tunnel that leads to a shiny brass elevator. It feels like you are entering the lair of a Bond villain, but it's actually much more chilling. The elevator ride takes just a couple minutes. When the doors open you are in the living room of the Kehlsteinhaus, Adolf Hitler's summer retreat.
I was among the half a million tourists that visit Hitler's "Eagles Nest" every year. The mountain chalet is now a restaurant where you can order lunch and take in the views that dazzled Nazi Party officials in the 1940s. Built in 1938 in preparation of Hitler's 50th birthday the Nazi leader only made a handful of trips to this stunning retreat before it was captured by American troops in 1945. During the Second World War Kehlsteinhaus was most frequently visited by Hitler's mistress and eventual wife, Eva Braun.
Standing on the summit a strange feeling came over me -- knowing the history of this place. But the Second World War was just 10 years in the history of this region. Going back to the middle ages, Berchtesgaden and this area was known for its' extensive salt mines.
Today, perched 6,000 feet above the Town of Berchtesgaden, Kehlsteinhaus and the mountain summit still affords breathtaking views of the Bavarian Alps. Wild flowers blooming along the mountaintop sway in the breeze as hundreds of tourist navigate hiking trails on the summit.
Tourist buses to the summit run on a strict, very German, time schedule. Pull-offs along the precipitous road allow for buses going down the mountain to make way for the next group of tourists.
Taken with the surroundings on the summit I wound up missing my departing bus -- which was all the better. Walking back down that steep mountain road afforded some amazing views. The Kehlsteinstraße, the single lane road to the retreat, is an engineering marvel.
Switching to the mountain trail tall stands of enormous pine trees darken dirt paths that lead to pristine alpine meadows. On the trail down the mountain I came across a number of small chalet type restaurants there to provide hikers with a decent lunch to break up their assent, or in my case, descent.
I stopped for the ever popular curry sausage and a crisp coca-cola and took the last leg of the journey on a full belly.