The Berghof was Adolf Hitler’s home in the Obersalzberg of the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany. Other than the Wolfsschanze (“Wolf’s Lair”), his headquarters in East Prussia for the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler spent more time at the Berghof than anywhere else during World War II. It was also one of the most widely known of his headquarters, which were located throughout Europe.
Rebuilt, much expanded and renamed in 1935, the Berghof was Hitler’s vacation residence for ten years. In late April 1945 the house was damaged by British aerial bombs, set on fire by retreating SS troops in early May, and looted after Allied troops reached the area. The burnt out shell was demolished by the Bavarian government in 1952.
History of the Berghof
The Berghof began as a much smaller chalet called Haus Wachenfeld, a holiday home built in 1916 (or 1917) by Kommerzienrat Otto Winter, a businessman from Buxtehude.
This was located near the Platterhof, the former Pension Moritz where Hitler had stayed in 1922–23. By 1926, the family running the Pension had left and Hitler did not like the new owner.
He moved first to the Marineheim and then to a hotel in Berchtesgaden, the Deutsches Haus, where he dictated the second volume of Mein Kampf in the summer of 1926.
Hitler met his alleged lover Maria Reiter, who worked in a shop on the ground floor of the hotel, during another visit in autumn 1926.
In 1928, Winter’s widow rented Haus Wachenfeld to Hitler and his half-sister Angela came to live there as housekeeper, although she left soon after her daughter Geli’s 1931 death in Hitler’s Munich apartment.
By 1933 Hitler had purchased Haus Wachenfeld with funds he received from the sale of his political manifesto Mein Kampf.
The small chalet-style building was refurbished and much expanded during 1935–36 by architect Alois Degano when it was renamed The Berghof.
A large terrace was built and featured big, colourful, resort-style canvas umbrellas. The entrance hall “was filled with a curious display of cactus plants in majolica pots.”
A dining room was panelled with very costly cembra pine. Hitler’s large study had a telephone switchboard room.
The library contained books “on history, painting, architecture and music.”
A great hall was furnished with expensive Teutonic furniture, a large globe and an expansive red marble fireplace mantel. Behind one wall was a projection booth for evening screenings of films (often, Hollywood productions that were otherwise banned in Germany.
A sprawling picture window could be lowered into the wall to give a sweeping, open air view of the snow-capped mountains in Hitler’s native Austria. The house was maintained much like a small resort hotel by several housekeepers, gardeners, cooks and other domestic workers.
“This place is mine,” Hitler was quoted as saying to a writer for Homes and Gardens magazine in 1938. “I built it with money that I earned.”
British Homes & Gardens magazine described him as “his own decorator, designer, and furnisher, as well as architect” and the chalet as “bright and airy” with “a light jade green colour scheme”; caged Harz Roller canaries were kept in most of the rooms, which were furnished with antiques, mostly German furniture from the 18th century.
Old engravings hung in the guest bedrooms, along with some of Hitler’s small water-colour sketches.
His personal valet Heinz Linge stated that Hitler and his longtime companion Eva Braun had two bedrooms and two bathrooms with interconnecting doors and Hitler would end most evenings alone with her in his study drinking tea.
Though Hitler did not smoke, smoking was allowed on the terrace. His vegetarian diet was supplied by nearby kitchen gardens and, later, a greenhouse.
A large complex of mountain homes for the Nazi leadership with a landing strip and many buildings for their security and support staff were constructed nearby.
To acquire the land for these projects, many neighbours were compelled to sell their properties and leave.
A Kehlsteinhaus, nicknamed Eagle’s Nest by a French diplomat, was built in 1937–38 (with remarkably lavish government funds spent as a national gift for his 50th birthday) on the mountaintop above the Berghof, though Hitler rarely went there.
The Berghof became something of a German tourist attraction during the mid-1930s. Visitors gathered at the end of the driveway or on nearby public paths in the hope of catching a glimpse of Hitler.
This led to the introduction of severe restrictions on access to the area and other security measures.
A large contingent of the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler were housed in barracks adjacent to the Berghof.
Under the command of Obersturmbannführer Bernhard Frank, they patrolled an extensive cordoned security zone that encompassed the nearby homes of the other Nazi leaders. With the outbreak of war extensive anti-aircraft defences were also installed, including smoke generating machines to conceal the Berghof complex from hostile aircraft.
Further, the nearby former hotel “Turken” was turned into quarters to house the Reichssicherheitsdienst (RSD) SS security men who patrolled the grounds of the Berghof.
Visitors to the Berghof
Guests at the Berghof included political figures, monarchs, heads of state and diplomats along with painters, singers and musicians.
The important visitors personally greeted on the steps of the Berghof by Hitler included David Lloyd George (3 March 1936), the Aga Khan (20 October 1937), Duke and Duchess of Windsor (22 October 1937), Kurt von Schuschnigg (12 February 1938), Neville Chamberlain (15 September 1938) and Benito Mussolini (19 January 1941).
On 11 May 1941 Karlheinz Pintsch visited the Berghof to deliver a letter from Rudolf Hess informing him of his illegal flight to Scotland.
At the end of July 1941 Hitler summoned his military chiefs from OKW and OKH to the Berghof for the ‘Berghof Conference’ at which the ‘Russian problem’ was studied.
Hitler’s social circle at his Berghof retreat – which his intimates referred to as “on the Berg” – included Eva Braun and her sister Gretl, Eva’s friend Marianne Schönmann, Herta Schneider and her children, Heinrich Hoffmann and the wives and children of other Nazi leaders and Hitler’s staff who would all pose for an annual group photograph on the occasion of Hitler’s birthday.
The social scene at the Berghof ended on 14 July 1944 when Hitler left for his military headquarters in East Prussia, never to return.
Silent colour films shot by Eva Braun survived the war and showed Hitler and his guests relaxing at the Berghof.
In 2006 computer lip reading software identified several parts of their conversations. Among those identified in the films were Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reinhard Heydrich and Karl Wolff.
Two guests planned to use a visit to the Berghof as an opportunity to assassinate Hitler. On 11 March 1944 Captain Eberhard von Breitenbuch arrived with a concealed pistol with the intention of shooting Hitler in the head, but guards would not allow him into the same room.
On 7 June 1944 Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg planned to detonate a bomb at a meeting there, but his fellow conspirators would not give him approval to do so because Himmler and Hermann Göring were not also present.
There was also a British plan called Operation Foxley for a sniper to kill Hitler on his daily walk from the Berghof to the Teehaus.
In 1937, a Teehaus with a round main room was built in a wooded area on Mooslahnerkopf hill (Braun spelled it Moslanderkopf in photo albums), across the small Obersalzberg valley from the Berghof.
Hitler took an almost daily afternoon walk there when he was at Berchtesgaden. The stroll along the mostly wooded path between the Berghof and the teahouse was less than a kilometre and at one spot featured a scenic overlook of the whole valley, fitted with wooden railings and a bench, where many widely known photographs were taken and political discussions were held (in 2004 this site was somewhat restored to its early 1940s era appearance for a German television mini-series).
At the teahouse Hitler might even nap in an easy chair, surrounded by friends and associates from his inner circle.
Most of the few surviving photographs of Hitler wearing eyeglasses were taken in the teahouse.
Some sources have now and then mistakenly captioned photographs snapped in the Mooslahnerkopf Teehaus as having been shot in the spectacular Kehlsteinhaus far above the Berghof, where Hitler seldom went.
The Obersalzberg was bombed by hundreds of British Lancaster bombers, including aircraft from No. 617 Squadron RAF (“The Dam Busters”), on 25 April 1945, twelve days before the surrender of German forces on 7 May.
At least two bombs struck the Berghof. On 4 May, four days after Hitler’s suicide in Berlin, departing SS troops set fire to the villa.
Only hours later, the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division arrived at Berchtesgaden along with the French 2nd Armoured Division.
In his interview with the Library of Congress, Herman Louis Finnell of the 3rd Division, 7th Regiment, Company I, stated that he and his ammo carrier, Pfc. Fungerburg, were the first to enter Berghof, as well as the secret passages below the structure.
Finnell stated that the hallway below the structure had rooms on either side filled with destroyed paintings, evening gowns, as well as destroyed medical equipment and a wine cellar.
The Americans reportedly muddled Berchtesgaden with the Berghof and a French Army captain along with his driver were the first Allied personnel to reach the still-smoldering chalet.
A French tank crew soon joined them. Over the next few days the house was thoroughly looted and stripped by Allied soldiers.
The American 1st Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment (led by Company C) arrived four days later, on 8 May. The 3rd Battalion of the 506th came into Berchtesgaden by a different route and sustained casualties in a skirmish with the crews of two German 88 mm guns. One of the most notable artifacts taken by American soldiers was Hitler’s Globe.
The teahouse on Mooslahnerkopf hill was unscathed in the April 1945 bombing raid but by 1951 the house-sized building had been knocked down by the Bavarian government because of its link with Hitler.
For 55 years the more or less recognisable teahouse ruins (along with mostly intact basement rooms below) lay in the woods by the 13th hole of the post-war Gutshof (Manor Farm) golf course. These were taken away altogether during the late summer of 2006.
The Berghof’s shell survived until 1952 when the Bavarian government blew it up on 30 April. The Berghof, the houses of Göring and Bormann, the SS barracks, the Kampfhäusl and the teahouse were all destroyed. This had been part of an agreement under which the Americans handed the area back to the Bavarian authorities. There was fear that the ruins would become a neo-Nazi shrine and sight-seeing attraction.
The garage remained until 1995. The ruins were further obliterated during the 1990s and early 2000s. By 2007 trees had overgrown the site and only scattered rubble and the top of a retaining wall were visible.