5 min read
Did you ever get a really big birthday gift? I mean an ultra-ginormous gift that was so over the top you could not believe how much your friends cared for you?
I’m talking a gift so special it sits on top of a mountain. In fact, it is the top of that mountain. Your friends actually had to tunnel through that mountain to build the thing. Everybody had to chip in ‘cause it cost 30 million and… 12 guys even died building it for you.
Now that’s love.
No one has ever cared for me so much as to build such a meaningful birthday gift though I’m pretty sure people love me. My friends and loved ones just…. didn’t have that vision thing. Or the 30 million Reich marks it cost.
But I was lucky enough to visit this crazy unwrapped gift. To walk its tunnels carved in rock. To even fly over and photograph it.
This super special birthday present was the brainchild of notorious Nazi Party Chief and uber Party Planner, Martin Bormann. He built it for his boss, who he really liked.
In 1937 Martin or Marty, commissioned this loving tribute for the upcoming 50th birthday of that boss - Adolf Hitler. Or, Der Fuhrer as A. H. liked to be called.
Der Fuhrer is in Der Haus
This stunning mountaintop retreat was called, Kehlsteinhaus, or House on the Kehlstein Mountain. But when the allies got wind of this formidable hideaway, they quickly named it, ‘The Eagle’s Nest’, possibly in irony but perhaps in awe of the encroaching German military machine, with all its gothic symbolism.
It had everything: a two-story ornate brass elevator to take the Fuhrer and Friends up to the main deck with its spectacular views and a conference room with yet another generous gift, a Carrera marble fireplace, from BFF Benito Mussolini.
One could sit in the great room, look out over the surrounding mountains, get all warm and toasty next to Il Duce’s fireplace and plan world domination. That would be one way to spend an afternoon.
I had a different sort of afternoon at the Eagle’s Nest. Me and the guys were here at the behest of a swank hotel chain for whom we were filming. They had asked for video of the surrounding countryside and picturesque landmarks. The Eagle’s Nest nicely filled that category.
So we walked the tunnel blasted out of solid rock, we rode up the ornate brass elevator and emerged onto the expansive main deck.
But instead of channeling the ghosts of the Third Reich’s elite with their powerful generals and ingénues draped in gauzy 1930’s form-fitting gowns – all of them sipping and conspiring - we were sun-blasted with the sight of a hundred happy t-shirted tourists in shorts, scarfing sausages at long tables at a large mountain-top beer garden.
Your Server Will Be Right With You
Ok, this is what peace and prosperity brings. Less drama, more happy. Nothing wrong with that.
We even ordered beer and sausage ourselves. I forgot exactly what kind of sausage but it was excellent. So was the beer. We might have even had seconds.
Thus having filled our bellies with the artisan fruits of the Fatherland we explored and shot video from the mountaintop’s many scenic vantage points. The views were 360 degrees and they were spectacular.
Like I said, Marty Bormann was uber. He was all about location and always landed the best ones… the swine.
We gazed deep into the Bavarian Alps, eyeing peaks in both Germany and Austria. There was a distinct Top of the World vibe to this panorama.
It would not be difficult to imagine standing here on a calm sunset in 1939, looking out over the endless mountains and feeling the entire planet was within one’s twitchy grasp, if but a few goosesteps away.
Such was the power of the view, the place, the moment and… the sausage. It really was that good.
With some reluctance, we returned to the brass elevator for the ride back down. We still had more shooting to do. This time from a helicopter.
Next Up: Shooting Aerials
A few miles away on a deep green field, my cameraman and I met our pilot, a clean-cut professional whose English was excellent. We had asked that one of the helicopter’s doors be removed for better shooting visibility and he had accommodated.
Now we had a big, open gap on the side of the chopper. So, we climbed in, strapped up, donned our headsets and took off.
Our client wanted shots of the mountains, the hotel grounds and of course… Kehlsteinhaus – the Eagle’s Nest. This would be a fun shoot.
I always carried a little monitor so I could view exactly what the cameraman was seeing. This allowed me to make corrections, adjust the angles or just do more takes until I was happy. Some documentary and news cameramen hate this. They want the video frame to be entirely their domain.
But my cameramen were used to this little ask of mine. Would you like to go to Europe, Africa, India? Then we will use my pint-size monitor. And they always agreed.
So up and away we went, circling over the hotel as I checked the frame in my monitor. The aerial shots of the hotel compound were pretty standard. I wish I could say more about this but it was just a sleek hotel… from the air. And that was enough.
We then flew over the nearby mountains. They were beautiful but…. somehow, after shooting from the Eagle’s Nest as we had, looking straight out at a hundred surrounding peaks, we were spoiled and these aerials looked good but not incredible. I sighed through the roar of the chopper.
Let’s Wrap Up This Puppy
I told the pilot to head over the Eagle’s Nest. Within a minute that unique mountain top and structure came into view.
In April 1945 the Royal Air Force headed out with over 350 war planes, intending to knock out the mountaintop complex we now saw coming up below us. For some reason the RAF squad didn’t hit the Kehlsteinhaus.
Perhaps it was cloudy that day. The Squadron was undoubtedly much higher up than we were and they didn’t have the benefit of spotting a festive beer garden below with its hundred colorful tourists who hadn’t yet been born.
So while the fighters inflicted much damage to the area, the Eagle’s Nest itself was spared.
As our pilot took us over the site, I viewed it way below. It was tiny in my monitor. I asked the pilot to do another pass but this time come in a bit lower so we could see more detail of the structure and the deck.
He complied and we flew a bit closer. In my monitor I could see some tourists looking up and pointing to us. It was a better shot but didn’t have the drama I was seeking.
As if reading my mind, the pilot swung around just a bit lower for one more pass. It was good… but something in me felt incomplete, unsatisfied. What was missing?
The pilot said we should clear out as people might complain about us.
That was fair. The tourists were having an enjoyable lunch just as we had. Yet…
I hadn’t gotten my shot.
And then I thought:
Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About
I leaned forward to the pilot and said I needed just one more pass and I really needed to go lower still. He sort of shrugged. Sort of smiled. And then he went for it.
This next pass was indeed much closer – the chopper’s wash blew down on the hundred happy tourists as we sailed over their heads. This time I could see lots of detail in my monitor. People were hanging on to their sausages. This was the shot.
No sooner had we swept away from the scene then I heard German voices crackling over the chopper’s radio. Our pilot quickly responded. It was the police – the Polizei.
Uh… it seems people were calling in complaints and the police ordered us to clear the area. If we didn’t comply we would be cited.
No problem. We rose in the air and headed away from the Kehlsteinhaus. I looked back once more at the iconic sanctuary, this once-in-a-lifetime birthday gift that survived the war and the seven decades since.
And I laughed.
I pictured the image of an underling, perhaps Marty Bormann, telling Der Fuher about some Jewish guy who had just buzzed his prized Eagle’s Nest. I could just see the rage.
Too F**n bad Adolf.
You are long dead and your special sanctuary is now just another tourist trap. The Third Reich was supposed to live a thousand years but lasted barely twelve.
However, the Eagle’s Nest itself, just might be a millennium keeper.
The sausages on the other hand… they are destined for immortality.