Traffic on the German autobahn is challenging today, so to get to the next stops on our World War 2 tour, the driver chooses to take country roads, which turns out badly for him, but good for us. It’s especially helpful for me to see the type of terrain that soldiers traversed in World War 1, which plays a role in my next book.
Highest German Spire
We can see Ulm Minster from a distance. The highest spire in Germany reminds me of the grandeur of other inspiring cathedrals I’ve seen, such as Salisbury in England, except that Ulm now sits in a crowed downtown area. The first large, venerable cathedral I ever saw was York Minster while on a trip with my son years ago. Inspiring religious sites are my favorite on any trip, whether in Gaudi’s 20thcentury Barcelona or ancient Luxor in Egypt.
Ulm Minster was developed over many time periods. The first plan for the church was in 1377, and it was consecrated, uncompleted, in 1405. What makes it unique for me is the work of Jorg Syrlin the Elder from 1469-1474. The master carver lined its choir with an elaborate set of eighty-nine wooden stalls. Ninety busts of male and female saints, sibyls, Old Testament figures and classical thinkers adorn the benches, the wall revetments and the overhanging canopies. The north side wall depicts men, women the south wall, with one of my favorites, the sibyl, Hellespontica. Syrlin was aided by a team of sculptors and joiners. At the end of each group of stalls are fully carved busts of sibyls (south) and scholars (north). The choir stalls reflect the collective wisdom and faith of classical, Jewish and Christian people. (The Web Gallery of Art).
Ulm’s old town near the Danube is beautiful. We walked with other tourists along the ancient buildings mixed with new, residences and shops. It's a Monday in late September and you can hear a pin drop. So different from busy Salzberg the day before. We eat lunch at an outdoor café along the water, surrounded by colorful flowers. (below right)
The afternoon is dedicated to sites in remembrance of German general Edwin Rommel, known as “The Desert Fox.” The home where he lived during the war years is in a lovely section of the small town of Herrlingen. We are told the story of how Hitler lost trust in Rommel, assuming him an instigator of one of the assignation plots against the Fuhrer.
One day, SS troops came to Rommel’s home and took him to a nearby forest. His option: his family would be protected if he would commit suicide. Germany would be told that their hero died of complications of a surgery he recently had. Even the Furher was afraid of public repercussions if the famous Rommel, beloved hero of two wars, was murdered by the party. Rommel did what was asked. We visited the site where it occurred. A large rock in a natural setting marks the spot.
Our next stop was at Rommel’s grave and marker in a small cemetery. We are surprised that this is the extent of tribute to someone so loved by the German people. However, he was a Nazi, so in the cultural climate since World War 2, it’s understandable.
Edge of the Black Forest
Road closures make for a very long drive to our hotel. The detours bring us to Bad Herrenalb on the northern edge of the Black Forest, part of Baden-Wurttemberg, where Dave and I both have roots. The town is so small it is hard to find on a map. And we are again transported back to another time, centuries ago. The town was founded in 1148. Much of the reason that foreigners choose to travel Europe is historic preservation. We’re just beginning to appreciate that in our own America.
Next time: World War 2 Fort Hackenberg and the Lorraine American Cemetary in St. Avold, France
Ann Otto writes fiction based on factual as well as oral history. Her debut novel, Yours in a Hurry, about Ohio siblings relocating to California in the 1910’s, is available on-line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, and at locations listed on her website at www.ann-otto.com. Ann’s academic background is in history, English, and behavioral science, and she has published in academic and professional journals. She loves speaking with groups about all things history, writing, and the events, locations, and characters from Yours in a Hurry. She is currently working on her next novel, Little Diamonds, about Ohio’s Appalachia in the 1920’s. She can be reached through the website, or on Facebook @Annottoauthor or www.Goodreads.com.
A main attraction for David on our World War 2 memorial tour was a visit to Adolph Hitler’s tea house atop the rocky summit of the Kehlstein peak near Berchtesgaden in the German Bavarian Alps. His father visited the bunker at the base of the mountains and possibly Hitler’s hideaway as well.
An Infamous Meeting Place
The tea house, thousands of feet above the town of Berchtesgaden, was a meeting and entertainment site for the Nazi elite. Hitler became chancellor in 1930. In 1936 an eighty-building compound was fenced off in the Berchtesgaden area, fifteen miles from Salzburg and three miles from Obersalzberg, the “cradle of the 3rd Reich.” In 1939 the National Socialist German Workers’ Party presented Hitler with the Kehlsteinhaus (now known as the Eagle’s Nest) for his 50th birthday.
We often see the same newsreel of him there with Eva Braun and friends. Why usually only that one? According to travel guides, he only visited the Nest fourteen times. He was claustrophobic and afraid of heights. The newsreel shows large black cars delivering dignitaries up the four-mile road to a cliff-side turn-around point. We take special tourist buses. After walking through a dark ¾-mile tunnel (left), we reach the brass-paneled elevator and ride the same distance vertically to reach the Nest.
One can understand Hitler’s hesitancy in visiting. The Eagle’s Nest is now the responsibility of the Berchtesgadener Landesstiftung, and with the local tourism association, the trust leases the Nest to a concessionaire as a café and restaurant. The three large rooms are filled near lunchtime on this Sunday afternoon. We go out the back door and see the path leading straight up to the mountain tip. The walk up is not for the faint-hearted (above), but we take it. Black birds circle continuously in the skies above. Below, we see the houses of key Nazis which David’s father visited in 1945. The underground bunker, with its four miles of tunnels, built in 1943 after the Battle of Stalingrad, is closed today.
Sounds of Music
We travel back down the Kehlstein for a short drive to Salzburg. We visited here two years ago with a tour guide and saw the castle level, the ministry, and the Sound of Music park where the von Trapp children sang in costumes made of curtain fabric. This time, we are able to use our free time to blend in with the community.
A large festival is going on throughout the city: nostalgic and beautifully crafted carnival rides; crafters; and lots of food and drink, especially beer vendors in tents and beer halls. Their version of Octoberfest. To avoid the crowds in the last half hour of our visit, we stop for wine and hard cider at an outdoor café at the edge of town center.
Dinner in a small village on the way back to Kufstein is memorable. Our plates are small, round wooden cheese-boards. The main course, ribs, arrives ceremoniously on a long wooden plank with glittering sparklers on top. The large wine and beer pours are appreciated after a long day.
For more on the Eagle’s Nest, visit https://www.obersalzberg.de/obersalzberg-home.html?&L=1
Next time: Ulm Minster and the Black Forest