September 17--by now I'm at exactly the mid-point of a two week tour of Europe. On this day our tour group travelled from "base camp" in Innsbruck, Austria to Salzburg for a tour of Mozart's home city, spending the majority of our time in the Getreidegasse, or Old Town, where Mozart lived and worked. We were also in Sound of Music country, seeing the church where Maria and Captain von Trapp were married and the estate where Maria cared for his many children and later helped the family escape the Nazis. We even saw the hill where Julie Andrews was filmed singing "The Hills are Alive. . ." This hill was on the southeast route out of Salzburg which we took for our afternoon destination--Hitler's Eagle's Nest.
The Eagle's Nest is a cliff top fortress about 28 km outside of Salzburg near Berchtesgaden, Germany on the German-Austrian border in the Barvarian Alps. We were in luck that day because there was snow falling in the mountains. The cold mist added to the eerie feeling we were all experiencing, knowing the horrible decisions of life and death that were made by the Nazi administration at this evil nest high in the Alps. When we got to the village of Oberzalberg we transferred to special bus equipped to climb the narrow one lane road and around the hairpin curves carved in the side of the mountain. One mis-turn and we would have been tumbling down the mountain to the valley below. Such beauty. Such danger.
Hitler's Eagle's Nest was designed and built for Adolph Hitler's 50th birthday by his personal secretary and head of the Nazi Party, Martin Bormann. Incredibly, the construction was done by soldiers who signed on to work cutting a road by hand up the Alps. The work went on 24:7 through all seasons. Many men fell to their deaths in its construction. After all this effort to ingratiate, Bormann was not that successful. Hitler was afraid of heights, among other things. He chose to live in his chalet, Berghof, at a much lower elevation.
In May 1945, Easy Company--a band of brothers made up of farmers, coal miners, mountain men, sons of the south, and Harvard, Yale, and UCLA graduates--took control of the country surrounding the town of Berchtesgaden,
including houses of the Gestapo police. They also secured the Eagle's Nest in the only way possible by scaling the mountain face. Their job was to search out German generals and SS trooper who were hiding in the Alps.
Before I saw this incredible place, I wish I had known more about Easy Company and the individual soldiers who joined the Army from all walks of life, their only preparation for fighting being sports or hard scrabble work of farming or coal mining. They signed on to train for the parachute infantry for the extra $50 per month they'd earn. Along the way they learned to work as a unit to accomplish their mission and protect their brother soldiers. And to use one of their favorite expressions, "That ain't no chicken shit job."
Now head over to Janis' place to read some moving tributes to our veterans--many based on personal experience, I suspect.
(Image credit: Easy Company soldiers, HBO)