About Me

My photo
Recent retiree--35 year's experience teaching reading, English, adult basic education and volunteer leadership skills. Started this blog to exchange ideas and commentary with friends and others having an interest in joining the discussions. Greatest life accomplishments include: 1.organized my 3rd grade class to check out library books for me to get around librarian's weekly limit--Amazon.com, the Mullins Elementary 3rd Grade Class of 1956 is still waiting for "thank you" notes; 2. volunteered in the Peace Corps, island of St. Kitts, West Indies; 3.taught adults to read, earn their GEDs., and speak English as a second language; 4. bought a border collie puppy for $6, got evicted rather than give him up, and began a life-long love affair with all things "Dog"; 5. joined a physical fitness boot camp in my mid-50s--don't mess with someone who's been doing regulation pushups in wet grass at 5:30 a.m.; 6. walked across Northern England with best friend Sally--over 80 miles from the Irish to North Seas; and 7. travelled to many foreign countries for pleasure and work.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Easy Company takes Hitler's Eagle's Nest

( "Those of us who enjoy freedom around the world stand humbly in their giant shadow", Steven Spielberg on the soldiers--now veterans--of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army who who fought to free Europe from Hitler's death grip in World War II. Their acts of humanity and heroism have been captured in numerous writings and on screen, most recently in the HBO mini series Band of Brothers. Our hostess for this week's Fun Monday, Janis, at Jan's Place challenges us to show appreciation and honor our veterans, living or dead, for their sacrifices in defending our safety and freedom all over the world on Veteran's Day '08. Here's my effort.)


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.

After a short bus ride we get off at the base of the mountain and walked through a marble lined tunnel dug 400 ft. into the mountain. From there we took the original brass elevator 400 ft. straight up into the Eagle's Nest building at the top of the mountain. Today this place is a tourist destination and restaurant. In the mid-40s Hitler used this mountain hideaway, or "Teahouse" as he called it, for entertaining foreign dignitaries and members of the Third Reich. There were photos and newsreels of Hitler and his guests looking out over the Alps from the decks, just as tourists were doing that day. (After the tour while waiting by the tunnel for our bus down the hill, we decompressed with an impromptu snowball fight in the parking lot, ganging up on Sandor, the cheeky Aussie, who enjoyed tormenting many of us.)

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)

23 comments:

Gattina said...

That's a very interesting post ! I didn't know all that ! I have never been in this part of Germany. We only stop in Bavaria for a night when we go to Italy. It is certainly a very interesting place for foreign tourists. I personally would never put my foot there !

Sarah said...

Such a fascinating story. I'm always amazed how soldiers from entirely different backgrounds became so closely knit as units. Probably a great lesson for all of us.

Lane said...

Fascinating. I remember my parents visiting there many years ago and having the same 'decompression' problem afterwards. They should have had a snowball fight:-)

So much evil in a place of such astonishing beauty. We're indebted to Easy Company and all those who served and gave so much.

karisma said...

Oh Wow! Talk about getting into the thick of things! LOL! I love Sound of Music and have instilled this love into my girls. The boys on the other hand are running in the other direction! LOL! Wouldn't it be great if we could hear each and every persons actual story??? I bet history would be a little more real to us then!

The monument on my blog is in Nelsons Bay about and hour and a half north of my place. During WW2 an American ship was posted in the harbour there. The monument was a thankyou to those who came to help out when the Japanese were attempting to invade. Most of our troupes were in Europe or already dead so they were most welcome and we were most thankful!

m (the misanthrope) said...

Wow! This was fascinating, thank you!

{i}Post said...

Wow! I agree...that ain't no chicken shit job! You wouldn't find me doing it! Thanks for the post!

Jo Beaufoix said...

What a brilliant post. It's amazing such beauty might inspire such terror. I'd love to go there one day.

Sayre said...

Wow! Thank you for that. Although neither my husband nor I were alive during WWII, we were talking about it the other day - and the fact that Hitler had over 3 MILLION soldiers with him when he invaded Russia. And though Russia didn't have that same kind of manpower, they managed to turn them back. Absolutely amazing - the turning back AND the idea that Hitler had that many people with him. We look at all that Hitler stood for as repugnant, but he obviously struck a nerve with some people as well. Which is probably why there will always be war in one form or another. People just don't agree.

Hootin' Anni said...

Wonderful post....I would like to see 'the Eagle's Nest'...just for the historical value.

Mine's posted...scroll down to the last of my Monday blog. See you there.

Swampwitch said...

What an appropriate place to be for the topic of this Fun Monday post...
Wonderful pictures and I'm learning so much today.
Thank you for taking the time to edumicate us.

Swampwitch said...

RE: Your question about the steel girder in Lee Greenwood's video...

I'm not for sure, but I think that was part of one of the towers that came down on 9-11 and is possibly somewhere in NYC. I do know that when we visited Christchurch, there is a park/stream that has part of one of the towers as a tribute. I will continue to try to find out for sure.

Faye said...

gattina--I understood from our Austrian tour guide that there were still protests at this site by pro-Nazi groups not so long ago.

sarah--apparently this was the case with Easy Company. Educated commanders won the respect and loyalty of their men and visa versa. However, one commander who was an English scholar in his former life never got over the soldiers' use of the favorite adjective, "f**king this or that", and he certainly wouldn't have used the descriptive expression "chicken shit"--although he did come to understand exactly what his men meant by it!

lane--yes, the apprehension was real as we walked through that tunnel and got on the brass elevator. What would we find at the top? Especially true for people who had family members who had suffered at hands of Nazis or had family members from Easy Company who knew what they found at the capture.

karisma--I read journal exerpts for some Easy Company soldiers. One spoke of daily life among the occupied. Thanks for reminder about Nelson Bay. I now remember the Aussie-American connection from Ken Burns' documentary on WW II.

m(the misanthrope) and ipost--if only I'd known more background before touring Eagle's Nest.

jo beaufoix--the mountain was beautiful that day. I even ate a handful of fresh snow--wouldn't do that at lower elevations. . .

sayre--the greatest dangers to freedom, I feel, is for those of us not directly involved in fighting to be too complaisant and/or disinterested and to follow our leaders without questioning. History teaches that lesson.

hootin' anni--on the ride up the mountain you need to balance fear of heights and falling against wanting to see the panoramic views--choose your side of the bus carefully!

Alison said...

very interesting post....I never knew that.

Janis said...

Wow that was a great history lesson, I am learning so much today. Beautiful photos also. Thanks for sharing and God Bless

The Church Lady said...

I really enjoyed reading your post and I learned something too! Very interesting!! Love the photos too.

IamwhoIam said...

Thanks for the tour and the history - I do so enjoy reading your blog.

Tracy said...

Loved reading about your journey. You can really appreciate history when you see it for your own eyes. I would love to take the same trip sometime in my life.

ChrisB said...

That was such an informative post, and there were some bits of history that I haven't heard before.

Karmyn R said...

Wow - you are experiencing history right now. Very cool

Lala said...

Oh I love your posts - I always learn so much! It truly is a little like having been there.... a little. I love the way you weave a story into these weekly post topics.

Lala said...

Oh, and yes, in answer to your question on my post, I do know my family's civil war history. My paternal great great grandfather fought for the south - sometimes I think some of my family is still in that mindset. My husband, whos great great grandfather fought for the North, is a civil war nut - and I, partly in self defense, partly out of curiosity have done some digging right along with him. We also spent our honeymoon at Antietam and Gettysburg, at the 125th reinactiment, so yeah, I've got the civil war thing down sistah!

Debs said...

Fascinating post and photos, thanks.

sanjeev said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.