Adolf Hitler already faked the idyll up here long enough. Perhaps he even initially looked for it himself when he first came to the small farming village of Obersalzberg above Berchtesgaden in 1923, where he rented the Wachenfeld house in 1928 and bought it in 1933. Haus Wachenfeld soon had to give way to Hitler’s new “Berghof” and the entire village to an extensive “Führer restricted area” with numerous new buildings for the Nazi greats. Hitler still had propaganda photos of the Führer distributed in the good farmhouse parlor, while he and his generals planned and sometimes ordered the crimes against humanity of the Second World War and the murder of millions of people in the hall-like rooms of the Berghof. In between there was tea on the terrace and table tennis for the entourage.
The new permanent exhibition of the Obersalzberg documentation, which was ceremoniously opened this Wednesday and is generally accessible from Thursday, summarizes this duality under the title “Idyll and Crime”. Hitler spent around a quarter of his entire reign here at Obersalzberg, the second seat of government next to Berlin. Here he had his personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann portray him as a popular leader, in seemingly intimate conversation with children in traditional costume or in the midst of the masses who actually made a pilgrimage to the Obersalzberg to cheer him on.
The people continued to come even after the Allies had bombed the Führer restricted area on April 25, 1945 and, a little later, put a final end to the Third Reich and its long-lost war. In the decades that followed, quite a few of these guests at Obersalzberg were still looking for the supposed Nazi idyll. Others wanted to explore the dark fascination that Hitler and his legacies still held for them, and allowed themselves to be led by various profiteers into the remains of the extensive bunker complexes.
After the withdrawal of the last US soldiers, the Free State finally wanted to counter the often all too comfortable Nazi horror, from which some people down in Berchtesgaden also liked to generate sales, with the first documentary Obersalzberg, which opened in 1999. It was much more successful than expected: it was planned for a maximum of 40,000 guests a year, but up to 170,000 came, most of them from spring to autumn. So in 2012 the decision was made to build a new building. Not the first sod was broken right away, but soon an excavator shovel came across a once-unexploded bomb in 2017, and the project dragged on in other ways too. In 2020, the Free State terminated the lead planners, and it is still unclear whether this will result in a court case.
According to the Ministry of Construction and the Ministry of Finance, the cost framework, which was expanded several times by the state parliament several times and in the end with clear dissatisfaction, to 30.1 million euros and thus more than twice the original amount, will probably be maintained. Two years ago, the Free State handed over a massive and decidedly anti-idyllic building made of exposed concrete and narrow, dark glass strips to the Institute for Contemporary History (IfZ), which is responsible for the exhibition, but which nevertheless extends deep into the mountainside. Because of the corona pandemic, the war in Ukraine and delivery bottlenecks even for showcase glass, lighting controls and even the wood for the custom-made exhibition furniture, it took the IfZ almost two years before it was able to realize the exhibition concept it had already presented in 2018 in the new building.
Its largest exhibit is the bunker, which was only accessible as a dimly lit dead end from the old documentation next door, which is now used for accompanying educational offerings. Now the fascination, which according to surveys was a contributing reason for at least half of all visits to the documentary center, forms the final part of a tour. At the very end, surviving contemporary witnesses have the last word in three places. In addition, the bunker is now brightly lit, which revealed all sorts of inscriptions from all walks of life, from the forced laborers who had to build it, to the Allied soldiers stationed in Berchtesgaden for a long time, to some of the visitors to the previous documentation. The bomb found at the construction site in 2017 is also on display in the bunker.
The crucial idea of the exhibition organizers around documentary director Sven Keller, his predecessor Axel Drecoll, who was in office until 2018, and deputy Albert Feiber is revealed in the rooms above. There are a total of five zones and chapters about the Obersalzberg as a stage for Hitler’s propaganda. Hoffmann’s staged and often retouched photos of the leader can be dissected and analyzed in detail at a large media table with a touchscreen. It’s about the “national community” and who was allowed to belong to it, especially here around Berchtesgaden, and who was expelled from it and murdered, it’s about Hitler’s war and expansion policy and how the supposed idyll of Obersalzberg was dealt with in the post-war period .
However, centrally, arranged in the middle and clearly marked from all other zones, is the chapter “Place of perpetrators and crime scenes” and thus the attempt to show those epochal crimes that began here in the supposed idyll. Because Keller and his colleagues didn’t want to stop at showing the perpetrators again at Obersalzberg. The new documentation would like to focus much more on the victims than before – also in view of the quiet but audible debates about whether the state should invest so much money in a place of perpetrators like Obersalzberg, even though there are designated victim places like the concentration camps -Memorials lack so much.
The chapter “Perpetrator location and crime scenes” now links Obersalzberg with examples of Auschwitz, Leningrad, Kaunas, Treblinka and Warsaw as well as the Hartheim killing center near Linz. The lives and life stories of thousands upon thousands of people ended here – including some whom the exhibition now brings to its visitors as people, such as the Jewish spa doctor Gustav Ortenau from Bad Reichenhall, whom the so-called national community no longer wanted in the huts on his beloved mountains. Like Dora Reiner from Schönau am Königssee, whose household goods the interested neighborhood was able to auction off cheaply after her deportation and murder. Like the Winter and Herzenberger families, who, as members of the Sinti and Roma, were quickly interned in nearby Salzburg-Maxglan and – before they were killed too – Hitler’s favorite filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl had to portray Spaniards as extras. The new documentation exemplarily rescues them from oblivion. The perpetrators’ idyll was itself a crime scene.