On Friday 23rd September, Townshend Levels 2,3 and 4 history students visited the Dokumentationszentrum Obersalzburg near the town of Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. The site is in the hearts of the Alps and close to the Austrian border. It has spectacular views across a valley to the peaks of the mountains, but the breath-taking views on the side of Obersalzburg mountain hold a dark secret. It was where the Berghof — the former home of Adolf Hitler and the heart of the Nazi regime — once stood.
The Documentation Centre was built in 1999 on the remains of the guest house (Platterhof) part of the destroyed Nazi complex of buildings of homes for leading Nazis and SS barracks next to Hitler’s Berghof building. The Documentation Centre has been built to educate and inform visitors about the leadership, propaganda, and atrocities created by the Nazi regime that had been based on the side of the Obersalzburg. The centre is run by experienced staff. As the study of Germany 1918-1945 is a major part of the Cambridge IGCSE and A-level History courses, the students were able to gain expert knowledge and see first hand many items and sources about the regime in the guided tours provided by the staff that was relevant to the syllabus. The students were shown examples of the propaganda created by the Nazi regime including their use of the Obsersalzburg site as a sort of shrine for the Hitler myth, and some information about the darker side of the regime based here, including the slave labour used on the site. The museum is finished by descending into the underground bunker complex constructed into the side of the Obersalzburg, intended for a last defence had Hitler not stayed in Berlin, or had the site not been bombed by the RAF in April 1945.
Although we were not able to go to the top, the students glimpsed a view of the infamous Eagles Nest teahouse on the top of the Obersalzburg. Viewing it from below gave a good sense of scale of the Nazis’ attempt to show power. The fact that Hitler never even used it despite the lives lost in the construction to get to it completed in time for his birthday, showed clearly the absurd scale of the Nazi delusions of trying to show power.
Yet again we took advantage of Townshend’s location in the heart of Europe to learn history in a more hands on approach, in a manner that cannot be gained by simply teaching within the classroom environment. Over the past few years, we have taken history focused trips to Mauthausen Concentration Camp, the Imperial War Museum in London, Nurnberg Documentation Centre, the Wannsee Conference Manor, the Reichstag, the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin, Krakow and Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. The guides at the Documentation Centre were clearly impressed by the knowledge of our students. For some of our students, this was their first excursion (the first of many we hope!) and anticipate visiting the sites in Berlin and Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp later in the year.
The students behaved with respect and diligence, and were aware that this trip will aid their studies later in the year. They were also able to enjoy some stunning views of the Alps, and managed to fit in a visit to the Plus City shopping complex near Linz for a bite to eat before their return to Townshend. As always the grateful response of the students means that staff such as myself are motivated to pursue further excursions in the year.