Americans Returning Alpine Property to Reluctant Germans
Feb. 19, 1995
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ After 50 years, the U.S. military is giving some prime Bavarian real estate back to Germany. Not just any old piece of land.
The property was once Hitler's Alpine Redoubt, and the German government wanted the Americans to keep it.
Since May 1945, when the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne confiscated Nazi property in Berchtesgaden and on nearby Obersalzberg mountain, countless American troops and their families have enjoyed the hotels, villas and ski slope once used by the Third Reich's elite.
With the reduction of American forces in Europe from 300,000 in the late 1980s to 100,000 this year, the U.S. military decided to close one of its three vacation centers in southern Germany.
Col. Richard Bridges of U.S. Army Headquarters in Heidelberg said the Obersalzberg and Berchtesgaden facilities weren't needed because they needed extensive renovations.
But the German government asked the Americans to reconsider for two reasons:
_Finance Minister Theo Waigel, a Bavarian, had told the town of Bernau it could get back the U.S. resort at Lake Chiemsee.
_Bavaria state officials wanted the Americans to keep the Obersalzberg property for at least 10 more years to prevent neo-Nazis from visiting Hitler's former retreat.
In June 1993, the U.S. military agreed to give up the Chiemsee resort if Germany paid $20 million to renovate the U.S. resort in Berchtesgaden and Obersalzberg.
But the deal fell through, Bridges said, because ``it would not have been prudent of us to guarantee staying 10 years.'' So the Army went back to its original plan of abandoning the Berchtesgaden-Obersalzberg resort.
Now, the Chiemsee resort east of Munich and U.S. military hotels in Garmisch-Partenkirchen south of Munich will be kept open indefinitely, he said.
``Garmisch is the centerpiece of the armed forces recreation centers ... and we had invested roughly $14 million between 1987 and 1990 in some major upgrades at Chiemsee,'' Bridges said.
The Obersalzberg resort includes a 270-bed hotel and two villas on the ski slopes of the 3,300-foot mountain above Berchtesgaden. The buildings are connected by tunnels and bunkers that were designed as Hitler's Alpine fortress, but were never completed.
Nearby is Kehlstein peak, with a restaurant known as ``Eagle's Nest,'' also used by Hitler. It's open to tourists from from May to October.
In the town of Berchtesgaden, population 12,000, the U.S. military is turning over a 90-room hotel, two barracks, 12 family apartments, a post office, shopping center, and a garage.
The turnover should be completed by September, Bridges said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. resort at Chiemsee will be reopened and 130 employees rehired for the summer season.
Bernau administrator Helmut Schuhbeck said town of 6,000 had counted on $660,000 a year in tourism revenues from the Chiemsee properties.
``It's too bad,'' he said. ``They're not mad at the Americans because they see them as friends, but a lot of people are really upset by the finance ministry.''
Under the Status of Forces Agreement, the U.S. military returns confiscated German property to the federal government. The Finance Ministry then decides whether to hold the property or return it to states and communities.
Ownership of the Obersalzberg properties is already contested.
Berchtesgaden attorney Oskar Steuer represents five descendants of former landowners, who claim they were forced out in the 1930s so Hitler could have his Alpine retreat.
``The expropriation was immoral because the residents were collectively forced into submission,'' Steuer said. ``We will sue for return of the property.''