Thursday, October 8, 2009

Day 16 - Good Times with the Austrians

Hey Team,

Well today, Scott and I shook the dust of Munich off our sandals and hit the open road.  Our goal today was to get to the Eagle's Nest, located in the Obersalzburg in the lower southeast corner of Germany, which is basically right on the Austrian/Germany border.  The Eagle's Nest was this ridiculously posh "home away from home" for Adolf Hitler that was built during the War.

When he was younger, although he was born in Austria (keep this in mind for later) he considered this Alpine valley to be home. So as a 50th birthday present, the Nazi leadership (specifically Hermann Borman, his Secretary), thought it would be nice to build this $150 million dollar (in today's dollars) show place for him to wow dignitaries and such with.

We mixed things up a bit and decided to rent a car rather than take a train.  Now this is not the first time I've ever rented a car obviously, but it is the first time I've rented a car in Europe.  And while the continental Europeans aren't as messed up as the Brits (thankfully the car is driven on the same side of the road as we do), they still have a lot of messed up rules and signs.  Throw in that whole we don't speak English thing as an added bonus and you could have a problem on your hands real quick if you're not careful.  But nevertheless, being the hardheaded children of equally hardheaded parents (love ya Mom and Pop) we were undeterred and pushed forward.

First things first, we had to rent the car.  Behold our chariot:

Ah, the world renowned Ford C-Max.  As you can tell, Scott and I spared no expense so as to fully enjoy our driving experience on the German Autobahn.

I've seen mopeds accelerate better actually but it got us from Point A to B in one piece so I won't complain too much.

Now at this point, I'm afraid that I have a bit of a confession to make.  I've developed a bit of thing for someone I met here on this portion of the trip.  We actually met in the car garage funny enough.  Totally random and unexpected, but I can honestly say, she has definitely changed my life (and Scott's as well) for the better.  Before we crossed paths, I didn't know how lost I really was, but now, I can tell you unequivocally that she is the shining light that guides me.  I don't know how I would have made it without her.  Here's a picture:

When you quickly realize you don't have the first idea of how to get out of the rental car garage, let alone the second biggest city in Germany, there has never been a sweeter voice sung.  We got this added on to the rental unexpectedly and I can say with absolute certainty that without this beautiful invention, we would still be circling the Hauptbahnhof Train Station.

After a couple of tense moments avoiding bikers and driving in a lane that is usually reserved for people going the opposite direction that we are, we made our way out of Munich.  It's about a 2 hour drive to the Eagle's Nest tour we were going to take so we decided to kill some time by stopping in Salzburg, Austria.  This is close to where the Sound of Music takes place and it is also the birthplace of Amadeus Mozart, the famous composer.  We arrived at our destination, but unfortunately, we didn't realize that Salzburg sucks.  Here's the best thing I can show you about the city from our perspective.

This was taken much later in the day when we were 40 miles away from this place.  Actually, it might be a beautiful town, but it was such an unfriendly place for a car (no signs for landmarks, no parking, and really no driving lanes) that we never even got to set foot of the ground.  Wasting the morning driving there would have been bad enough, but as I said, we had to go to Austria to get there.  That's when the fun began. . .

So in Europe as is becoming the norm in the States, you have to pay a toll to ride the good highways.  Every country has a different way of doing this.  As we have learned since, Italy has toll stations like we do, Germany actually allows you to drive for free, and Austria. . .well Austria expects you to pick up a toll sticker on the border from a gas station.

Scott and I knew there were tolls in Austria, but where unaware of the method of collecting payment.  We had a ton of coins in the car but no sticker.  Apparently there were signs for this but they were all in German so we didn't exactly see them.  So, we rolled into Austria to go see Salzburg, and then on the way out back to Germany a very nice man with a little flag saw our car and waved us over to the side of the road.

In better English than I have ever spoken he said in a very friendly tone that we needed a toll sticker to drive in Austria, which costs 7.70 euro for 10 days.  Since we didn't have one, he had no choice but to fine us 120 euro for the infraction (he was very sorry about this).  Instead of handing over a ticket, he politely told us that they would either take cash or credit card, at which point I was directed to another nice man with a credit card machine all ready to relieve me of about $180 US .

Now, I'm a big enough boy to admit that we should have had the tags and should have know before hand what to do.  But the fact that the two cops conducting the sweeps probably speak better English than German and the fact that they had a credit card machine ready to take care of the fine indicates to me that this is specifically designed to nail tourists who don't know any better.  I knew they had us dead to rights so I didn't really say a whole lot, but that didn't prevent the Italian guy who also got dinged from going into a 5 minute dance on the side of the road, which, while not worth the price of admission, was somewhat entertaining.

Needless to say, my opinion of the Austrian government, charging tourists, who are already pouring in cash like it's nobodies business into their economy, 16 times the amount of a stupid toll tag, has gone down the poop shoot.  Arnold, I'm very disappointed.  "I will 'not' be back" on my next European trip.

Anyway, after a fair amount of talking to ourselves and letting the steering wheel know what we thought of the situation, we went on our way.  The scenery in Bavaria was beautiful by the way.  Here's some shots from our time on the road:

This was taken during a much happier time on the trip for Scott and I.  We had made it out of Munich in one piece and still thought of Austria as a good place with good people.  Little did we know, two short hours later all of our illusions would be shattered into a million pieces, never to be put together again.  Oh to be back at the time of this picture, before our innocence was lost. . .

We saw a lot of these onion domed churches on our drive.  It looked more like an Eastern Orthodox type top but most of these are Protestant or Catholic.  I've tried finding some info on why they are prominent in this region but have whiffed so far. Really pretty though.

The German Alps dotted all of our drive.  Reminded me of how I feel every time I go to Conroe to see my folks.

More pictures of our drive.

So around lunchtime we made our way to the little German town of Berchtesgarden.  This is at the bottom of the region called the Obersalzburg, which is the mountain area where the Eagle's Nest is.  We planned on going on a guided tour up to the top (around 6,000 feet elevation) where the actual building was.  Our guide was a man around 50 from Northern Ireland who had written a book on the Eagle's Nest.  He was the most thorough and knowledgeable guide either of us had ever had.  He knew everything about what was going on.  Well worth the money we forked over.

The first thing we did was go to the base of the mountain to look at a series of tunnels that the Nazi had incorporated into the mountain.  There are over 4 km of tunnels underground.  Turns out there was an entire Nazi compound surrounding this entire area, including the homes of many top ranking Germans.  This area essentially was Berlin #2 in WWII.  Here's a shot of the tunnel.

These 5 feet thick reinforced concrete walls ran up and down the mountain.  They were heated and ventilated air in and out to the surface.  No known work was conducted down here, but storage and supplies where enough to last for 6 months.  These were fallout shelters essentially.  This area was heavily bombed at the end of WWII and many people stayed down here during that time.  None were killed.

After that we took specialized buses up to the Eagle's Nest.

Here are a shot of the German Alps.  A little hazy but still just amazing views.

Here's the entrance to the building.  If you look at the top of the picture you will see the Eagle's Nest.  You had to take an elevator to get to the building.

Right outside the Eagle's Nest.  I just thought this looked cool.  Nothing significant here.

Shot of me and the Bro.  You could do a bit of hiking around the area, which we did. . . for a good 5 minutes.  Turns out the Homann's boys might need to be taking pictures of the inside of the European equivalent of 24 Hour Fitness before the trip is over.

Here's a shot of the outside of the Eagle's Nest.  For $150 million, I was expecting something a bit bigger, but considering the premium materials used (get into that in a second), plus the effort required to build and construct all the way up a pristine mountain range, I could see it being what it was.

This was the inside of one of the rooms.  If you'll notice the wood paneling mirror itself.  They take these huge pines and split them giving this appearance.  Want to decorate your house?  No problem.  That'll be $1500/square meter.

Fact about the building:  There were no bedrooms.  No one slept here for the night.  It was mainly used to entertain guests during the day.  Hitler himself only used it about 20 or so times.  And you thought paying a MLB pitcher $20 million for 30 starts was exorbitant.

Here's a shot of the inside of the elevator leading from the tunnel up to the Eagle's Nest.  The whole thing was reflective and made of brass.  This was taken by me shooting the reflection.  Scott was super excited about this one making the blog.

Last shot.  This is the tunnel leading to the elevator.  It is built out of unpolished marble.  The tunnel is big enough to hold a large car and it's over 100 meters long.  To make up for our poor effort on the mountain range, Scott and I had to do gassers in the tunnel as punishment.

While obviously a notorious place due to its inhabitants, the views on the mountain were amazing and the engineering required to construct and maintain the entire mountain base was impressive.  Fortunately, the only people making use of it today are tourists, tour guides, the Germans, and most importantly, not the Austrian Government.  Despite the couple of setbacks, I think we both agreed that it was a good day and worth the headaches.  Tomorrow Scott and I go to the inspiration for the Magic Kingdom. . .