Life and Death at Kehlstein

August 24, 2001

Mozart's Salzburg is a place of incredible beauty and tranquility. In August it comes alive with those who come from around the world to hear his music, for August is the time for the Mozartfest. We looked over the town at night from our perch on the side of a mountain and gazed in awe at the splendor of this place.

The next morning we drove through the mountains we could see from our balcony, crossing into Germany and the area known as Obersalzberg. I was on a mission to get to the snow capped alps, but when the road sign pointed to Berchtesgarden, MRS said "I know that name, Everyone knows that name. Let's go see it."

I turned left toward the birthday present from Hell. It was supposed to be a birthday present, but the size of the undertaking probably made it impossible to be a surprise for the birthday boy.

One writer suggested that it represents one of the greatest "suck up" projects of all time.

The locals call it Kehlstein, its tourist name is the Eagle's Nest.

Its draw for me was not for the Eagles, or the impressive view, but the history.


What we don't learn, we are condemned to repeat.

And repeat we have, again and again.

I write today, primarily in response to something I read in the last day or two. I read about life, and I read about death. From one particular journal I have read about pain and suffering and loss and...

and I cannot imagine how you grow up as a small child and survive the conflict in Sarajevo, and then move to New York and write about the First time I saw Death. I cannot imagine running through town with your best friend and then hearing gunfire, screaming and running to shelter, only to find you are alone. When you run back, you find your best friend, lying on the ground, dead.

How is it that we subject each other to such horror and those are the things that she has to remember?

She wrote under the name of Pravda and recently titled one of her entries Existential Frustration which could have been titled - Good-By, So Long, I'm Outta Here. She quoted from Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning and said that she failed to find meaning in her suffering. (Updated 2003 - the writer's journal has disappeared from the web)

So what's the connection? How do we get from Viktor Frankl to Kehlstein?

The first connection for me between her pain and this place was in the contrast between what that place was, and some of what I found there. High in the alps, carved out of granite, the Eagles Nest was designed as Hitler's 50th birthday present.

I have read that Hitler tired of the project and only visited the finished site less than 20 times. The project involved building a road which hangs on the side of the mountain, has multiple hairpin turns and also required several tunnels to complete.

At the time the project cost the equivalent of 90 million of today's dollars.

While Hitler and guests had tea in the alps, Viktor was imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Later Frankel wrote that "When we are no longer able to change a situation... we are challenged to change ourselves."

Today, tourists gather at a mustering point and board busses for the 6km ride to the top of the mountain. They disembark at the end of the road and then walk through a long cold tunnel that reaches into the heart of the mountain.

At the end of the tunnel gleaming elevator doors open to reveal a massive elevator powered by a diesel engine from a submarine. Quickly they ascend 40 stories and enter the main floor of the gray stone building.

Once a home to death personified, today it serves up life, for the Eagle's Nest has become a restaurant.

But it was not the restaurant that got me thinking about the contrasts between life and death at the Kehlstein.

On this exposed peak of rock, life clings to it's windswept surface. This summit is virtually treeless, and those trees that survive the icy winds of winter do not stand in lofty splendor. They crouch, defiantly behind outcrops of rock.

For six months of the year, the access road is choked off with snow.

Life however, is not choked off of this place. A thin layer of dirt covers the granite beneath, offering life in the form of shrub and grass and flower.

It was the picture of the flowers that got me to thinking about death's pain, and a delicate wisp of life that offers promise of a future.

Pravda finds life in music.

I find life in her survival, and in a delicate blue flower, growing on the slopes of a place that once harbored death incarnate.

Mozart's Requiem was to be the music in her final act.

Fortunately it was not.

We need you Pravda.

Your words are agents of change.

Play on.