Tag Archives: Adolf Hitler

A Life in a Year – 3rd November, Florence and the Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio that crosses the river Arno in Florence is the oldest bridge in Tuscany and by happy chance the only one in the city that, allegedly due to a direct order from Adolph Hitler himself, wasn’t blown up by the retreating Germans as they cleared out from Florence in their withdrawal from Italy during the Second-World-War.  Knowing how the Germans were fond of blowing things up that must have been a one-in-a-million fluke!

The first bridge on this site was built a long time ago by the Romans and was constructed of wood on piers of stone.  It was ruined in 1117, reconstructed soon after but destroyed again in 1333 by flooding and then rebuilt once more in 1345, but this time more sensibly in stone.  Due to the high volume of traffic using the bridge, a number of shopkeepers set up shop to catch the passing trade. The first merchants here consisted primarily of blacksmiths, butchers, and tanners catering mostly to travelling soldiers who were passing through but when the Medici family moved into Florence bringing with them vast wealth and an appreciation for the finer things in life they promptly cleared the bridge of all the dirty trades, that were probably a bit of an eyesore anyway, and certainly responsible for polluting the river below.

They replaced them with goldsmiths and more similar upmarket shops and today it remains lined with medieval workshops on both sides with some of them precariously overhanging the river below supported only by slender timber brackets.  A number of these shops had to be replaced in 1966 when there was a major flood on November 3rd that consumed the city and damaged some of them but this time was unable to destroy the bridge itself.  The flood story is an interesting one and a good account can be found at


Running along the top of the bridge is a corridor that the Medici had built so that they could cross the river without having to mix with the riff-raff below and is now an art gallery.  When we visited the bridge it was busy with street traders and shoppers and the ever-present scrounging beggars of course.  Along the bridge there were many padlocks locked to the railings and especially in the middle around the statue of the Florentine sculptor, Cellini.

This, I found out later, is a lover’s tradition where by locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.  This is an action where I would recommend extreme caution because it sounds dangerously impulsive to me; I think I would further recommend taking the precaution of keeping a spare somewhere in case I needed it later.  Apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridge and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year.  To deter people there is a €50 penalty for those caught doing it and that is a much higher price than I would be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!

Actually, it may be that there is some truth in this tale because according to ‘Eurostat’ even though the divorce rate has doubled in the last five years Italy has one of the lowest rates in the European Union.  Sweden has the highest and although I don’t know this for a fact I’m willing to bet that across all of Europe the Vatican State probably has the absolute lowest!

A day trip to Florence

Venice three visits three hotels

A Life in a Year – 16th January, Hitler retires from Public Life

On 16th January 1945 Adolf Hitler took refuge in his Berlin bunker for the last time and this has reminded me of a visit to a part of Nazi history in October 2008.

Berchtesgaden is a municipality in the German Bavarian Alps and is is located north of the Nationalpark Berchtesgaden in the south district of Berchtesgadener Land in Bavaria, which is near the border with Austria and although it is only thirty kilometres south of Salzburg the route is not particularly direct as the line runs first west and then south so that it can follow the river valley to the Berchtesgaden railway terminus.  What is fascinating about Berchtesgaden is that it has a very close association with the history of Nazi Germany and that is why I was interested in visiting the town.

The nearby area of Obersalzberg was purchased by the Nazis in the 1920s for their senior leaders to get away from Berlin from time to time.  I find the concept of them buying anything quite interesting because later on of course they just took anything they wanted without paying anything at all for it.  Adolf Hitler’s own mountain residence, the Berghof, was located here and  Berchtesgaden and its villages were fitted out to serve as an outpost of the German Reichskanzlei office  or Imperial Chancellery whenever the Government arrived in town.

In the closing stages of the war the Allies feared that Hitler would leave Berlin and set up an ‘Alpine Redoubt’ to continue the war from the mountains, so the Royal Air Force bombed the Obersalzberg complex on 25th April 1945.  Many buildings were destroyed, and looting, first by locals and then by the Allied occupation troops completed the job.  One of the conditions for the return of the Obersalzberg to German control in 1952 was the destruction of the remaining ruins. Accordingly, the ruins of Hitler’s Berghof, the homes of Bormann and Göring, an SS barracks complex, and other associated buildings were blown up and bulldozed away.

By the time that we arrived the rain had stopped and although it was still very overcast at least I didn’t have to worry any more about my feet getting wet.  We arrived at the railway station that was a typical Third Reich building that had been built for the Nazis and included a reception hall for Hitler and his guests.  It has gone now but next door was once the Berchtesgadener Hof Hotel where famous visitors stayed, such as Eva Braun, Erwin Rommel, Josef Goebbels and Heinrich Himmler.    It felt slightly chilling to be walking in the footsteps of the most evil men of the twentieth century and it seemed strange that this pretty Bavarian town was once home to these people.

After a visit to the Tourist Information Office we talk the steep walk towards the town and arrived evntually in the busy main square that was surprisingly touristy.  It was time for refreshment so we selected a café and found tables in the window that had good views over the mountains that at nearly three thousand metres high are the third highest in Germany.  We couldn’t see the tops today because they were covered in cloud but somewhere among them was the Kehlstein and at the top of it was the Eagle’s Nest.

Its proper name is Kehlsteinhaus and it was commissioned by Martin Bormann in 1939 as a fiftieth birthday present for Hitler. It was a huge construction project and took thirteen months to build so I couldn’t help wondering how they kept it a surprise?   It is situated on a ridge at the top of the mountain and is reached by a spectacular six kilometre road that cost thirty million Reichsmark to build (that’s about one hundred and fifty million euros today). The last one hundred and twenty-four metres up to the Kehlsteinhaus are reached by an elevator bored straight down through the mountain and linked through a long granite tunnel below. The inside of the large elevator car is surfaced with polished brass, Venetian mirrors and green leather. We didn’t have enough time to visit the Eagle’s Nest today so I suppose we will just have to come back another time.

The weather wasn’t brilliant in Berchtesgaden but at least it wasn’t raining so we walked the length of the town with its typical painted Bavarian houses with all roads leading to a large square with a war memorial and war paintings on the wall.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that although the Germans were the aggressors in the two world wars of the twentieth century that this was a catastrophe for them as well.

Just as in Salzburg the shops were interesting and many of them sold traditional German clothing; the girls giggled while they tried the Julie Andrews dresses and Micky treated himself to some wollen shooting breeches.  It is interesting how Geman people are quite prepared to wear these traditional clothes in a completely unselfconscious way and at one point we saw a young lad of about fourteen in full lederhosen and braces, felt hat and cape and I wondered how difficult it might be to get a fourteen year old in England to walk around the streets dressed like that.  To be fair it wouldn’t be right to expect it because he would surely be beaten up within fifty metres of leaving the house.

It was obvious that the sun wasn’t going to get out today but it was pleasant enough to sit outside at a café and have our predictable lunch of soup and strudel served to us by waitresses in traditional Bavarian clothing.  By now we had really exhausted everything there was to do in Berchtesgaden on a rather dreary and overcast day so we walked back to the railway station to catch the three o’clock train back to Salzburg.  For the first half of the journey the train descended down the mountain to Bad Reichenall and then it turned into the low plain and returned effeciently to Austria.