Straddling the German-Austrian border at 1800 metres high above Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s infamous Eagle’s Nest remains a sober reminder of a madman’s disastrous attempt at world domination.
This Easter weekend, the Kehlsteinhaus, as it is known in the German-speaking world, was covered with fresh snow but clearly visible from the Berchtesgaden Congresshall where Romkje and I were guests of the YMCA Munich community.
The Eagle’s Nest was a 50th birthday present for the Führer, intended as a retreat house and a place to entertain important guests. Hence the name ‘D-Haus’, short for ‘Diplomatic Reception Haus, but often mistakenly called the ‘tea house’.
The steeply climbing road to the Kehlsteinhaus, with five tunnels and a hairpin, cost about €150 million at today’s values. Ironically, Hitler only visited the place about ten times–rarely for more than a half-hour. That’s €15 million each visit, half a million per minute!
The last 120 metres to the Kehlsteinhaus is reached by an elevator through a tunnel drilled straight up through the granite–at the cost of twelve workers’ lives. The original elevator car, with polished brass, mirrors and green leather, is still used daily. The red marble fireplace dominating the reception–a gift from Mussolini–was chipped away by Allied soldiers for souvenirs, including members of the 101st Airborne Division of ‘Band of Brothers’ fame.
Reflecting on the meaning of Easter with 400 German believers in the quiet presence of this monument to a false messiah was an enriching experience for me. Especially so as I recalled that my grandfather was a founder of the YMCA in Auckland, a fact to which I probably owe my existence! His church told him he could not remain a member and be actively engaged in the ‘Y’. So he left and joined the Baptist church where my father later was to meet my mother.
My father served as a YMCA welfare officer with New Zealand troops in the North African desert and later in Italy, doing his bit towards Hitler’s defeat.
Most of his youth was overshadowed by war clouds. One of his schoolteachers warned his class that war was coming and that he and his classmates would be called up. On Sundays he heard bible teachers declaring how the end times were drawing rapidly near. There was even a verse in Revelation supposedly describing the wart on Mussolini’s nose!
So when he found himself in the army serving in the Middle East, at one stage with orders to retreat as far as Megiddo if necessary before fighting to the death, he naturally assumed that was a prelude to the Battle of Armageddon!
None of that happened, of course. The end of the world did not come, but it was the end of Hitler’s mad schemes.
For many Germans, Hitler was the saviour righting the wrongs of Versailles and restoring national pride to a humiliated people. He was a ‘messiah’, one of the many false ones Jesus warned about.
The reich that was to last a thousand years barely lasted a decade. Yet the reign that began with the resurrection of Jesus has already lasted two thousand years and continues to spread. That is truly remarkable when you think about it. Jesus didn’t leave any written instructions, no ‘Mein Kampf’ manual, no organisational structure, no detailed plan of action. He just left a small bunch of ordinary people to whom he appeared repeatedly after his resurrection–at a breakfast grill on a beach, in a closed room, on a mountainside. These appearances were first met with incomprehension. Then a slow dawning began to make sense of enigmatic things Jesus had said over the previous three years.
The man they had seen put to death in such a final and brutal way was back among them–different yet somehow the same. There really is no way of explaining the spread of Christianity without referring to this mind-blowing experience of meeting with, talking with and even eating with the risen Jesus. That was worth telling everyone about!
The message of the apostles was not simply about four spiritual laws, religious rites or duties to be performed. It was about having seen the man whom they had followed for over three years before being cruelly crucified, now in his resurrection body–against all their expectations! Totally surprised, they were forced to conclude that this man was truly the resurrection and the life, just as he had said. He was the true Saviour, the true Messiah, the Lord of the Cosmos! And his kingdom will never end!
Till next week,
Till next week,