The news that Hitler’s notorious Bavarian Alps vacation home, Berchtesgaden, has been turned into a hotel, well, call me waterlogged by history but I’m not happy about it. They’d been talking about it for years but I never dreamed they’d actually do it. Yet there is it, the Intercontinental Berchtesgaden.
It’s true that I have always been abnormally sensitive to the spirit of place. I won’t stay at the Hotel Meurice in Paris because it was Nazi headquarters, and I had to leave a restaurant at a Toronto hotel the other day because it was done up in a methamphetamine Purple Berserk style and the black damask floor-length tablecloths made me feel I was eating off a coffin.
But frankly, I think that when I book a hotel room, I should have to ask about the ice machines and not whether Adolf and Eva preferred the terrace for lunch, and did they ever fix the problem with the indoor garage that sent fumes into the living room? (The answer is yes to the first, no to the second.)
Fine, I’m exaggerating. The Berghof itself was destroyed by Allied bombers and Goering’s and Bormann’s houses are gone, too. The hotel isn’t even designed in the Bavarian vernacular. For once I am happy to see a country hotel that looks like the Watney Shopping Centre in London’s East End, all flat-topped and Le Corbusierian, a machine for living badly. It looks awful, as it should.
The Guardian‘s travel section sent a reporter whose story was admirably fair. In the same way that the King David Hotel in Jerusalem bravely and honestly sells guests a book on the 1946 Irgun terrorist bomb attack on the hotel that killed 91 people and makes you want to check out, the Berchtesgaden has a museum that makes you want to run back down the mountain.
The reporter wrote deadpan that the German guests are blasÃ© about being stark naked with you at the pool but give you the fisheye if you mention the war. I think this is funny. I mean, they’re German and they’re at Hitler’s place. Why should the English guest be the one on the defensive?
Besides, no one present and nude was alive in the Nazi era, while the U.S. Army had the bad taste to enjoy a ski-lift and golf course there until they handed the place back in 1995. However, no guest should feel guilty about enjoying Hitler’s pet scenery. The man himself preferred the awesomeness of an abyss to the harmony of nature, Albert Speer wrote tartly in his memoirs.
Some Jewish leaders, like Simon Wiesenthal, don’t object, but I do. Still, I cannot boycott the Intercontinental chain in protest. As a free-range, organic liberal, I am boycotting so many nations and products that I am constantly foiled in my attempts to shop. But I cannot help thinking that Germans should have celebrated their finest quality, their love of nature, and let this particular mountainside revert to forest.
Now we turn to another bad idea. It’s a huge holiday camp the Nazis built on a Baltic beach (overseen by Speer, whose homoerotic walks with Hitler in the snow at Berchtesgaden he creepily recalled in tiny handwriting on toilet paper at Spandau Prison). It was called Prora and was meant to be a Nazi retreat, but was never quite finished. Yes, they want to redevelop this one too, for people who yearn for hellish holidays with a modern feel.
I mention it partly to praise the Guardian‘s truly great headline, “Mein camp,” but also because four years ago, I suggested that The Globe and Mail send me there to have a rotten time — there’s only so much you can write about Fort Lauderdale, I said — but they looked at me funny.
Prora has 10,000 tiny rooms to accommodate 20,000 people, and that’s not the scariest part. The resort had only eight buildings, six storeys high, which means that each hotel block was half a kilometre long, stretching along the beach like the hotel in The Shining multiplied a thousand times. Reporter Steve Rose describes walking beside the hotel along the beach for half an hour without anything changing. Positively hallucinatory, he writes.
Last night, I dreamed of what I now realize was my version of Prora, comprising buildings with stairs but no interior floors, choked with mutants, half-human, half-bird.
Think of all the fun not had in Prora. It was part of the Nazis’ prewar “Strength Through Joy” scheme, but plans for world domination got in the way. Now developers are thinking of turning Prora into a big summer camp for underprivileged kids worldwide. I’d say that by August, “underprivileged” will look good. Those kids will be emotional carrion. I’m still wrapped in a blanket and drinking hot tea and I only dreamed about the place.
Berchtesgaden, Prora . . . Sometimes, like a bad marriage, you just have to level the site and go elsewhere. It is humane of the British to now regret the flattening of Dresden, but if you’ve read the diaries of Victor Klemperer, a Jew alive in Dresden in 1945 only because his wife was Aryan, you know that the bombing permitted his escape. The reader is of two minds.
As always, tormented by history and proximity, I have decided against a holiday in Cuba. I don’t like beach vacations, but my complaints would be even more absurd a few miles from Guantanamo Bay, the American version of Prora, but worse, with sand in your crevices and the sound of distant screaming.
I am going to Paris because the French have standards and mine have become slack of late. Google tells me that my huge Left Bank hotel redeemed itself by sheltering Jewish refugees rescued from the camps after the war. Levelling will not be required.