Einstein, Hitler, and The Strange Tale of Argentina’s Haunted Nazi Hotel

May 15th, 1937 was a big day at the Eden Hotel, a luxury vacation resort in the western sierras of Argentina’s Córdoba province. In the main dining room, bowtie clad-waiters rushed to and fro nervously, clanking silverware, champagne flutes and preparing table settings for hundreds of guests, all in preparation for a wedding anniversary dinner. The resort’s house orchestra warmed up in the adjacent room, readying for a long live show. Everything had to be just so, for this was not just any other reception; tonight, honored guests arrived to celebrate the 25th “silver” anniversary- or Bodas de Plata- of the Eden Hotel’s owners, Walter and Ida Eichhorn.

Wealthy Germans who now called Argentina home, the Eichhorns were excited all day as over-the-top flower arrangements and congratulatory telegrams from all corners of the globe flooded into the hotel in La Falda, the small town that grew up around the resort. It was the guest of honor, German Ambassador to Argentina Edmund von Thermann, who possessed the gift that most delighted the couple. After a decadent meal and free flowing wine, in front of all of their friends, Walter and Ida would beam with pride as von Thermann hand delivered the silver framed portrait, inscribed by the photo’s subject himself, who had scrawled in German:

“Mr. and Mrs. Eichhorn, To my comrades in battle during difficult times for your Silver Anniversary. Warm Wishes, Adolf Hitler”

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Today, anyone with $35 Argentine pesos and the means to get to La Falda, about an hour and a half drive northwest of the City of Córdoba, can visit the remains of the Eden Hotel for a guided tour (in Spanish). The complex is now owned by the municipality of La Falda, which coordinates the tours and is also in the process of redeveloping the historic site to function both as a tourist attraction and site for events, shows and educational activities.

But unlike most historic attractions in other corners of the world, a visit to the Eden conjures a mysterious if not unsettling sensation of a place that is open for visitors, but is not quite ready to reveal all of its secrets.

Built during Argentina’s “Golden Age” in 1898 by a different German immigrant, the Eden Hotel was purchased by the Eichhorn brothers in 1912. They appreciated the agreeable climate and beautiful scenery of the Punilla Valley and the nearby mountains that surrounded the 100-room hotel. The Eichhorns invested heavily in improving the property in the 1920’s, where the elite of Argentina and the world would come to visit for days, weeks or sometimes even months on end. Before the journey from Córdoba was arduous- the Eichhorns paved the roads and bought a fleet of Ford Model-Ts to transfer guests in comfort, at least those not rich enough to arrive by plane to the resort’s private landing strip.

There were large terraces for relaxing on warm days, and indoor greenhouse gardens for taking sun during the winter. Game rooms and swimming pools occupied women and children, while men could spend the day hunting foxes aboard the trained horses from the nearby stables. It sounds like an ideal setting to escape the noise, heat and chaos of the city. But was the Eden Hotel the idyllic paradise that it claimed to be?

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During the daytime guided tour, guests filter through the main entrance first watch a short movie explaining the basic history of the site. Next comes a visit to the meticulously restored bar, followed by the main dining room. Here you learn of the original decadence, followed by the dark Nazi secrets, and finally the post-WWII ruin of the hotel. In the same dining salon where the Eichhorns celebrated their anniversary with the personalized gift from arguably the world’s most powerful and evil man, you discover that after the hotel was abandoned in 1947, off and on for 50 more years the horses of local farmers used the looted dining room to eat, sleep and “do their business.”

Following the visit to the main restored portions, visitors are guided to the second floor and up a large staircase to see the largely unrestored ‘bones’ of the guest lodging areas. Although they have been cleared of the mounds of debris and graffiti that were a result of years of abandonment and neglect, these spaces provide a clear reminder that this place was once the height of beauty and luxury, but is now paying for its sins. You must be careful not to step in holes in the floor, and not to stray too far down an unblocked hallway while the rest of the group moves on. Seeing these bare walls, smelling the dust and chipped painted, and hearing the footsteps on the broken tile brings out the stories of the ghosts: a young girl who died from a case tuberculosis, kept hidden as not to alarm other guests; an apparition of the wife of the first owner, wearing her best white dress and ornate hat, standing there on the balcony.

More substantive than whispers of lingering spirits are the photos of the famous guests on the walls, who over the years included not just four Argentine presidents but also Albert Einstein, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Savoy, famous Nicaraguan poet Rubén Dario, and acclaimed Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini. From the restored presidential suite where some of these guests slept, the balcony provides a view of the entire front of the property and the remains of the fountains and the gardens. From this same vantage point 80 some years ago, you would have been able to see two things that are no longer remain: the large German eagle emblem that was the centerpiece to the hotel’s façade, and a radio antenna, big and tall enough to send and receive transmissions from the other side of the world. This antenna carried Hitler’s live speeches to the Nazi sympathizers in Córdoba, and sent messages back from the secret meetings of the Eichhorns and their collaborators.

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After Argentina abandoned its pro-Axis stance and declared war on Germany in 1945 only three weeks before the official armistice, local authorities seized the Eden Hotel as “enemy property.” Anti-fascist Argentines, some from the same group that Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s father participated with, raided the property and tore down the giant German eagle, seeing it as a symbol of Nazism. Legend has it that the eagle was later restored by the municipality, but destroyed again when struck by lightning during a thunderstorm.

The anti-fascist locals had reason to be concerned: it is estimated that Walter and Ida Eichhorn helped contribute more than 30,000 deutschmarks (roughly equivalent to US $1 million today) to Hitler and the Nazi party, collecting the money in Argentina from local sympathizers and German expatriates and funneling it to the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda in the name of Joseph Gobbels. During frequent visits to Germany in the 1920’s, Walter Eichhorn became a supporter of Hitler early in his political career, helping the Fürher finance an aircraft and Mercedes-Benz to help him campaign. For this early loyalty Walter was later rewarded with gifts and private audiences with Hitler and his highest generals, including the infamous and flamboyant Hermann Göring.

These sinister connections alone are enough to add to the uneasy feeling one gets while visiting the halls of the Eden, but the story does not end there. Only some months after Hitler’s suicide in his Berlin bunker, the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigations, or FBI, released a secret memo that was declassified in the 1990’s. Penned by J. Edgar Hoover, the document connects the Eichhorns to the founding of the Nazi party, Hitler’s rise, and their close friendship. Most ominously, it suggests that if Hitler somehow did survive, he would surely find refuge in a place far-flung from Europe and his allied enemies. In all the world, the memo singled out one place: La Falda, Argentina.

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In the ensuing years since the collapse of the decadence of the Eden Hotel, conspiracy theories of several different varieties have developed surrounding the resort’s strange history. Many books and exposés have been written by historians and journalists, several documentaries filmed and even a fictional Argentine TV drama called “Eden” was set in the era. At times it has been difficult to separate fact from fiction, historic record from rumor. But there is no shortage of intrigue. The ancestors of Eichhorns supposedly still live in the area, but add to the controversy by refusing to talk to the media. Citizens have come forward to confess that their parents had revealed a hidden past as Nazis who fled Germany for new lives and identities in Córdoba. Adolf Eichmann, the author of Hitler’s horrid “final solution”, found refuge under an assumed name in Argentina and is said to have frequently visited La Falda before his eventual capture in the 1960’s. Supposedly one of his sons married the daughter of the hotel’s former gardener. When a German ship, the Graf Spee limped into a South American port in 1939, many of the crew abandoned the ship and integrated into Argentine society, many becoming waiters at the Eden Hotel.

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A visit to La Falda can create a range of emotions, and raise complex questions. The remains of the Eden do not represent the spirit of justice, as those who ardently supported the Nazi regime in spirit and monetarily quietly slipped back into Argentine society. The town became a pilgrimage site for Nazis on the run- to include some of their most sinister leaders. Today, the city that was born because of the resort has started to restore it. In one aspect it is a tool to tell the entire story of the hotel’s past. They do a good job of providing the complete history, including the darkest parts of the Nazi roots. It is not a memorial, but a symbol of what can befall decadence and evil. In another aspect, the city is using the complex to improve the life and culture of the local citizens. In addition to university extension spaces, the common areas can be rented for weddings and other events.

Should you decide to visit, you will no doubt contemplate these paradoxes as you tour the halls, or imbibe in wine and cheese in the visit’s finale, a tasting in the hotel’s wine cellar. For the truly brave there is a nighttime “ghost tour” two or three times a month and according to a varying schedule. A group of at least 50 people are guided through the darkness, trying to hear the whispers of ghosts over the chatter of nervous Argentines.

If you close your eyes, you might picture the glittering parties, hear the faint orchestra, and the hair may stand up on the back of your neck. You may not smile, but one thing is for sure: you will never forget your visit to the Eden Hotel.

This article originally appeared in Playground Buenos Aires, Ed. 5., Dec 2014/Jan 2015.

For More Information:

Eden Hotel

Av. Eden 1400

La Falda / Provincia de Córdoba / Argentina

Tel: (03548) 421080–426643 / Cel: (03548) 15630627

email: info@edenhotellafalda.com

Day tours (Spanish):

Every day from 0930 to 1900 hs.

$35 pesos per person with. (special retirement or student rates available)

Children under 10 are free.

Night tours (Spanish):

3 nights per month (check website http://edenhotellafalda.com/visitas-nocturnas/)

Tour begins 2200 (approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes)

$45 pesos per person.

Children under 10 not admitted.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Navy, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Government, or the Olmsted Foundation.