It was the 4th of July season and freedom was on my mind.
My village is only twenty minutes from Hitler’s birthplace in Austria. Naturally, there is scant public display in Braunau of this odious distinction. On the centenary of his birth a memorial was erected in front of the apartment building: For Peace, Freedom and Democracy. Never Again Fascism. Millions of Dead Remind Us.
The adjoining German town of Simbach, across the Inn [Aenus in Latin] River, erected a large bronze statue on the connecting bridge of a naked rider on a fish with his butt facing Austria. When questioned about the mooning symbolism “. . . undisguised private parts of Aenus pointing at Austria,” the artist, Dominik Dengl, said, “God made the butt, they will get used to it.”
Less than two hours away in the Bavarian Alps is the village of Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s WWII southern headquarters. In 1938, for his 50th birthday, the party built Eagle’s Nest. It served as a conference center and private teahouse on top of a spectacular 6,000-foot peak. The panoramic view of the Alps and toy-like villages far, far below is truly breathtaking.
We rode up to the Eagle’s Nest on a bus and walked down the two-hour switchback trail. It was amazing seeing mountain bikers slowly peddling up the 27 percent grade and gave me a new appreciation for the 4th of July start of the Tour de France.
A short distance out of Berchtesgaden is a 500-year-old salt mine still in operation. In the early days, this far from warm ocean water, salt was considered “white gold.” Centuries later, salt is still mined deep under the Alps. The salt dates back to the Ice Age when the Mediterranean reached the Alps and left behind saltwater lakes that were eventually folded under the growing mountains. Today salt is dissolved with fresh water pumped into deep holes drilled in the mountain rock and then pumped out as brine.
The exciting ride down into the salt mine was on a two-person wooden sled screaming down a greased slide. This is how workers were shuttled into the mine depths.
The 4th of July was celebrated deep inside an alpine gorge with a bratwurst and roll luncheon followed later by a pizza and beer at home with a large American flag.
Meanwhile the neighboring village celebrates the 4th of July with a country fair and the Confederate flag. Apparently they are unaware of the current controversy across the sea over the Confederate flag. The Dixie in Bavaria culture always surprises me.
One resident, flying a confederate flag over his house, told me it reminded him of country music. Go figure.