For the mountain village of Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden, an attractive tourist resort since the second half of the 19th century, the year 1933 represented a major turn of events.
After becoming Reich Chancellor on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler acquired ownership of Wachenfeld House, a property he had been renting since 1928, in the summer of the same year and started a rebuilding project that was to last until 1936. During this time the house was converted in two stages into an elegant formal residence known as the Berghof. Hermann Goering, Martin Bormann and Albert Speer (Hitler's favorite architect after the death of Paul Ludwig Troost) also settled at Obersalzberg with houses of their own.
After the former inhabitants had been driven out, the erstwhile health resort was turned into the "Fuehrersperrgebiet" (the "Fuehrer’s" off-limits area), and became a second seat of government alongside Berlin, where important political decisions, also about peace and war and the Holocaust, were proposed and made. Propaganda utilised the grandiose mountain panorama effectively in the media to portray Hitler as a politician close to the people, a friend of children and nature, a good neighbour, a great statesman and a solitary visionary.
On April 25th, 1945, British and American longrange bombers bombed the site and destroyed most of the buildings. The ruins of the Berghof, the houses of Goering and Bormann and the SS barracks were blown up in 1952. Only a few buildings remained, including the Eagle’s Nest and the bunker complex built between 1943 and 1945.
Occupied by American forces since May 4th, 1945, parts of the Obersalzberg were used as a recreation area for the US Army already since 1947 and were only accessible to members of the American military. Only a small section was open for tourism since 1952.
Even though the Free State of Bavaria was already the owner of the Obersalzberg area according to Allied legal pronouncement, it was only returned to Bavarian domain in 1996 after the withdrawal of the Americans.
After the decision to establish a Documentation Center at this location, the Institute of Contemporary History, Munich — Berlin, was commissioned by the Bavarian State Ministry for Finances to develop a concept for a permanent exhibition. The building designed to house the exhibition, which was opened in 1999, was built on the foundations of the former Nazi Party guesthouse "Hoher Goell".