Hitler's eyrie in the Alps will be hotel

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HITLER'S ALPINE retreat, from where he plotted the invasion of the Soviet Union, is to become a Shangri-la for rich tourists. The Bavarian government announced plans yesterday to build a 200-room luxury hotel and spa complex on the majestic slope of the Obersalzberg, crowned with the mountain-top cafe formerly known as the "Eagle's Nest".

For three years the government in Munich has been looking for a private investor to develop the precious 260-acre site, but its searches have proved only half-successful. The enterprising new lease-holder is the semi-public Bayerische Landesbank, whose subsidiary will be spending DM70m (pounds 25m) on the project.

Private companies remain unconvinced of the Obersalzberg's tourist potential. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the location. On a clear day the view over the mountain ranges of southern Bavaria and north-west Austria is magnificent.

But the tranquillity sought by the Fuhrer as he pored over battle charts is no longer there. Despite the hotel's remoteness, guests will find it difficult to get away from the maddening crowds, especially of the neo- Nazi variety.

Since the United States army moved out in 1995, the peak has been attracting shaven-headed pilgrims, who climb the summit in search of memories of war-time glory or Nazi memorabilia.

Officially, Obersalzberg was nothing more than Hitler's summer residence. He received many foreign visitors there, notably Neville Chamberlain and Benito Mussolini.

But since he hated Berlin, the Fuhrer spent as much time communing with Alpine nature as he could. His most important aides, including Martin Bormann, Hermann Goering and Albert Speer, had to get chalets in the neighbourhood to be close to their leader. Much of the Second World War was planned from the biggest chalet of them all, the Berghof.

In the last days of the war the Berghof and most of the other Nazi residences were destroyed by Allied bombers. In 1952, the ruins were blown up on the orders of the Bavarian government. Hitler's guest house was taken over by the US army, and used as a resort. Three years ago, the Americans pulled out, handing back the property to the Bavarians.

Under the plans unveiled yesterday, the guest house will be demolished and in its place the new hotel will be built. The project has attracted controversy, with one Jewish group describing it as a "shameful concept".

The Bavarian government is also siting a historical documentation centre on the summit. This will focus on the rise of the Nazi party and Hitler's reign of terror. Other sections will show Hitler's early connections with the Alps, and the history of the mountain up until the American retreat. The museum should be completed by the middle of next year. The hotel will not be ready until 2002.