The Austrian Elisabeth “Lisbeth” Kalhammer went to work at the Fuhrer’s retreat near Berchtesgaden in 1943 after answering an advert in her local paper: ‘Maid wanted. Location: The Berghof on the Obersalzberg.’
She did not know that her employer would be Hitler. Her mother had asked her not to take the job but the teenage Elisabeth felt she could not turn it down and the Reich’s employment office told her she should be grateful for the work. He loved sweet things. And Eva Braun was our best friend. ‘I felt queasy when I arrived,’ Mrs Kalhammer told the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper. On her first day she passed through three SS guard posts.
She now has broken her silence after 71 years to reveal what life was like at the Berghof when the Nazi dictator was in residence. Mrs Kalhammer, 89, says that Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun – whom staff greeted with a ‘Heil M’lady’ – ran the house. All the maids knew Hitler had trouble with his spleen and kept to a strict diet devised by a personal cook.
‘The house was often full of guests and the Fuhrer was just suddenly there,’ she said. She soon realised that ‘I was allowed to think but not to speak’ while in his presence, nor was she or the others to gossip about him – although naturally they did. From the beginning, Elisabeth was warned that anyone revealing details about the Berghof would face strict punishment. She was one of 22 girls in service and was often in Hitler’s presence although she never talked to him – he allowed only long-serving staff to approach him and to enter his private rooms. She worked in the laundry and sewing rooms, did the cleaning and made the tea which Hitler liked to drink from a Nymphenburg porcelain cup. Once she broke a cup and was punished by losing several of her days off. Conditions at the Berghof were in stark contrast to those faced by ordinary Germans and Austrians.
While Elisabeth’s family had little to eat, the maids enjoyed freshly pressed apple juice and had plenty of food. Eva Braun ‘was always good to me. She behaved like the lady of the house, even though she was not married. She designed our uniforms. For Christmas she presented me with wool, to knit socks for the men on the front.’
As far as his closest aides were aware, Hitler kept to a strict healthy diet and drank only lukewarm water. But Adolf Hitler would regularly stave off attacks of midnight munchies by tucking into specially made ‘Fuhrer Cake’ and other gooey treats. A ‘Fuhrer Cake’ – an apple cake strewn with nuts and raisins – had to be baked each day and left out every night for him to raid like a naughty schoolboy as the rest of the household slept.
He would raid the kitchen after staying up late talking to guests and rarely get up before 2pm, according to a maid who worked at his mountain retreat in Bavaria. She recalls the luxurious dinners at the mansion which were attended by the officials of the Nazi regime, including Air Force Commander, Hermann Goering, and minister of armaments, Albert Speer. “We were sitting in the kitchen and ate their leftovers. I never tasted food so delicious”.
Hitler was obsessed with movies and had a private cinema at the Berghof. The maids were allowed to use the cinema when a propaganda film starring actress Marika Rökk was shown. Braun was ‘spellbound’ by Rökk, she said.
Lisbeth Kalhammer is not ashamed to admit that at the time she was proud to be in Hitler’s service. “When we went for coffee people would look at us and say: “look! The Berghof girls are sitting there”, we were admired”. If she had the chance she would probably do it all over again. “This was the time and I was young. I was privileged to be there and to see all these people. I felt proud. But that doesn’t mean that I was proud about the other things. I didn’t understand it at all at the time”.
But the mood changed in July 1944, following a failed assassination attempt against Hitler by army officers. Elisabeth worked on at the Berghof until almost to the end of the war, when it was evacuated and bombed in an Allied air raid. Lisbeth told us how she fled the place in the middle of the night.