Bask in the beauty of Berchtesgadenat the fabulous five star InterContinental Hotel - but don't let Hitler invade your peace.
Things could hardly be better.I am stretched out on a sun lounger,
snugly wrapped in a fluffy white robe after emerging from my hotel’s spa. I sip
a vitamin-packed power juice and gaze at a mesmerising vista of the Bavarian
Alps as the last of the winter snow stubbornly gives way to spring.
Life feels great, but there is one
major problem: whenever I close my lazy eyes, the images of sublime beauty are
abruptly replaced with a gruesome slideshow of Nazi atrocities.
Instead of snow-capped mountains, I
see the distorted faces of young men hanging from a makeshift gallows, or a
line of terrified naked women about to be shot, or the close-up of a guillotine
that beheaded more than 5,000 innocent people.
I can only dispel these horrific
freeze frames by re-focusing on the landscape, inhaling the crisp April air and
allowing the echoing chirp of bullfinches to fill my ears. I then sink into the
outdoor swimming pool - bath-hot at 36 degrees - and watch the silhouette of an
eagle circling high above.
But why am I experiencing the
terror of the Third Reich amidst such serenity? The reason: I am on a luxury
mini break at Berchtesgaden - the chill-out hideaway that captured Adolf
Hitler's dark heart.
I am staying at the stylishly
modern InterContinental Hotel, which is 1,000 metres up on the Obersalzberg
Mountain, just across the Austrian border in Southern Germany. It was here that
Hitler built a grand holiday home called the Berghof and used it to entertain
world leaders during the 1930s. You have probably seen the pre-war, black and
white footage of such visits.
Hitler loved the place so much that
he had a series of other properties built on the hillside for his key henchman,
as well as a barracks for SS troops, and turned it into his principal power
base outside Berlin. Berchtesgaden became a kind of corporate think tank
retreat for evil. It beggars belief that the strategy for Nazi tyranny was
largely designed here.
Fortunately - if that is the right
word - in 1999 the Free State of Bavaria opened The Documentation Centre museum
dedicated to Hitler's association with Berchtesgaden. It is a ten-minute stroll
from the hotel and the source of my waking nightmares.
The museum gives a fascinating
insight into how Hitler became besotted with the area after a holiday in 1923
and exploited it to cultivate a wholesome political image. It has a model of
the original compound and its basement leads into the only surviving section of
the network of bunker tunnels. They were built on an awesome scale using prison
Despite the museum, the Bavarian
government has no desire for Berchtesgaden to become a pilgrimage destination
for neo-Nazis. Aside form the tunnels, there is no physical evidence of the
Nazis here, except for Eagle's Nest, an out-post 500 metres up on the jagged
peak of the mountain. This was given to Hitler to mark his 50th birthday in
1939 and is clearly visible from the InterContinental. You can hike up there in
around three hours during the fair weather months, or take the bus for a guided
tour. It has a restaurant and stunning views.
But there is far more to
Berchtesgaden than its Nazi association. It has so much to offer for
nature-lovers, sporty types and for those simply wanting a healthy break. It is
ideal for a revitalising weekend away, or as a base to explore the wider region.
The small town of Berchtesgaden
itself is a pretty place to while away a few hours. It has quaint shops and
decent restaurants serving traditional Bavarian fare. If you need a dose of
culture, then Salzburg - Mozart's birthplace - could hardly be better and is
only a 30-minute drive away over the border. Other nearby attractions include
taking a boat trip on the truly stunning glacial Lake Konigsee, or going deep
underground to a salt mine.
But it is the InterContinental that
is the big draw for a quiet, pampering break at any time of the year. It is a
haven of tranquillity and is just 20-minutes from Salzburg airport, which is a
cheap flying destination on Ryanair (£35pp) from Stansted.
The hotel, which is built on the
spot where Herman Goering's house once stood, opened in 2005 and is owned by
the government, but managed by InterContinental. It is constructed entirely
from wood and stone and other products native to the region, which gives it a
authentic, relaxed atmosphere, despite its modern architectural lines.The cavernous foyer and bar area has a
1970s retro feel, and the minimalist luxury bedrooms are spacious with stunning
In winter, the hotel has its own
beginners' ski run, which is ideal for someone not wanting to learn at a packed
resort. For more advance skiers, the hotel is within 20 minutes of several
major ski areas. In summer, there's a nine-hole golf course through the valleys
and no end of hiking trails and other outdoor sports to enjoy.
But the best thing about this hotel
is the luxurious Mountain Spa in its basement.It has all the various saunas and steam rooms you would
expect, but also has a booklet packed with extravagant treatments to reboot
your weary body. For £100 you can be covered in hot chocolate sauce then
massaged with fresh cream and truffle oil. I resisted and opted for a less
gooey option: the Alpine salt wrap.
There's nothing quite like standing
in your Speedos while a health therapist wraps you in soggy, luke-warm
bandages, then leaves you looking like a wet mummy for 45 minutes while the
special blend of salts drain away your toxins. If nothing else, the laughter
this process induced did me no end of good.
Berchtesgaden is a blissfully
stunning area, which through no fault of its own had a disturbing decade under
the Nazis. Go there and lap up its natural charm, but I offer one piece of
advice: don't go the museum. Then, you can close your eyes without Hitler
invading your peace.
Dear, dear Lester, my friend, what the hell happened? I have just found out about your death and I am so, so shocked and sad.
I remember clearly the first time I met Lester because he introduced me to Bollinger champagne. I've liked it ever since. It was 1988 and we were in a crowd of other showbiz hacks on an overnight in glorious Southampton for a seriously second string variety TV special. After the show, we headed for dinner and Lester insisted on Bollinger all the way. It was a major treat for us uneducated hacks - £17 a bottle, I think. Hey, they were the days. I got so hammered that I had to get another journalist to drive my car back to London the next day.
I got to know Lester well in the ensuing years and more often than not the champagne flowed at some point. Lester lived fast and had an impressive in-take capacity. He was also an amazingly diligent interviewer, a real pro' who prepped well and had a subtle charm with his subjects.
We lost touch for ages, but we re-connected only a few years back. He lived in Battersea, just across the bridge from me and we had a fair few party nights with his local crowd. We used to head to Electric and Soho House. Lester inherited a big lump of money and had started living it up even more than usual. He bought a duplex in Battersea Square. A New Year's Eve party there was particulalry memorable, as was his lavish 50th birthday party at the Thai on the River. I last saw Lester for coffee when I was setting up Access Interviews.com. We were going to archive all his work on the website. He was upbeat and had been travelling a lot. He had a new young boyfriend.
I always loved Lester's company. He was irreverent and fun and his devil may care attitude was infectious. You'd be out on a night with him and you wouldn't pause to worry about tomorrow's hangover. I fear this constant approach to life exacerbated some of his deep-rooted complexities and may have got the better of him. It is awful to think of Lester, the beating heart of so many parties, being so unhappy in his final hours.
I feel that there is only one way for me to celebrate his life: I will go out and buy a bottle of Bollinger and raise a glass to him. I think he would expect nothing less. Well, OK, he'd expect at least two bottles.
As a boy growing up in Maidstone, Kent, in the 1970s, I was a big fan of his alternative crime fighting TV show. I loved his coolness and understated ability to kick seven bells out of all the baddies in one go with his bare feet and hands. I remember him breaking legs by kicking cowboys in the knee.
I would often go to sleep at night fantasising about having the ability to dish out his kind of brutal summary jurisdiction against the bullies in my little world. There was no end to the skill of my fast fists and high swinging kicks inside my imagination. I was the hardest nut in Ditton and saved all the girls from no end of distress.
In fact, now I think of it, not a lot has changed. I'm pretty sure I have gone through a few fantasy kicking moves as recently as last night - while I manifested revenge over Monday night's burglar.
If there was ever a guardian angel to have, it would be Carradine. Book him now.
Oh, how I loathe the piece of scum who burgled our house. Forgetting the loss of treasured property, I am now on Day Two of the nightmare admin' of cleaning up after the bastard.
I have lost track of how many phone calls I have had to make to cancel cards, organise new phones etc. Any idea how many call centre menus you have to endure to re-boot the technical essentials of life. Don't ask me about the expense. I've just been told of the bill I can expect to re-programme my car alarm to make sure one of the burglar's mates doesn't pop by with the keys he nicked and drive off with my car. I'd far rather buy some new clothes, thanks very much. But, no, I've got to mop up the mess.
I'm thinking of standing for Parliament and will probably fight a campaign on a crime and order ticket for Chelsea. Top of my policies will, naturally, be to bring back the birch for all petty crimes - anti-social behaviour, vandalism etc - and double strokes for muggers and, of course, burglars.
Call me old fashioned, but I seriously think a spot of public flogging in Sloane Square would clean up the scum more quickly than non-sentences from weak, PC-driven judges, extra free money and holidays abroad paid for by the State.
I am sickened and utterly infuriated to see the way our country is being led. Never before in my life have I felt so politically motivated than now.
We suffered years of false promises under that lying charlatan Tony Blair and now we continue to be ruled by this (unelected) conniving and hopeless lame duck of a Prime Minster in Gordon Brown. How can this be so?
Surely we are edging ever closer to a revolution? It is time the right-thinking, honest, great silent majority who make this country tick stood up and marched on Westminster to force Brown to call an election. Britain MUST be able to move on. We MUST be heard.
Forget the low life who milk the Nanny State while thieving from everyone else, or the super rich who float above all the fallout from this political mess. It is down to US. It is time for the normal, law abiding, tax paying folk to make their voice heard.
This Government is toast. And, to use the cockney slang: Gordon is brown bread.
NEWS FLASH: My home was burgled last night while my family and I slept upstairs.
Some jolly piece of slime, fish-hooked the front door keys through the letter box, let themselves in and filled their pockets with some of our kit. They took my wallet and cash and my treasured watch - a Breitling Premier from 1998. It was reasonably expensive - £2,000 - but had plenty of irreplaceable sentimental value. It actually cost me nothing because I won it in the Harbour Club tennis competition ten years ago. It's the only thing I have bloody won, so how valuable is that!?
Worst still, they took my wife's much cherished "Stalk" bag and her expensive purse - both presents for her 40th birthday last year. On top of this, they took my car keys and ransacked the car, taking the hi-fi system. They left the car. Clearly my ten year old Saab with the knackered non-convertible roof ain't worf the bovver.
They also took our mobile phones, so if you get a few dodgy calls on your ********747 private mobile number Richard (Branson), many apologies.
If any of you get offered any of this gear down the boozer some time from some thieving scum, do give me a call. I hate these people with a vengeance, but if there were no buyers for stolen gear, they would be out of business in a heart beat.
I must be getting touchy in my advancing years, but I am irked by Stephen Fry's delight in slandering the entire journalistic profession. He calls journalists "venal and disgusting" in his hissy little tirade to Michael Crick on Newsnight.
Fry has had his bent snout in the trough of publicity for decades for the convenience of promoting his wares and journalists have helped him no end in the advancement of his success.
It would be good to see the media snap back a little and ban Fry from all interviews. His publicists would love that. If journalists are that bad, matey, why talk to them at all?
It was remiss of me not to note a particularly inspiring evening recently (15th January).
Fresh from Bob Warren's funeral - with a crackling vintage recording of Tiptoe Through the Tulips, which was played at his commendation, still making me smile - I alighted alone at the Donmar Warehouse for an evening with T.S Eliot. Death and Eliot are comfortable companions.
I was there to hear a reading of Eliot's Four Quartets. Eliot's poetry has been an enduring presence in my life since studying some of his key pieces at A-Level. Four Quartets are timeless, multi-layered masterpieces; lyrically mesmerising, endlessly challenging and, it has to be said, quite beautifully bewildering. Little Gidding is my favourite. A section of it is framed on my desk and a small pencil portrait of Eliot by Wyndham Lewis is white-tacked to the wall.
I have not been to a poetry recital this side of my functioning memory and I have never heard Four Quartets, so this was quite a treat. It was recited by Stephen Dillane as part of the Donmar's Eliot festival. Where else could one find such a festival than at the courageous, broad thinking Donmar? I applaud Michael Grandage's versatility and vision for the Donmar in general and in particular for this programme.
Dillane's recital was skilled and accomplished. To recite all four parts of this lengthy and complex poem is nothing short of remarkable. He gave a beguiling performance, although I have to say it lacked something for me. It is hard to isolate exactly what that something was. He certainly brought the poem to life and it illuminated several parts to me, even though I have read it all many times. I guess one of the obstacles is that I have only ever heard Eliot's recorded reading, or listened to my own internal voice. It is a bit like the experience of watching the film of a book that is special to you. It is impossible for the images to live up to your imagination. How on earth could Dillane reflect or replace the images from a hundred readings? Also, I attach more melancholy to the piece than his portrayal provided and I have always associated it with an older voice. He was quizzical and frivolous in places where I see nothing short of despair. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed his work and respect his achievement.
The evening was closed with a stunning performance of Beethoven's opus 132 by a string quartet of the Soloists of the Philharmonia Orchestra. With fitting drama and atmosphere, they were lit by just a single bulb from an overhead light. I marvelled at the exuberance and obvious joy with which they played and I was especially taken by David Cohen's performance on cello, not least by him performing in stockinged feet with his boots by the spike. Very cool.
So, a reading of Eliot's finest work accompanied by a Beethoven piece to make your bones tingle. Probably one of the best ways to wind down after a funeral.
I hear that Natasha Kaplinsky will work part time as Five's newsreader when she returns after maternity leave. Well, here's introducing an as yet undiscovered "autocutie" to occupy the sofa for the other bulletins! (Picture courtesy of Phil Adams)
I won't trouble with all the pain I have endured nurturing the Access Interviews.com website, but I am delighted to celebrate its first birthday today.
To think, a year ago today the world did not have a brilliant website dedicated to the best interviews by the most skillful interviewers in the world. I am proud to say that we now have a loyal and ever growing audience, respect and avid interest from many of the main power players in the media, and some great plans in the pipeline that will take A.I onto a bigger and even more exciting level. On top of this we also have a fine sponsor in the form of the revolutionary credit card company Caxton fx. Our thanks to them.
To tie in with A.I's first anniversary, I have written an article for the media section of today's Independent. It was trimmed a bit, which is always annoying, so you can catch the full version here.
Also today, we have unveiled the long awaited results of the 1st Access Interviews Awards. We reveal the most popular aspects of the website throughout 2008 and poke a bit of fun at some of the leading lights of interviewing business. Best not take all this interviewing stuff too seriously, eh.
Here's to another great year ahead for Access Interviews.com...
Like countless others, I made a point of watching Jonathan Ross's return on Friday. In a silly way, it was sort of good to see him back. That feeling didn't last long.
Don't get me wrong, I like Jonathan Ross. His apology was genuine and heartfelt and I was pleased to hear him he say it. Good on him, I thought, you're a decent chap.
The twobble with Jonathan Ross is that he is a totally wubbish interviewer. For a chat show host, who gets unmatched access to the biggest names on the planet, that is a pretty serious problem.
I have thought this for years and gave up watching his show yonks ago. His puerile pursuit of a cheap gag at the expense and often embarrassment of his guests is nothing short of irritating. I have seen him throw away the chance of a good interview so often it became pointless watching. He just pisses me off.
I dipped back in on Friday and it was like a flashback up there with Life On Mars. Forget the inane chats with Fry and Evans - you know they will be crass encounters - it was his hopeless talk with Tom Cruise that did it for me. Now I know Cruise is an old pro who will only give away what he wants, but that is no excuse for babbling on over him like an idiot and asking one daft closed question after another, building up to a cross examination about his farting habits. Can Ross and his researchers, producers, and writers not come up with half a dozen decent questions for a fascinating double A-list star like Cruise. If not, then why the heck do they have the keys to this show.
Ross's career should survive his foul mouth, no problem. But it should not survive gross incompetence at the very thing he is hired to do: interview. Give this wannabe comedian £6m for a game show and be done with it. Then get a journalist in his interviewing chair. I've heard enough.
For professional reasons, I have recently been plugging into the oeuvre of TV "investigative journalist" Jacques Peretti and I admit I am totally astonished at the projection his documentaries are afforded by Channel 4.
He seems a nice enough fellow and clearly sincere, but he is somewhat deluded by the seriousness and revelatory value of his "investigations". At best, they are gossamer thin and reliant on twice-removed sources linked together by a droning monolgue of half-baked, pub-style pontification. Jacques reckons he is cerebrally unraveling his subjects. He is not. As Ally Ross, TV critic of The Sun, brilliantly put it a while back - "Jacques Peretti is the Zen Buddhist of stating the bleeding obvious".
I had to chuckle last night when I saw Jacques and his hairy arms on yet another plane - LA, New York, Bahamas - to track down yet another nobody who sort of knew Dodi Fayed in a nightclub. His "sources" at best are washed up rent-a-quotes who might be worth chatting to if they popped into the Soho edit suite for ten minutes. But the Bahamas for two minutes of nonsense with Johnny Gold? (Actually, I just looked out the window and now realise - if you've got the budget and the suntan lotion, it makes total sense.)
The repetition of the stills photos (Diana on the Jonikal) and archive footage (Dodi getting into a Ford Estate, close up of the cameraman in the reflection of the car window) was nothing short of laughable. But it is Jacques' Mogadon delivery that takes the forehead slapping biscuit. It is as if by talking ever-so-s-l-o-w-l-y with a dense voice will give veracity and weight to his balsa revelations. It d-o-e-s n-o-t, J-a-c-q-u-e-s.
The Artist dipped in for a few minutes and witnessed Jacques' interview in the back of a limo with some nobody who vaguely knew Dodi for a bit. In one sweeping statement, based on nothing, Jacques said that Dodi got through a kilo of cocaine a week which "would take some doing". Before walking straight back out, the Artist observed: "He could do with a kilo of coke to liven him up."
There is a term in the newspaper business for what Jacques does: cuts jobs. Knit together old material, add archive photos to make it look fancy, bung it all under a new headline and hope no one notices. In an hour long TV doc, there is no hiding place and the holes are too glaring to miss. How can a cuts job be worth an hour on Channel 4? And on such well visited subjects as Dodi Fayed, Paul Burrell, Michael Barrymore? Every person Jacques "investigates" can be easily filed under another journalistic term for subjects no longer of interest: "Those we used to love."
There's a fun documentary skit to be done on Jacques. I can even visualise the opening wide shot following the great man going about his "investigative" duties in a cuttings library. A dull, slow voice over begins to tell the story: "This is Jacques Peretti. Who is he? What drives him? Where did he come from? What issues does he have? etc etc..."
Cut to a row of people on a sofa snoring - ZZZzzzzzzzz.
I like Fiona Bruce. Like. Not love, adore, worship, fancy, etc. None of those extreme emotions flow through me, as they clearly do with so many other people, when she pops up on telly. She's good at what she does and appears genuine, switched on and a bright TV journalist. Yes, she is attractive.
Her star is certainly rising at an astonishing speed at the moment and last night's puff 'The Real Alan Sugar' was clearly a marker for more one-girl shows to come, but for the first time I found myself being quite irritated by her.
I have a feeling that she is starting to love being the star of the show a little too much. Maybe she is starting to believe in all the flattery she gets. I reckon this is a big mistake.
The Sale of the Century parodies were fine, if over-egged, and her faux flirting with Sugar is par for the course with interviewing. But she was wearing a little bit too much lip-gloss and smooching with the camera for my liking. And she was a touch too "native" when it came to nailing her subject. She was too sweet on bitter Sugar.
What did last night's show add up to? The access Fiona enjoyed was nothing short of spectacular. She got Sugar, his entire family, closest working pals, Gordon Brown and even, for heaven's sake, Rupert Murdoch. But what did she get? Not one single thing stood out that you hadn't read in a cuts job on Sugar a hundred times. Fiona didn't even get a new line worthy of a diary story.
Dearest gorgeous, lovely Fiona, dab off the lippy, tell your producers to spend less time on witty skits starring you and less time on your couture noddies and concentrate on the journalism of the job in hand. Focus on the subject. Get the questions in. Reveal something new to your viewers. Otherwise these big profiles of yours will only ever add up to a spread in a showbiz mag where people just flip through the pictures.
Remain a journalist and don't become a fawning Luvvie. Don't fall for it all, girl.
I interrupt an extended blogging break to share some sad news I have just received: Bob Warren died yesterday from a short battle with cancer.
Bob was an icon of the News of the World for decades and I held a particular fondness for him because he was most encouraging to me during my earliest days on national newspapers.
I first met Bob when I was a young freelance (21) in 1987. He was the News Editor back then and he kindly tried me out on some shifts. I didn't mess up and ended up working for him on and off for quite a while.
Bob was probably the most unlikely character you would expect to see steering through some of the nastiest gossip stories in newspaper history. He was mild mannered, gentle, kind and fair. Not the characteristics you automatically associate with a Red Top executive.
In more recent times, I only ever saw Bob at meetings of the Press Golfing Society or the News of the World's annual golf day. I haven't got my clubs out for a while, so the last time I saw him was summer 2007.
I heard before Christmas that he was ill and wanted to get in touch, just to pass on my best wishes. For one reason or another, I didn't get round to it and I am angry now that I didn't.
The least I can do here is say Thank You to him for the help and guidance in those early days. I hope your swing improves up There, Bob. You were a gentleman among rogues and it was a pleasure to have known you. R.I.P