What were Hitler's good habits?

The way to Salvatore Paolini leads through narrow gorges and over misty heights. At some point a yellow-washed church tower appears in front of a rugged stone backdrop, the village of Villa Santa Maria sticks to the rock like an eagle's nest. Salvatore Paolini is standing by the fireplace in his kitchen and adding some firewood. Suddenly the old man raises his hands as if he were balancing a tray with them, he swings his hips discreetly and crows: "Please, thank you - please, please the lady." That's exactly how he always did it, he says, "and believe me, I've been successful."

So much success that he was even allowed to serve Adolf Hitler, back then, on Obersalzberg. "He only ever ate vegetables," remembers the old man, but also "lots of sweet cakes". The German dictator was friendly and politely thanked the waiters after every meal.

He was 18 and had to make money

"For me he was a really great personality back then," says Salvatore Paolini. Admittedly, he himself was not a party member by his own account. "I was 18 and just had to earn money, I would have died of hunger here."

In October 1942 the young man from Abruzzo had come to the Platterhof, the so-called Volkshotel for Nazi greats in the mountains above Berchtesgaden. The young Italian was not afraid of heights, he knew steep cliffs from home, from his village in the Abruzzo region in the central Italian province of Chieti.

And Paolini had learned the craft of the waiter in the nursery, as it were: The remote community of Villa Santa Maria was already then the secret capital of the high art of cooking and serving in Italy.

Sparks are still spraying from their eyes

For generations, the sons of the village had a reputation for being the best cooks in the country, they hired themselves out in luxury hostels such as the Roman Hotel Excelsior or cooked in the first diplomatic houses, for example with Italy's foreign minister at the time, Galeazzo Ciano, the son-in-law of the dictator Benito Mussolini.

Even the origin from Villa Santa Maria was considered a recommendation. "I was young, elegant and beautiful," says Salvatore Paolini, "and I spoke German quite well, what was going to happen to me?"

In the meantime he is bald, he is almost 80 and has not been as slim as he used to be for a long time, but his green eyes still seem to sparkle at times. The old man has put a red handkerchief into his jacket to match his tie.

The old photos that he is now spreading out on the kitchen table show a young man with a classic Roman profile and deep black wavy hair. Among the servants in the group picture from Obersalzberg that hangs in Paolini's living room today, the Italian stands out as a jaunty young man.

First came the hobbling Goebbels, then the "fat Göring"

A small brigade of hand-picked waiters took care of the upper classes of the Nazi empire on Obersalzberg. Mornings were served in white livery and in the evenings in black tails. Paolini had just been there a few days when suddenly there was unrest in the kitchen wing. "Today we are expecting important visitors," a colleague whispered to him. The waiters stood diligently behind the door when the guests arrived.

Joseph Goebbels was the first to hobble into the dining room, says Paolini, "then came fat Göring". Now only one thing was missing: Adolf Hitler. And a little later "the Führer" suddenly stood in the room, "he had come through a hidden side door". The secret passage apparently connected Hitler's Berghof with the Nazi hostel. The Italian should serve the dictator more often, "but I didn't notice that I witnessed historical events," says Paolini.

It hadn't been so easy for him to get a job at the Platterhof. The young Italian had to undergo a thorough medical examination beforehand, "physically and mentally," as he emphasizes. "The doctors looked into my mouth and X-rayed my lungs," he also had to answer all sorts of questions, as did his relatives in Villa Santa Maria.

One day Carabinieri showed up to sound out the candidate's environment. And Paolini's parents feared that their son, who was already in Germany, had eaten something up. But, as Paolini thinks, it was more about finding out whether he had Jewish relatives.

On the Obersalzberg, Paolini received several special passes. "There were four different control points," he recalls. The small settlement on the mountain high above the Bavarian Königssee had meanwhile become Hitler's second seat of government, and the area was hermetically sealed off accordingly.

The later dictator had been roaming the alpine meadows in the Salzkammergut since the 1920s, initially incognito as "Herr Wolf", because he had to hide from the German regulatory authorities. "Mr. Wolf" spent the night here and there.

He is said to have written the second part of "Mein Kampf" in a building right next to the Platterhof, which at that time was still operated as a modest guesthouse. Soon after taking power in 1933, Hitler bought the pretty holiday home from a widow from Buxtehude and had it converted into a Berghof. Soon the settlement was surrounded by barbed wire and barely accessible to mortals.

Gradually the NSDAP rounded off the site, 70 house owners had to give way, instead all kinds of Nazi bigwigs settled down. Martin Bormann built an estate for himself, Hermann Göring lived in a villa with a heated swimming pool, and Reich Minister of War Albert Speer settled down a little further down the mountain.

Home cooking instead of fine cuisine

But Hitler was enthroned above everything and enjoyed the wide view over the landscape, while he devised fatal strategies for his final victories and final solutions with which he plunged the world into disaster. But at that time he was already beginning to lose. The Allies landed in North Africa on November 8, 1942, and the German troops surrendered in Stalingrad on January 31, 1943.

In the meantime, a complete court had established itself on the Obersalzberg, and people met again and again to eat at the Platterhof. Fine cuisine does not seem to have been offered there. Judging by the old menus that Salvatore Paolini keeps to this day, it was more likely that home cooking was served.

Königsberger Klopse and endive salad or Wiener Schnitzel with spinach and mashed potatoes. Paolini was used to better things at home: game ragout with papardelle, for example, pickled mushrooms or truffle cream - dishes that are still considered to be specialties of the culinary artists of Villa Santa Maria.

At home by the kitchen fireplace, Paolini looks up from his old photos: Hitler only ate potatoes and vegetables anyway, he says, "but always very spicy." Even with the wine he always held back after observing the waiter. "We served vintage wines, but Hitler only sipped from his glass."

Eva Braun rarely with dinner

It was only at dessert that the tyrant was apparently in top form. Paolini explains that he often ate "huge amounts of sweets", "enormous cakes with lots of whipped cream". Eva Braun was very rarely in the company, and when she was there, she did not sit next to Hitler: "He usually had Frau Goebbels next to him."

From time to time foreign guests visited the Platterhof. So did the Italian consul in Munich, Roberto De Cardone. In the meantime the year 1943 had dawned and Salvatore Paolini was called to military service - that didn't suit him at all.

The diplomat in Mussolini's service knew what to do: Paolini could accompany him as a personal servant to France, where De Cardone was to be transferred. The waiter inspected the Obersalzberg and received his certificate on February 3, 1943.

"He was always eager and courteous towards the guests," it says. The consul took him to Nîmes in France, but the waiter soon got tired of traveling and went his own way. However, he did not want to return to Italy, he would have been drafted into military service. But there was nothing else for him to do in Villa Santa Maria.

In the middle of World War II, the culinary skills of his compatriots from the Abruzzo village were not in great demand. And the local chefs and waiters have always found their work mainly in the big cities.

Paolini grew up as the son of a miner, and at the age of 14 he was already hired as a waiter at Albergo Nuovo, a small hotel in the area. He soon found work with Prince Colonna in Rome, "they paid lousy badly".

The testimony of the Nazi hostel paved the way

So the young man moved to the Hotel Diana near the Roman train station, where a large number of German officers stayed. The waiter quickly learned a few words of German and, through the mediation of an officer, actually found a job in the Kurhaus in Bad Mergentheim, which was a meeting place for brown celebrities at the time.

"The Reichsmark was the purest gold for me," says Paolini, "one mark was worth five to six lire." In the Kurhaus, Paolini also got to know the General Director of the Platterhof, who engaged the young man on the spot.

With the certificate from the Nazi hostel in my pocket, it was not difficult to find a new job in Germany after the excursion with the consul. Paolini started at the Deutsches Hof in Nuremberg, Hitler's preferred hotel in the city of the Nazi party rallies. And soon performed again for the Nazi greats.

Nine courses for the king

That was towards the end of 1943, the war had meanwhile taken a turn. Italy had pulled out of the Axis partnership with Germany and signed an armistice with the Allies, who rolled the country up from the south.

The Italian King Vittorio Emanuele, who had compliantly collaborated with Mussolini, left his residence in the Roman Quirinal by night and fog. He stopped in a castle near Villa Santa Maria. A couple of cooks were quickly called to prepare a nine-course menu for him. Your Majesty still had a long journey ahead of them, as far as Brindisi, to the Allied headquarters.

The culinary art has a long tradition in Villa Santa Maria. In the 14thIn the 19th century, a nobleman who hunted in the region is said to have employed a few farmer's sons to roast his game - this is how the first improvised cooking school came into being in the town.

Two centuries later, the Caracciolo princes came from Naples to hunt in the mountains, they discovered the culinary talent of the locals and in 1750 founded a small university of good cuisine in Villa Santa Maria.

Soon the sons of the village dined in the noblest Italian noble houses and later also made a pilgrimage to the New World. According to old documents, the US Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman also let themselves be pampered by the Abruzzo culinary artists; later also Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Enthusiasm for "German virtues"

"I served Eisenhower in the Hassler", says Paolini at the kitchen table, that was right after the war, he meanwhile worked in the Roman noble hotel Hassler Medici. In early 1945, when Nuremberg was constantly being bombed, the waiter left Germany. First he went to Rome, later to Venice and Caracas.

At some point he returned home to Villa Santa Maria, where the 1400 residents elected him as a candidate for the Christian Democrats for mayor in the 1970s. For 20 years he ruled the village, "like a dictator" according to some locals.

He regards the founding of a new hotel management school, which has already earned a lot of reputation, as one of his most important acts. Paolini still raves about the Germans: "They have order and discipline."