Colditz

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Friday 27th July

Colditz Castle

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The modern painted castle sits imposingly above Colditz Village. Certainly a lot more welcoming than in 1939-45.

I of my “hope to See” things in Germany was always Colditz castle. Having grown up watching Hogans Hero’s (yes I know wasn’t Colditz) and reading the Sir Douglas Bader stories and obviously NZ’s own Sir Charles Upham.

Once again to get there we must travel rural and wind our way through small villages in the general direction of Dresden. However on the way out of we need to Grocery shop, so looking out for a decent sized Knaufland.

This isn’t going to help with our appearance to readers but in general German beer in supermarkets is very cheap but here we find “Oettinger Radler” at a price of 25cents/bottle (500ml) or 5 euro/crate of 20. We have become real fans of the Radler (lager lemonade mix) and only 2.5% alc vol, in the heat that we are currently in. Not knowing what beer will cost in the future we have decided to stock up a bit. Ha Ha.

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A well stocked boot of Miss Stella

Arriving in Colditz village about 12.30 we park up and have a bite of lunch with the now “painted white” Colditz castle towering above the village. Not exactly knowing what time if any tour happens we assume what seems to be the German standard tour time of 2.00pm.

First impression when we get into the first courtyard is that this place doesn’t look as big as I expected, very tall multistoried with all the window yes, but certainly pretty small courtyard area.

 

 

 

 

So the tour, yes it was at 2.00pm and today was the extended escape story tour in English. A small group on this I, ourselves, a german family an English Motorhome family and a American English lady and her son, she was similar to us and could remember all the TV shows etc and even the Colditz board game.

 

Steffi our guide was very good, very humerous and put an interesting aspect to the tour. It was all about the escape attempts, remember Colditz was an officers camp only and specifically for those officers deemed “naughty” and having escaped from other POW camps and been recaught.

She really played up the fact that relations between the prisoners and guards where quite good here and the only mention of anybody being shot was actually a german guard who took bribes and looked the other way. And a British prisoner Peter Sinclair whole was killed by a bullet ricochet as he was shot at trying to escape.

After Dachau is was a very different tour and showed another part to the way the German population seem to treat the 1939 – 1945 period. It is quite a weird situation there are very few if any war memorials for the German civilians or Soldiers the towns don’t have the memorials that we have found everywhere else in Europe and home. Also the fact that in the 1933 -1939 (Hitlers early years of power) Colditz was a mental and physical handicap hospital, where treatment basically consisted of withholding food and medicine until the problem fixed itself. The last of this population were transported to the death camps in 1939.

Coming into this camp must have been such a soul destroying situation, it is miles from anywhere, 500km from the Swiss border, and Sweden is across the Baltic Sea ( the 2 neutral countries that escape attempts aimed for). The castle sits on top of solid rock above a German village surrounded by Forest. Not only that during that period it was “rock grey in colour with the walls covered in ivy”.

600 inmates at the height of the war and 360 guards, over 300known escape attempts and 31 successful “home runs”.

Some of the attempts were unbelievable, I remember reading about them as a kid and they all sounded so heroic and no understanding of what involved.

The French Tunnel under the chapel, is still open for viewing in the tour at the start and through the chapel. It is solid rock, they moved over 5t of rock for this tunnel over eight months to be caught about 2 metres from the end.

And the smallness/tightness of some of the actual escape routes that where used, I am not a very large /broad person in any shape or form but there is no way I could squeeze through some of these gaps.

The Glider story was highlighted, which in reality is probably one of the most amazing things that could have happened in such an environment. That a glider that could hold 2 people could be built in a false walled off attic out of recycled “filched” wood, covering from bedsheets “daubed” with a millet porridge mix, rope made out of god knows what and a bathtub dropped off the roof to act as the slingshot.

We will never know if it would have actually worked as the camp was liberated by the Americans a few days before the attempt was due to be made, The glider was photographed by the Americans ready to go but then disappeared never to be seen or heard of again.

In 2012 a British engineer and film crew recreated the glider in the castle to the exact plans and attempted to fly off the castle roof. Their research showed that the bathtub dropped off the roof with only the 1 pulley possibly wouldn’t succeed in launching the glider so the only thing they did different was add another pulley. It worked and the glider did land in a paddock in the village.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s many of the surviving prisoners returned to the castle and lots of stories where told by Steffi of them being toured around and stopping by little things saying “I think you should look under there” etc. So much contraband, escape tools and kits have been found through this and in recent renovation.

In 1993 a whole radio shed was found concealed in the attic of one of the store sheds. This was transferred to the escape museum in its entirety.

I know and hope that our modern generation will never face these same situations but you wonder if this ingenuity, desperation, boredom, and general “naughty boy behaviour” would happen with modern generations or whether with our modern convenience society we have lost the ability of self preservation and thinking outside the square.

So our intended 1 hour visit basically took the rest of the day, so typical. I generally make a list of things to see in each area we visit and then try and plan a route through. And Castle Moritzburg is next on the list, just outside of Dresden so we decide to use the motorway to shortcut the time.

In theory a really good idea, in reality could have been better, with heavy traffic, roadworks and subsequent weird detours  taking their toll on our time. Generally the motorways “autobahns” are great once you get used to the fast lane coming past at whatever speed they feel comfortable with. We generally share the truck lane and travel around the 95 – 100km/hr, heavy truck traffic is a pain as you are always having to pull out and pass trucks (90km/hr).

So finally get to Moritzburg about 6.30pm so is obviously closed but have a bit of a wander around anyway, This place was one of the famous Prussian Royal hunting lodges, very ornate and all about the hosting of large parties and the hunting involved around this. Very little in terms of defensive castles seen through Barvaria

Have travelled through a lot of large scale farming land in Saxony, big paddocks big gear and big animal sheds, most of harvest is done now and they are getting winter cover crops in. It is very dry though and a lot of the trees have started to turn already.

Park4night show that there is a camperpark here, so we overnight. It is supposed to be 10euro/night but cant find anywhere to pay so it’s a very nice quiet freebie.

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