With a side trip via Dresden on Saturday afternoon August 19th, we wound our way through the German countryside to Colditz.
Arriving late afternoon, the very helpful tourist information girl rang around countless hotels and pension’s (pronounced pensh-ee-on) to no avail. Jack wandered off down around the corner to one he had stayed at 12 years ago and found the same guy running it with a room available.
Done! We were checked in and the room, I will add, was white walled, rather large and fresh compared to the burgundy wallpapered tiny room of Prague.
Being beer o’clock we took a short walk back into the square to find no pubs!?? Back to the Pension and asked about a watering hole.
He told us there was a pub up a side street, which I had seen outside umbrellas that were down. Odd for a Saturday afternoon but he assured us it would be open at 5pm.
Off we trot to find that it doesn’t open until 6pm!!!?? What is this place? Lol!
Okay so we decide to take a casual stroll up to the castle and then see a sign for another pub. Well it’s not like we don’t have time to find it and see if it is open.
Walking uphill and earning that Weiss Bier we found the little hidden pub and yes our best Little amount of German ordered a couple and went out to the Biergarten. Prost!
Two rounds later and we headed back down the hill to the first pub.
It’s bustling (lol!) with 5 patrons watching soccer. We take a corner booth under the screen and have a Guinness limited choices here and that’s when I spy the Four Roses Bourbon in the corner shelf from Kentucky!! Schnitzel followed with the next round before returning to the room.
Sunday morning we are up to the castle for a tour and our guide Alex is a mix of U.K., Polish and living in Germany.
Colditz Castle in the saxony state of Germany had begun construction in 1046 and was burnt down twice.
Colditz has a long Royal history before it was otherwise used as an asylum, a children’s home, an old people’s home and during 1939-1945 was a concentration camp.
The more modern part of the building was added in the 1800’s and is now the Jugendhergeege Youth Hostel and to the right of it is the music school where students, orchestras and performers from many countries come to play.
Jack recognizes a section has changed and asks Alex about it. In 2006 they removed one section to reveal what would have been the Royal baths with tiered gardens behind.
Back to the War period and many of you may know some of the Colditz story or have seen the documentary regarding the attempted escape with the plane.
During this time 320 escapes were attempted, 28 were successful with the intended route into Switzerland some 640km away.
Around 5-600 prisoners were held here at any one time with numbers increasing towards the end of the war. Interestingly of those, 21 Australians and 12 New Zealanders were held captive here.
Through the castle to the back section and we can see the back of the building to the officers quarters and the prisoners quarters to the right. Over the wall behind us is forest and a grass field where prisoners used to play soccer.
As you can see, a great place to escape but there would have been machine guns and barbwire.
A partial wall left in the trees is where two escapees got out. One stole a bike and made it to Switzerland in just 8 days! The other walked his way there in 5 months!
In 1939, 700 Polish prisoners were in Colditz and was then changed to imprison high profile prisoners.
These prisoners were VIP’s with some related to Churchill or the Queen and other high profile families or ranking.
The Castle used to be a drab grey which the Germans saw as formidable and the Captain in charge thought that being built on 30m of solid rock that it could not be escaped from let alone tunneled out of!
The French created a tunnel below and through Colditz taking them just a mere 9 months to do so.
There were 150 guards at the beginning and by the end 300 – 1 guard to every 2 prisoners.
As this was(?) run under the Geneva Convention, prisoners were allowed to be punished with solitary confinement. This just gave most of them more time to dream up escapes and ways to keep the guards busy. They were able to time the guards movements and use the information for their plans. Guards were tied up 4 times a day with roll calls and keeping track of where all the prisoners were.
An Englishman and a Dutchman were the first to attempt escape from Colditz.
Art Neive cut a German uniform from a Polish one which was supposed to be dyed the correct colour. Being a little impatient he escapes anyway and nearly blew his cover by taking a piece of chocolate from his pocket to which the Germans had not seen such luxury in more than 2 years.
He had escaped with another prisoner through the back of the opera theatre past 4 guards unnoticed. He escapes 9 times during that period and was killed years later in and IRA bombing. He was your original 007 and was with a Belgium woman who was considered the original ‘Q’. It is said that this is where Ian Fleming got the ideas for his James Bond books.
We headed up the spiral staircase to the loft and watched a shortened version of the very same documentary that Jack and I had happened across on tv just a few months earlier!
The guy in the documentary with some aerodynamic experts recreated the glider and launching that had taken place by a couple of British Air Force pilots during their Colditz internment.
It really is impressive to think they they actually built a glider hidden away behind a false wall right under the guards noses! They found books on aerodynamics in the prison library and set about to build it with stuff just laying around.
The two airmen had said it wasn’t that hard there were supplies in hallways and other areas just for the taking that wouldn’t be noticed if gone.
They used their gingham bedsheets and made a dope from porridge to coat it with so the fabric would be taute.
The only photo of proof it actually existed was taken by a journalist that was with the Americans when they liberated Colditz.
Behind the wall where the photo display board, was where they built the glider in just 1 year.
The replica in the attic has been made using the exact plans the airmen came up with.
Lastly we went into the 1623 chapel. It was renovated much later and the back wall has only just been opened up to reveal the French tunnel work.
When the French discovered the gap at the back, they started creating a tunnel whilst the French organist played and the French choir would sing all day.
The mousetrap we saw in the first museum would sit underneath an organ pedal and if the guards were around it could turn off the power to the tunnel and the diggers would go silent.
The tunnel we saw in the cellar was just short of 46m. It is said that a young electrician was sent down to the cellar at the same time 3 French Officers landed in there. Of course they were caught and were made cement the hole back in (now removed again for their display purposes).
Also the rubble that they had taken out of the tunnels was deposited on the roof of the Chapel which later collapsed and they were made pay for the repairs.
Finally we were shown the section of roof the glider was launched from and the field in which it landed and indeed could possibly have landed if they had had the chance to attempt the escape in the glider.
A great experience to see it after seeing the history documentary.
Onto Freising we went for our final stop before departing Munich.