We’ve seen the film, watched the TV series, played the board game and today – we sat in the famous prisoner’s courtyard in Colditz Castle.
To actually visit such an iconic place was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
It was especially rewarding simply to get to Colditz. After a violent thunderstorm, we were not sure that we would get off our grass pitch in Saale-Unstrut. The road to Colditz was closed, of course, so we had yet another ‘Umleitung’ or diversion – and then the Sat Nav decided that the best route to our campsite at Colditz was to bypass the official campsite entrance, which we failed to see, go round three sides of a square and approach via a woodland footpath, which necessitated a rather interesting and skillful u-turn!
They always say “Don’t meet your heroes” and the same sometimes goes for places that have loomed large in folklore or experience; the reality is often disappointing. On the drive into Colditz, the unmistakable outline of the notorious Colditz Castle, which dominates the skyline of the town, was perhaps even more impressive than we had imagined.
It was a lovely, cool walk from the campsite, winding down through the forest and a dilapidated tier garden to the castle.
It was €4 to go in the museum and €9 for a guided tour, but we were a bit late arriving; the pants situation had reached ‘critical’, dictating that we had to do laundry. Nevertheless, we got to see quite a lot of the castle for free. There was a huge exhibition about the Polish forces in the war. If ever there was a nation who has had it tough, it is the Poles. Six million Poles were killed in WWII and yet they fought valiantly. There are Polish war memorials in around 32 countries and one of the Polish squadrons had the highest kill rate in the Battle of Britain.
There is 1000 years of history in the walls of Colditz Castle, but the few years of WWII dominate. Colditz became Oflag IV-C, a high-security prison for Allied Officers who were considered dangerous or who had made repeated attempts to escape. Perhaps because of the nature of its inmates, Colditz did have a record number of around 30 successful escape attempts! One of these was soldier, barrister, MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Airey Neave, who was murdered by the IRA on the eve of the 1979 General Election, which brought Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives to power.
My favourite exhibit was a collection of watercolours and excerpts from the diary of William Faithfull Anderson, a prisoner-of-war (POW) in Colditz from 1940-1945. It was a really personal story, for example relating how he had played his oboe conducted by flying ace Douglas Bader* during Pat Reid’s successful escape attempt. Anderson stopped playing when the sentry reached the right end of his beat. (Pat Reid’s books about his experience in Colditz were the basis of both the film and TV series.)
I particularly loved Anderson’s painting of the prisoners relaxing in the courtyard, with laundry, which was quite poignant for us today!
April 19th 1942 – The courtyard usually has two or three games going on simultaneously in the available spaces between sunbathers. I would not have believed it was possible to practise tennis under these circumstances, but it affords us quite a lot of amusement and exercise.
May 19th 1942 – As for subjects, there is any amount of still life in the form of bodies in a state of semi-nudity basking in the sunny part of the court. At this time of year, sunny patches are not hard to find, but in the spring and autumn a sort of human sundial follows the patch round, while in mid-winter, you have to be mighty quick to catch it at all; somewhere about 2pm a shaft of sun appears from between 2 chimneys and just hits the chapel wall rather in the manner of Stonehenge.
We called our Best Man, Greg from the courtyard of Colditz, since he and Mark had spent many hours escaping from each other. A peregrine flew over and we nearly had to escape, since time had got away with us; the castle was closing and we were nearly locked in! The dogs are not experts on advanced aerodynamics, so we decided against a Colditz Cock – the Colditz glider – as our escape strategy, but since they are very good at digging, we made a plan for 5 tunnels; to be named Kai, Rosie, Ruby, Lani and Charles Bronson.
It took some time to find the perfect shot of the castle from the pretty town of Colditz and Mark’s photo patience was wearing thin. Ironically, one of the best views was to be had from Lidl’s car park!
I don’t know what it is with Supermarkets and Schlosses, but I rather regret not photographing the castle above Lidl Oberwesel on the Rhine, although the other day, I did get a great shot of Neuenburg Castle in Freyburg from Netto!
Join us next time for Confessions of a Railway Addict in a place that you MUST visit at least once in your life; The Saxon Swiss National Park, Germany.
*Douglas Bader is a particular inspiration and flying hero of mine. His life story to the end of WWII is chronicled in the book and film ‘Reach for the Sky.’ Bader’s indomitable spirit did not allow the small hindrance of staring death in the face and losing both legs in an aerobatics accident before the War to cramp his style either as a very successful fighter pilot or in his many attempts to escape captivity after being forced to ditch behind enemy lines.
The understated entry in Bader’s logbook following his life-changing crash rather sum up the concept of British stiff upper lip. “Crashed slow rolling near the ground. Bad show.”
Cavapoos at Colditz – We did not do the guided tour as we arrived at a weekend and the tours were all full. I suggest booking at busy times. We were told that dogs were permitted inside the castle and on the guided tour, although there are lots of steps, so make sure that your pooch can cope!
A Great Escape – If you fancy spending a night inside Colditz Castle itself, part of the castle is a pet-friendly Youth Hostel!