Monday, 30 March 2009


For one of our weekends away, we chose to visit Colditz. It is a small town, on a B road, between Leipzig and Dresden. IT is about a 2 hour drive out of Berlin, mostly on the Autobahn.

We collected Alexander from Theatre club and hit the road at about 11:30, and with a stop for lunch, we made it to Colditz early afternoon. We checked into the Guest house and met up with two other families, the Ramsays and the Mawstons, in the town square. Away from Berlin, in the old East, the prices are amazing - good cups of coffee are Eur 1.80, istead of the obligatory Eur 3.00!

We settled into the guest house and the boys (Alan, Peter and Phil) sat outside (all rugged up, it was a bit chilly) and had a few beers. Nicole, Sonia and Alison did their version of this - except with a bottle of Red and sitting inside. The kids amused themselves in the garden and driveway, tipping water about the place. Ralf, the owner, was really cool and had no problem with them mucking about. We could keep an eye on them from the balcony, so everything was under control...except the boys each got their only pair of shoes absolutely soaked! They did a great job of washing the car, too!

Ralf recommended a small restauant for dinner - it was very pleasant, but the owner kicked us out exactly at 10pm! We were still having a few drinks, and there were no others in there, so he was doing himself out of some business. We suspect he got a call from the Missus...

The pension was very comfortable, and we had an excellent breakfast. Being the only ones in the hotel, we had a floor to ourselves, and a breakfast room also for just the three families. Ralf had organised a special treat for the boys. Instead of a boiled egg in their egg-cup, the kids all got a Kinder Surprise! They were very happy!

After breakfast, we went up to the castle for a tour. Because there were 9 of us, Alan had been able to pre-organise an English language tour. At 6 Euro per head and 3 for kids, and lasting over 2 hours, it was really interesting.. The guide was really informative, and also wonderful with the kids - getting them ready for their own 'escape' at the end of the tour.

When we mention Colditz Castle to German friends, they have no idea where or what it was used for, but speak to anyone from the commonwealth, and Colditz is very well known. Do you know its history?

I guess for other countries where movies and books have been written by different escaped Prisoners of War, it has more interest. (I even remember playing 'Escape from Colditz' boardgame as a kid!)

The castle was built as a fortress in the 11th century, and used by a family Augustus and his bride from Denmark, who had 15 children.

In 1800, the castle was used to house homeless people, and then converted into a mental hospital until the 1930's. when Hitler came into power, the castle became a special camp for Allied Officers who had tried to escape from other Prisoner of War camps. What makes this camp interesting was the castle was heavily monitored by the Swiss Red Cross to ensure the men were treated well. The guards were not allowed to shoot the men if they tried to escape. Instead they were sent to solitary confinement for 1-4 weeks. Knowing that they the worst possible punishment they would recieve if they were caught was solitary confinement, the men were more determined to try to find ways out of the castle. Add to this that they were all POWs who had escaped from other camps or prisons, and were officers (including highly educated engineers, etc), and Colditz became known as the 'Escape Academy'. There were over 100 escapes, and 31 'home runs' (successful escapes to country of origin) - 16 from inside the castle itself.
The tour took us around the castle, showed us the various parts relating to the WWII experience, and related many of the interesting stories of the escapes. One intersting story of a non-escape - they prisoners managed to build a glider, with 6000 parts, in the roof of the castle without being discovered! The war finished before it was used, but tests in the last few years had demonstrated that it would have worked!

The whispering arch - sound carries across the arch so the boys can whisper 'secrets' to each other.

Some of the original 'supplies' - monitored by the red cross, the prisoners well well fed. They also received a few interesting packages from MI9, to aid their escape...

A home made sewing machine. Nicole probably would have whipped up a dozen quilts and everyone would have been snug and comfy. Instead they sewed uniforms to help them escape!

One of our prisoners planning an escape....

A hidden radio station, used by the French and later given to the English.

Home made rope for climbing...

Our prisoners... shovels in hand, preparing for their escape. They are 'working' on the tunnel under the chapel.

Quick! Before the guard finishes his rounds!

make a break for it!

The reward for a great escape....

It was a wonderful wekend away. After a late lunch, we drove back to Berlin in time for dinner on Sunday night. As we surfed around stations on the TV, we saw the host from the Pension, Ralf, on a show about touring through Europe ona motorbike. He was hosting the 'star' of the show, and looked the same jovial chap that we had stayed with the night before!

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