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Archive for July 11th, 2012

Escape from Colditz

Posted by TravellingStrom on July 11, 2012

Mayan Prophecy Countdown

Breakfast was quite good at this hostel with even proper English breakfast tea, the stuff that goes black not the weak stuff normally found on the continent 🙂 After that it was off back through the square and up the hill to the castle, a number of steps involved in that 🙂 The tour was not for a little while so I bought the ticket and started to look in the museum.

The castle had been reused after the war and until recently was used as an old peoples home. This meant that a lot of stuff was destroyed and of course redecorating the interiors in basic hospital colours. They are continually finding things though as they dig deeper in around and through the place. One of those things was in the attic area, found in the late 90’s when they did some roof repairs, they found a concealed radio room, so they cut it out and displayed it here.

Most of the stories were told by our guide and we later found reference to them during our tour and in the museum. The stories were interesting of course but some of the escapes were mainly due to the Red Cross forcing the Germans to take the prisoners down to the park gardens for exercise, this gave ample opportunity during the two hours twice a week they were down here. It was a bit of a walk down to the park area, and some actual buildings that used to be there are missing from back in the day, but generally it is the same. The open area in the following photos was surrounded by barbed wire fences, but that did not stop them 🙂

This is the manhole where 4 prisoners managed to escape from and 2 others were discovered. The manhole was then blocked up. Basically, they would hold sermons near here blocking the guards view and they spent time and cut the steel locking bars, they then opened up the manhole and two hopped in, the cover replaced and the locking bars replaced with GLASS ones painted gray, cool 🙂 They then did some shenanigans to cover the fact two were missing. Then during the night, the two escapees would break the glass bars, raise the lid, get out, clean the broken glass away and insert new glass bars, then make their escape. This happened OK twice but the third time a guard up on the walkway near the castle saw movement and alerted the patrols, after this the hatch was concreted in more securely.

It was while walking back to their cells after one exercise period that an unfortunate event occurred. One of the French chaps had disguised himself as a woman and was coming around the corner, she/he dropped his watch and one of the returning prisoners called out to the guards to let her know what happened, of course this was a bad move and he was captured!

In the photo above,(of me standing down in the garden), on the extreme right of the castle is a large tree, just behind that is a small tower, it was at the base of this that the great escape tunnel came out. They had managed to dig through solid rock, using fire and water to crack the rock and music practice to cover the noise. The tunnel was 44m long and went under the chapel. The rock removed was placed under the floorboards of the stage in an upper building and it only came to light when the ceiling collapsed. It turns out one of the beams was weakened by a leaking water pipe, otherwise who knows what would have happened. The tunnel was backfilled by the prisoners before it could be used!!!

I had asked the question of the guide, can we see the glider and she said yes of course there is a model in the museum, I said, no not that one, the one that actually flew from the roof. Well, long story short we were allowed access to the attic area and saw the broken model. First off have a look at the flight of the replica itself.

I grabbed that off Youtube, thanks to those who recorded it. This scheme was one that never actually got used but was a brilliant project. The effort involved in building this, up in the attic space without anyone noticing is astonishing. The original was found after the liberation and burnt(don’t forget this was in East Germany, the DDR and was communist territory, the whole opening of this castle only happened after the wall came down). This glider is the replica that was built from the same materials as part of a documentary for Channel 4 England. The glider had some remote controls installed before the flight and was made to crash into the field across the river, to avoid some houses there. It was a successful flight but it broke into bits of course and is still in pieces waiting restoration before they can display it properly. The small scale model building was used to help in the planning and the last is the view along the axis of the roof line towards the meadow landing site.

In this following photo, on the right hand side wall there is a connecting wall which goes to a guard house, out of picture. That line of windows which have been covered up, near the top below the main roof peak, was the back of the stage area where a lot of productions were held. In fact the prisoners were very into plays and such, for a big reason. It seemed to the prisoners that the furthest right hand window(below the stage level) was not accessible from inside the castle due to a wall being built, this wall blocked off access to the guards building, but according to their thinking, there should be a usable space there and could be accessed from below the stage. As it turned out there was and it was 🙂 So, during rehearsals they cut and dug a way down and used a cover on a rope to cover up the manhole if seen from below, then used bedsheets to escape into the German area and walk out 🙂

One of the things they did well(the prisoners) was fake uniforms, paperwork and makeup, the German electrician was a good example.

There were quite a lot of artefacts still surviving which have been collected, and they are still finding more as they excavate and do repairs. There are Roman remains under the main chapel and while they were being looked at they found the Great Escape Tunnel again, but also just recently(a few months ago) found another tunnel in the same area. A lot of documents were supposed to be destroyed after the war, but one of the guards at the time decided to keep a lot back, so the constant battle between the prisoners(to escape) and the guards(to prevent them) was documented quite well. They have a lot of photos and other papers which they would like to display, but it is a funding issue. I am glad I contributed to this fund 🙂 For the record, all of the Colditz movies and TV series were done elsewhere, on sets because this was the DDR at the time and closed off. As they continue to investigate I am sure they will find more unusual things 🙂

So, after the tour I had time to look around the museum at my leisure, then I enquired at the youth hostel and bought an hours worth of internet, to check mail before heading out for beer and food. I went back to the same barRestaurant and here had my first Newspaper interview of the trip. It seems that Ralph, the hostel owner had dobbed me in, apparently it is a big thing here to get International travellers. Anyway, over dinner I gave a stilted German version of my trip, how I got here, why I came to Colditz etc and where I was going next. Things got a lot better once Ralph turned up as he speaks good English and could interpret for us both 🙂 That is Ralph on the left and the reporter on the right, hopefully he will post me a link or copy of the story, I have waited quite a few days now and seen nothing, maybe it was a washout 😉

So, during this interview time another group of bikers who were also staying at Ralph’s came up for dinner as well(yesterdays people had moved on), so we ended up having a few beers together, as you do, from left to right, Yours Truly, Andy, Morten, Stephen, Jannie and Jens. We had a few here, then when they closed up, grabbed a takeaway each and drank back in the hostel, where there is a room dedicated to Colditz, it even has the board game and a Red Cross Parcel(the beer is my add on, not official)

So, it was another late night but I enjoyed it. Tomorrow I intended to head to Berlin and then onwards to Poland, Berlin was only a few hours away and in Warsaw I wanted to see the Salt Cathedral, so would probably stay the night there.
NB-before anyone comments about the Salt Cathedral, wait until the next post please 😉

Cheers from Colditz, former East Germany

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