Colditz Castle, Saxony

Colditz Castle today.

The Bad Boys camp...

Generations of British kids have been brought up on tales of Colditz - the imposing Saxon castle used as a top-security Prisoner-of-War (PoW) camp for persistent escapers & VIP prisoners.  We eagerly read the books by Pat Reid, Airey Neave and Reinhold Eggers published soon after the war, watched the 1955 film The Colditz Story, played the Escape from Colditz board game of 1973 and stayed up late for the TV series Colditz of 1972-74.  Locked away in East Germany for decades, it was if the castle was myth not reality, existing only in books and wartime photographs.  I first visited in 1992 soon after the Wall came down and found myself the only tourist in a sleepy Saxon town utterly unaware of the fame of its castle.  Revisiting in 2016, it had changed very little and was as sleepy as ever.  Though had the glider been launched today it would have landed on the new Lidl...

  How to get to Colditz

  The journey in pictures

  Visiting Colditz castle

  Great escapes in pictures...

  Where to stay in Colditz

Getting to Colditz...

Step 1, take a train to Leipzig...

Step 2, train + bus from Leipzig to Colditz. 

A day trip from Berlin or Dresden? 

The journey to Colditz in pictures...

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof   Regional train to Grossbothen for Colditz

Leipzig's imposing Hauptbahnhof...

 

The modern regional train from Leipzig to Grossbothen...

Inside the regional train   The train arrives at Grossbothen

Inside the regional train.  It has a toilet and also 1st class, little different from 2nd.  It's just a 39-minute train ride...

 

At Grossbothen, get off and walk down the long gravelly approach road to the main road, 5-7 minutes...

Bus stop for Colditz, Grossbothen   On board the bus to Colditz

The Colditz-bound bus stop...  Turn right at the foot of the approach road & the stop is on the far side of the road.  When you get there, the bus will show up in 15 minutes or so...

 

Bus 619 meanders through Saxon countryside for 16 minutes to Colditz.  Get off at the Leipziger Strasse stop, opposite Colditz' derelict railway station.

Colditz railway station 2016   Colditz railway station 1992

Colditz station, 2016...  Look left as the bus pulls into the stop.  If you see this building over the fence, it's Colditz Leipziger Strasse bus stop, time to get off the bus.

 

Colditz station, 1992...  Yes, it's the exact same place 24 years earlier.  The line between Grossbothen & Rochlitz via Colditz closed in the late 1990s.

View of Colditz castle across the river Mulde

It's a 5-10 minute walk into Colditz from the railway station, the way the prisoners would have marched when they arrived, across the bridge over the River Mulde.  The view of the castle has hardly changed from the wartime photos - the PoWs' first view of their home for the rest of the war.  Unless they could escape...

Welcome to Colditz   Colditz town square

You'll find Colditz the sleepiest small Saxon town.  Above right, the town square has several good cafes for a coffee or beer.

Visiting the castleOpening times & tours...

The castle is open all year round.  For castle tours and museum opening times see www.schloss-colditz.com and look for the English section at lower left.  You can usually wander freely into the castle's outer & inner courtyards any time except at night, but Colditz museum has defined opening hours and if you want to see inside the castle you'll need a tour.

Colditz castle

Close-up of the castle from the Mulde bridge.  It's been repainted & spruced up since 1992....

Outer gate, Colditz castle   Inner gate & moat bridge, Colditz castle   Coat of arms at entrance to Colditz castle

The outer gate, immediately before the moat bridge.

 

The inner gate, at the far end of the moat bridge...

 

The coat of arms of Augustus I & his wife, Anna Princess of Denmark.

Outer (German) courtyard...

Outer courtyard   Outer courtyard, Colditz youth hostel

The photos above show the outer (German) courtyard.  The photo above left is taken from the 3rd floor of the castle youth hostel, looking down with the main gateway out of the castle visible to the left of the tree.  The photo above right is the reverse view, looking up at the block which houses the youth hostel - this was the German Kommandantur (administrative offices) during the war.

Inner (prisoners) courtyard...

Colditz prisoners courtyard   Colditz clock tower and chapel

View of inner courtyard as you walk through the gate...

 

:Looking left, the clock tower & chapel.

Prisoners courtyard   Door to Colditz chapel

Looking back from the prisoners' courtyard through the gate.

 

The ornate door to the chapel...

The castle museum...

Colditz museum   Fake German officer's cap

Colditz has a PoW escape museum, located inside the castle between the inner & outer courtyards - in fact, you enter the museum through the doorway Airey Neave walked out of on his escape in 1942, see the photo below.  For opening times see www.schloss-colditz.com.  It's a remarkable collection:  You'll find digging equipment, rope ladders, and fake German rifles and uniforms made by prisoners, like the officer's cap above right.  Most of the exhibits were originally in one small room dedicated to PoW escapes located in the Colditz town museum which I visited in 1992.

Colditz at night

The castle at night.  The castle was usually floodlit at night during the war, except during air raids.

Great escapes in pictures...

Airey Neave's escape, January 1942...

Airey Neave's escape route 1   Airey Neave's escape route 2

Lt Airey Neave escaped on 5 January 1942 with Dutch officer Tony Luteyn.  Neave was the first British officer to escape from Colditz.  The prisoners created a concealed hatchway from underneath the stage in the prisoners' theatre through the ceiling of a disused corridor.  The photo above left is taken from inside the inner (prisoners) courtyard, and shows the blanked-off windows behind the theatre stage on the 3rd floor. 

The disused corridor ran over the prisoners courtyard gate to the attics of a building used as German officers' quarters, shown in the photo above right which is taken from outside the gate to the prisoners courtyard.  Dressed in fake German officer's uniforms, Neave and Luteyn descended the stairs from the attic and walked out of that green door.  Which incidentally is now the entrance to the castle museum.  In 1992, two bushy trees stood either side of that door, almost concealing it and much of the building, which was in a poor state at the time.

Airey Neave's escape route 3   The original Shovewood IV

Neave & Luteyn walked across the outer (German) courtyard and out of the main gate.  They then nipped through a now-bricked-up gateway in the wall on the left, down into the moat and away to Switzerland...

 

Shovewood IV...  This is the original camouflaged wooden panel used to conceal the hole in the ceiling between theatre and disused corridor.  Christened Shovewood IV by Pat Reid, it is now in the castle museum.

Pat Reid's escape, July 1942...

Outer courtyard   Outer courtyard, Colditz youth hostel

On the night of 14 October 1942, Captain Pat Reid, Major Ronnie Littledale, Lt Cdr Bill Stevens and Flt Lt Howard Wardle sawed through window bars in the prisoners' kitchens overlooking the outer (German) courtyard - marked by the larger arrow in the photo above left.  They climbed down onto the roof of the German kitchens, a single-storey building demolished since my first visit in 1992 - the grey rectangle on the wall below the arrow shows where this was.  They made for the workshop door on the far side of the courtyard, marked by the smaller arrow.  They expected to find it unlocked.  It wasn't.  They crept along that wall until they came to a cellar in the corner used for storing potatoes, marked in the photo above right.

Entrance to potato cellar   The potato cellar where Pat Reid hid

The group spent several days hiding in the potato store before climbing out into the moat through a small air vent, visible at the end of the potato store in the photo above right.  The vent is tiny - I wouldn't fit - and they stripped naked to wriggle out, facing backwards.  Splitting into two pairs and disguised as Flemish workmen, all four made it to Switzerland...

The French tunnel...

French tunnel, cellar   French tunnel, chapel

In 1941, nine French officers organised the largest tunnelling operation every attempted at Colditz.  Starting at the top of the clock tower - the last place the Germans would look for a tunnel - they descended 8.6m to a cellar through the space where the clock's weights and chains would have been.  From this cellar (pictured above left) they tunnelled under the floor of the chapel, cutting away sections of huge joist to get through.  On the far side of the chapel they dug down again (pictured, above right) and out.  The tunnel broke through on the tiergarten side of the castle, but it was discovered before it could be used.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attempts_to_escape_Oflag_IV-C#The_French_tunnel.

The tiergarten escapes:  Leray April 1941, Mairesse Lebrun July 1941.

Colditz tiergarten

Behind the castle is the tiergarten or 'deer park', a large park area surrounded by a tall stone wall, beyond which are the local woods & countryside.  Prisoners were marched down to an exercise area, roughly where the green grass is in the photo above.  A wire fence topped with barbed wire ran out from the stone wall at right angles, roughly where the arrow is (and where I'm standing to take the photo below right), fencing off a defined exercise area from the rest of the tiergarten.

Pierre Mairesse Lebrun escaped on 2 July 1941, the action all taking place in the area pictured above.  A French cavalry officer and amateur gymnast, he leapt over the wire fence with help from Lt Pierre Odry cupping his hands as a step and catapulting him over.  The guards were initially taken by surprise, but as they recovered and started shooting Mairesse Lebrun climbed the un-rendered stone wall somewhere to the left of the arrow above, and escaped through the woods, still in his sports gear.  He successfully reached Switzerland and then Vichy France.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Mairesse-Lebrun.

The missing brackets...  When I first visited in 1992, the wall was in disrepair and a section had fallen down.  I was able to reverse the usual procedure and break into Colditz - well, nip over the broken wall into the tiergarten from the woods.  On the inside of the wall I could see two rusty brackets where the wartime wire fence attached to the stone wall, roughly where the arrow is above.  To the right of the brackets, the wall was rendered to make the section inside the exercise area harder to climb.  To the left of the brackets, it was un-rendered.  24 years later in 2016, the wall has been repaired, and there is no sign of the brackets or the difference in rendering.

Colditz tiergarten and terraced house   Colditz prisoners exercise area

Alain Leray's escape, 11 April 1941...  French officer - later general - Alain Leray was the first prisoner to escape from Colditz.  As prisoners were marched back from the exercise area, Leray hid in a doorway at the base of the building known as the terraced house, marked with the arrow in the photo above left.  The headcount back at the castle was fixed, and after a while Leray was able to nip back to the exercise area and get over the wall and away.  He successfully reached Switzerland.

The Colditz glider...

Location of Colditz glider

In 1944-45, British pilots Jack Best and Bill Goldfinch spent over 18 months designing and building a glider behind a false wall in the attic marked in the photo above.  The plan was to break through the wall at the end of the attic and use counterweights to catapult it along a runway built on the ridge of the roof in front.  However, the glider was never used.  In 1945, waiting for liberation became a much safer option than attempting to escape.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attempts_to_escape_Oflag_IV-C#The_.22Colditz_Cock.22_glider

Staying in Colditz in the castle itself...

Stay in Colditz for a night if you can, rather than do a day trip - you get a better feel for the place, and the castle looks wonderful lit up at night!  You can stay in the castle itself, in an excellent upmarket youth hostel which occupies several floors in what was the German offices in the outer courtyard (Kommandantur) during the war.  The hostel has both shared rooms and private 2 & 4-bed rooms each with a small but perfectly-formed and spotlessly clean en suite toilet & shower.  You might even breakfast where the Camp Commandant's office once was, as his office was on the ground floor where the canteen now is.  Prices are very inexpensive, even in a twin room with en suite.  If you're not a Youth Hostel Association member, no matter, they can easily sort you out with temporary membership at reception when you get there for a few extra euros per night.  You need to book, as the hostel is popular in the summer - their website is www.jugendherberge-sachsen.de/index.php?id=509 but you'll find it easier to book in English by email than use their online system which is only in German.  I heartily recommend staying here, even if you wouldn't normally consider a youth hostel. 

If the castle youth hostel is full or doesn't suit, the only other hotel in the Colditz town is the Pension Zur Alten Stadtmauer, website www.colditztravel.com.  This is just off the main square.

In Leipzig, try the Steigenberger Grand Hotel Handelshof, a superb hotel ideally located 10 minute walk from Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, 1 minute walk from Leipzig's main square and town hall.  It would command twice the price if it were located in London, Paris or Amsterdam!

Outer courtyard, Colditz youth hostel   Colditz Youth Hostel canteen

Colditz youth hostel is located in the former Kommandantur, up these steps and through the central door in middle distance.  Above right, the youth hostel canteen where dinner and breakfast are served...

Colditz Youth Hostel 2-bed room   Colditz Youth Hostel reception

2-bed en suite room at Colditz youth hostel...

 

Youth hostel reception...

 


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