Tuesday 12 April 2016

Colditz Castle (1939 - 1945)

“An iconic tourist location let down by poor customer service and unnecessary access controls.”
1 of 5 starsReviewed on Trip Advisor 26 July 2015
The Colditz legend has become an enduring part of British popular culture. The escaper Pat Reid and his thwarted nemesis Reinhard Eggers have enthralled a couple of generations with their epic stories of escape from the German PoW camp Oflag 4B based in the wonderfully imposing Colditz Castle. On reaching the town of Colditz with a party of four I was anticipating a thrilling day of exploration and adventure.
Colditz Castle from the Town Square
Instead I found that the authorities running the castle to be inept, ill informed and indifferent to the needs of visitors. The major problem is that virtually all of the areas of interest are closed to the general public except by 'special arrangement'. The reconstructed glider in the loft of the castle is locked away from view as are the prisoners' quarters and the old theatre. The famous chapel tunnel which has been recently rediscovered and plated with glass for easy viewing sits unseen behind a locked door - a door which leads straight off the main courtyard.There is no reason other than petty bureaucracy and local mismanagement to deny visitors the thrill of seeing these wonderful vestiges of the war years.
The Prisoner's Courtyard at Colditz
We were told that there is one 'special guide' who offers extended tours which access these areas. These tours are available at 'special' times for 'special' visitors. When I offered to pay for access to some of the more interesting areas I was told that the 'special' guide had the only key and that she kept it at home! "Yeah, right". It was like the Monty Python cheese shop sketch - every answer was "no" or "it's to difficult" or "it was open last week" or "we've lost the Key" or "the Saxony Regional authority won't cover the lighting cost" or "we open it every alternative Wednesday but only when the North Star is in polarity with Venus" ... (alright the last one I made up but you will get the gist).
Ramp to the Exercise Meadow at Colditz
The standard tour is conducted with a degree of scripted enthusiasm but mainly covers the external areas of the castle. You can see the prisoners' courtyard, access the cellar where Pat Reid made his escape and see the start of the French tunnel in an underground vault adjacent to the locked chapel. In one of the tiny number of rooms open to the public one can see an interesting collection of drawings donated by the Anderson family. There are cut out figures of some of the escapers in the courtyard which makes me think that the persons in control of the museum budget has made some very odd priority calls.
The Entrance to the Chapel at Colditz Castle
The museum houses a small collection of items and is worth a cursory look. There is little accompanying narrative so the experience dies not provide much insight. We were subsequently told that the biggest collection of Colditz artefacts in Saxony is privately owned and can be viewed at certain times in a location about 3 KMs from Colditz. It beggars belief that this collection is not properly incorporated into the Colditz visitor experience. 
Furthermore, after our visit I was also told that there is an excellent WW2 Polish museum exhibit in the castle. This is not signposted - nor did any of the complacent officials I dealt with mention it.
Entrance to a French Tunnel adjacent to the Chapel
Blacksmith Shop used by Bader in Colditz Town
I find it so ironic that the the custodians of Colditz in 2015 are operating a stricter regime that the one operating during the early 1940s! I hope for the sake of posterity and for the local townspeople that they change their ways very soon. Meanwhile manage down your expectations and don't bother with the standard guides - most of what they show you can be accessed without paying the entrance fee.