The small town of Colditz in western Saxony probably wouldn’t be on many traveler’s radars if it weren’t for its famous castle. While certainly an impressive example of Renaissance architecture, the main reason Colditz Castle is familiar to history buffs around the world is its infamous role as a Prisoner of War Camp during World War 2.
Contrary to most historical sites from that dark period of German history, it’s less known for the atrocities committed there and more for the ingenious escape attempts performed by the resourceful prisoners.
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History of Colditz Castle
Built in the early 16th century as a hunting lodge for Friedrich III, then prince-elector (Ger. Kurfürst) of Saxony, it served as a temporary residence for German nobility for almost 300 years before being converted into a prison in the 19th century.
During World War 2, Colditz gained international notoriety under the name Oflag IV-C as a German prison camp for Allied Officers. As such, it’s best known for the high amount of escape attempts made by the prisoners, some 35 of which actually succeeded, consisting of 12 French, 11 British, 7 Dutch, 1 Polish and one Belgian Prisoner.
The amusing part is that Colditz was actually a high-security prison camp deemed escape-proof. By collecting mainly prisoners who had attempted escape from other camps, the Germans inadvertently created some kind of think tank of ingenious people with creative and clever ideas how to elude their captors.
Some of the more adventurous attempts were recreated for the silver screen, most famously in the 1955 movie “The Colditz Story”, directed by Guy Hamilton of James-Bond-Fame. Apart from that, tons of books, documentaries as well as a series of board and video games attest to the persisting fascination with Colditz.
Visiting Colditz Castle
The town of Colditz, which sports only around 8000 inhabitants, is located about 35km south-east of Leipzig, Saxony’s largest city, and can easily be visited during a day trip from there. The impressive castle building dominates the skyline of the town and after climbing up to the ramparts, you’ll be rewarded with fantastic views of the surrounding landscape. During your visit to the castle you can check out the Escape Museum, detailing the various escape attempts and take a guided tour of the other parts of the building.
Colditz Escape Museum
The small, but fascinating “Fluchtmuseum” (Escape Museum) details most of the ingenious escape plans hatched by the imprisoned officers and features several documents, photographs as well as various objects used in the attempts. These include tons of pieces of contraband smuggled into the prison as well as quite a few objects that the officers tried to smuggle themselves out in. There’s even a secret radio station which the prisoners used to make calls to the Allies and managed to hide behind a fake wall.
A surprising part of the history is that only one of the would-be-escapees was killed by the captors (presumably accidently), while the majority were penalized with solitary confinement and some actually recreated their attempts for German photographers afterwards leading to some interesting pictures which are arguably the star exhibit of the museum.
This also means that a visit here leaves you less rattled by the horrors of war but instead manages to make you smile frequently for the ingenuity and sheer audacity of the imprisoned officers. The entrance fee to the museum is 4€ and the opening times differ depending on the season – you can check the current ones here.
Colditz Castle Tour
Other areas of the castle can only be visited during a worth-wile guided tour in German and English, which takes place at 10.30AM and 3PM from April to October, while you have to pre-book the tour from November to March. During the tour you can see the life-sized reconstruction of a small gliding plane the prisoners managed to construct undetected.
Naturally, it was meant as a means to escape but they were never able to try out, as the war ended before it could be completed. Just as impressive are sections of an intricate tunnel dug by a group of French officers leading through the wine cellar and even the bell tower of the castle chapel. It’s worth taking the tour just to get an impression of the scope of that project alone.
How to get to Colditz Castle from Leipzig
Colditz can be reached from Leipzig Main Station by first taking the train to the small town of Grimma (about 30 mins. / 7€) and continuing on by bus number 619 (about 30 mins. / 3.50€), which goes hourly during the week and every two hours on Saturday and Sunday. From the bus stop “Colditz, Sportplatz”, it’s a 10 minute walk up to the castle through the pretty centre of town.
Where to stay in Colditz
Visiting Colditz can easily be done as a day trip from nearby Leipzig, but if you prefer to stay the night, there are several options. Part of the castle nowadays is actually used as a Youth Hostel with the fitting slogan “Feeling Good Instead of Planning Your Escape”. You can check other options in the map below:
Where to eat in Colditz
There are a couple of restaurants serving hearty local fare. We can recommend “Schloßwächter” directly outside the southern gatehouse of the castle. There are more options around the town’s small main square.