COLDITZ!

Trip Start Sep 28, 2011
1
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Germany  , Saxony,
Friday, August 3, 2012

Some would say my plan to hitchhike to India hasn't got off to a very good start, since I've managed to get all of two hours down the road to Dresden.  However there is method in my madness.  After doing a little research I discovered to my utter delight that we are not too far from a place that created so many heroes, adventure stories, games, films, TV series and books.  I've wanted to go here ever since I knew what it was, and read about it in Commando!  - army comics you could buy from a newsagent for 60p.  Today I was to visit Colditz Castle.

Now unless you're a boy of a certain age, you probably have no idea what on earth I'm talking about.  Actually I shall re-phrase.  Unless you're a boy of a certain age and you're NOT from Germany you probably have no idea what I'm talking about.  Asking around, even older members of the German public haven't the foggiest idea where this place is or what it was.  Katty has asked her Dad and various other family members, only to receive vague expressions and puzzled looks.  Nobody knows about it.  If you're from the UK, perhaps France, Belgium and Poland, then you know exactly the legacy of this clandestine legend.  Colditz was an infamous WW2 Allied POW camp where they sent the best of the best; genius escape artists who had broken out from every other effort to contain them.  The Alcatraz of the 3rd Reich. The problem for the Germans was, if you put all the greatest minds in one place, you'll need to be on top form to foil some of the most daring, dangerous, crazy and downright insane escape attempts the world has ever seen.  Fascinating stuff as a boy, an emotional homage as a man.

I remember seeing the famous board game Escape From Colditz on the shelves of Toy's R Us circa 1985.  I never did get it.  I don't think my mum liked the Swastika logo, which was changed to a German eagle on some re-release boxes.  The imposing picture of Colditz adorned the cardboard, striking a wide eyed wonder chord which used to scare the hell out of me.  Yet I still wanted to play as one of those little wooden pieces, trying to find the skeleton key card, or tunnel off that perfect Colditz floor-plan game board.  I've made a mental note to hit up eBay as soon as I stop traveling.  Hopefully I can find some fellow affection-ado's to escape with.

The town itself is very quiet and not all that remarkable, save the daunting presence of the fortress on the hill.  After the war it served as a hospital, but now it includes a museum, art school and youth hostel.  The extended tour was gate-crashed by a Colditz historian, and it was a real joy to be regaled with stories of daring escapes, from dressing up as women, to impersonating camp commandants, to making a glider out of bed sheets.  Tales of real heroism and heartbreak, but also of a gung-ho camaraderie that was perhaps unheard of in other theatres.  There wasn't many places you could get away with dropping water bombs on a German guard to distract his attention.  As daunting as it appears, Colditz held fast to the Geneva convention, so little wonder it served the boys adventure story so well, encapsulating the phenomena of romanticism in war.

It is with a pang of sadness that I return to our hire car to drive the hour back to Dresden.  The sun hangs low in the beer garden as we finish supper and I look up at the white walls of the castle, painted after 1945 to return it to its previous, less foreboding exterior. This was my pilgrimage; a life-long dream finally come true, which has only sought to ignite those boy-hood stories once again.  I'm downloading the Amiga version as we speak, but the board game will have to wait; as I have my own adventures to plan.  Yet contrary to all those remarkable men, I have nothing to escape from, and continue to bask in a freedom that they so desperately sought.    Tear down the walls boys; I raise a glass to you.





       
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