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The town of Colditz lies in East Germany and as such it’s not really on the tourist trail and definitely counts as an off the beaten track destination. There is something quite interesting about the castle here though so if you’re planning on visiting Colditz Castle, which dominates the view over the town, then read on to find out more about the amazing history of this place and information about how to get here. Hint – it features highly in World War 2!
It’s always surprised me how little information there is about Colditz Castle around, especially in regards to visiting it. I really thought it would be a more popular site for tourists, but perhaps not everyone likes WW2 history sites like us! I hope you find this guide helpful and that you enjoy your trip to the area which is, quite frankly, stunning.
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History of Colditz Castle
Schloss Colditz dates back to the middle ages and was first built around 1200 and was initially used as a lookout post for the German emperors. There had been numerous attacks and fires, (one started by a baker’s apprentice!) which has meant the castle has been reconstructed several times. The baker incident in 1504 led to large amounts of reconstruction and even the addition of a wild animal park around it. Around this time it was also turned in to a hunting lodge by Elector August I and his wife Anne the Princess of Denmark and they also carried out extensive building work to extend the castle.
More recent history has the uses of Colditz as a poorhouse and also as a psychiatric asylum. The latter was for the wealthy germans and that period lasted for almost 100 years until after the first world war and the Nazis came into power in Germany.
Colditz is most famous for it’s use in the second world war as a prisoner of war camp, but before it was turned into this the Nazis used the castle to imprison people who they believed to be undesirable to them – around 600 jews, homosexuals and communists were housed here. When the outbreak of war happened it was then used to hold allied prisoners.
Colditz Castle during WW2
Colditz was made a prisoner of war camp, Oflag IVC, with the outbreak of world war 2 in 1939 and was used until the end of the war in 1945. Due to the nature of the position of the castle, being on a rocky outcrop and surrounded by the River Mulde it’s thought to be a great place to secure people and they even thought it was escape proof. With thoughts like these they decided it was the perfect place to house prisoners of war who had previously escaped from camps before.
Now either the castle wasn’t as high security as they thought or it was because they decided to keep all these people there who had history of escaping, but Colditz actually was far from escape proof and around 30 prisoners managed to flee the castle and many more attempts at escaping were made. Some attempts were quite elaborate and included dressing up as locals and one person even managed to build a glider away from the eyes of the Germans! This was never put in to use though as the castle was liberated at the end of the war in Europe.
After the war Colditz castle was firmly in the soviet controlled East Germany and it returned to it’s previous use as a hospital.
Visiting Colditz Castle
As you can imagine, the main draw to Colditz Castle is the world war 2 history and it was that which drew us to visit too when we were in the area.
We knew about Colditz from the stories of the escape (and probably from the board game and tv series!) so when we were in the area it was a no brainer for us to visit. We couldn’t find much information about it and it didn’t seem to be signposted very well either. Unlike in the UK where we are extremely proud of anything relating to WW2, it definitely didn’t seem to be like that in Germany. Of course, I can understand why, but it’s a stark reminder that not everyone sees this history as something to be proud of and to be learned about and as the generations pass and we step further away from the personal connection I find it interesting to think about what will remain and what will be forgotten about. I’m glad that there are some places in Germany where we can still learn about it all from their perspective. History is certainly written by the victors.
Colditz Castle Museum
Upon arriving at Colditz castle you can either just look around the castle in the museum areas they’ve set up or you can do that and a guided tour as well. We just looked round the museum as we weren’t around at the right time for the tour, see below for tour times.
The museum is fascinating and we really enjoyed reading about all the prisoners and their stories. Our fascination with world war two sites first came about because we had a son who adored the era and wanted to learn more about it, but as the years have gone by it’s really deepened my knowledge and appreciation of the time as well. He loves to learn about the military vehicles and weapons, I love the stories. It’s easy to have a general idea in your head of how a prisoner of war camp is, I always imagine it being like the film Great Escape! What I find fascinating is the tenacity of the humans involved, the fact they never gave up and the sheer bravery to attempt these escapes. They didn’t settle with their lot. Ever. They kept trying to escape, thinking up new ways and most importantly they kept hope. They of course never knew how long they might be imprisoned for so to them escape was the only option.
In the museum you can see lots of artefacts from the prisoners including fake passports, tools they used to dig and even the costumes they made themselves to disguise them once they escaped. I liked the story of how some of them made a dummy for the fellow prisoner to hold so that the head count wasn’t out and would allow them time to get far away.
The skill and ingenuity of the prisoners is truly amazing and their optimism is remarkable!
Visiting times and tours
Colditz castle is open year round except from some dates at Christmas and the New Year (check in advance if you’re coming in December) and in winter the hours are slightly less.
- Summer opening times: 10am – 5pm with last entry at 4pm
- Winter opening times: 10am – 4pm with last entry at 3pm
The standard tours run at specific times during the summer (10.30am, 1pm and 3pm). If you’re going in winter call ahead as you may need to book a tour time.
The standard tour as detailed above will take you round the castle and show you some of the old castle history as well as some of the WW2 sites of interest. They do also run an extended tour as well which takes you round some of the escape locations so if that’s what you’re interested in I’d say do that. I do wish we’d had chance to go on these tours! This one runs through the summer at 10.30am and 2pm and again by prior arrangement over the winter months.
If you really want the works then they also do special days with a full day tour which covers EVERYTHING! These are by prior arrangement only but if you’re looking for a really in-depth day seeing all there is to see this is what you want.
Costs for visiting Colditz castle:
- museum entry only – €4 (€3 for concessions – children/students/disabled)
- Standard tour tickets – €9 (€7.50 concessions) or €29.50 for a family ticket
- Extended tour tickets – €18, €12 (students), under 6 free
- Full day tour – €48 per person
There’s also a small shop in the castle for buying some souvenirs – for some reason we came back with a teddy bear! But lots of books about it are available so if you feel the need to learn more about it afterwards you can find something there.
Getting to Colditz
Colditz lies in the Saxony region of Germany – so deep in the eastern part of the country. The nearest city is Leipzig which is around 50 kilometres away and there’s plenty of cheap flights to there from the UK (Ryanair flies from Stansted). Skyscanner is my preferred flights search engine and it checks all the major booking options to get you the cheapest fare – check it out here. Berlin and Dresden are also good bases to start your trip from.
If you want to visit Colditz independently then I highly recommend getting here by car. It’s easily doable as a day trip from either Berlin, Leipzig or Dresden and cars can be hired easily from either city or airports. RentalCars.com will check prices to get you the best deal. Even if you just rent a car to explore some of these smaller areas around east Germany it’s well worth it for the freedom before heading back in to the cities!
We travelled from the UK in our own transport (camper van!) and found the roads to be excellent in Germany, especially in the lesser built up areas around here. Parking is easy in the town square as well (see the top image) which allows you to explore around there as well as just the castle.
Public transport is possible, but it can be a lot more hassle unless you particularly like trains and buses! There isn’t a direct train to the town of Colditz, the nearest you can get is either Grossbothen, Grimma or Bad Lausick train stations and from there you’d take a local bus. Check out the German train website for details from your chosen departure point. If you do get public transport keep in mind the time you might like to do any tours and make sure to leave plenty of time for enjoying the castle.
Holidays to Colditz Castle
If you’re coming from the UK and don’t want to be navigating driving around Europe yourself you might find a holiday to Colditz Castle a better alternative. I totally get it, I’m just the navigator in our car, I don’t really like driving myself so to be able to hand over all responsibility is something I completely understand. The following are a few I’ve found from really reputable companies that cover the area.
If a holiday with a focus on WW2 is what you’re after then this one from Leger looks very interesting and has a full day at Colditz. It covers not only Colditz but also Dresden, Berlin and much more. It looks excellent if WW2 history is your thing.
I was really hoping to find some small tours from Dresden or Leipzig but I can’t seem to find anything operating. If you know of any tours let me know and I’ll add them in.
Where to stay near Colditz
If you’re planning to spend the night in Colditz itself you’ll find a small number of options. The best, in my opinion, is the Youth Hostel which is in part of the castle itself. Its an inexpensive option but do book ahead if you want to stay in the busy summer months. You can see reviews of the hostel here.
Near Colditz you have the cities of Dresden and Leipzig both of which are important historical cities that will no doubt have plenty to entice you to visit, especially if you like WW2 history. We stayed in Dresden and really enjoyed the city – it was an incredibly beautiful place, if a little wet – it rained constantly when we were there!
Further reading about Colditz
The Colditz Story was written by one of the prisoners, Pat Reid, and tells his story of his attempts and eventual success at escaping. If you want some reading on the way to the castle this is the one I recommend!
If you’re already familiar with Pat Reid then I suggest taking a look at Colditz from the other side. Colditz, the German Story is another recommended book which should give a slightly different view of the history!
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