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Wandering the World

Stories and tips from around the world.

Germany Day 5

Colditz and Leipzig

Another day, and another city to be visiting. I’d not slept that well due to the noise of traffic, yet was still awake enough for a 2 mile run just before 07:00. For this run I retraced my steps from yesterday, photographing some of the sights on my iPhone without any tourists in them. It also gave me a chance to run down to the River Elbe and see what the view was like from there.

Town square at dawn

Back at the room, my breakfast was a croissant, fruit juice, and a cup of tea I was able to make using the heating element again. I wish I’d brought my green tea with me too. It was nice to sit there looking out over the town, sipping some Earl Grey tea, and briefly relaxing before the busy day ahead. Check-out here was so simple they didn’t even ask for my room number, they just said “all done,” and that was that.

The walk to Dresden-Neustadt train station took around 20 minutes, with my suitcase not liking the rough paving stones at all. Fortunately it was only just over a kilometre to the station as I thought much further and I’d have wanted to carry it. There were so many cyclists on the pavement too, and it seems they have right of way over pedestrians here. Whilst I liked a lot of the buildings on the side of the river I’d arrived initially on, over on this side it seemed a bit more dreary. This was probably the non-touristy part of town.

Of all the journeys I needed to take, this was the day I was the most unsure about. The easy part was this train to Leipzig Hauptbahnhof, it’d be ninety minutes of watching the countryside pass me by with the occasional town thrown in. The skies were dark, and it seemed the forecast rain might actually happen. The complicated part for me was when I’d need to get another train and a bus to get me to Colditz in time for a 14:00 tour.

There was a brief period when it did rain, but it’d stopped by the time the train pulled into Leipzig. It was incredibly easy to find the ibis from the train station, and I was able to leave my luggage there using a €1 coin to use a locker.

Town Hall

My first sight of the day was the Saint Thomas Church, though I passed through a German market in the Markt on my way to get there. It looked like the sort of place to visit at the end of the day. I walked around the church's perimeter to start with, and got the impression it wasn’t open. It’d started to spit very lightly with rain, but not bad enough to get my waterproof from my backpack - it was like a fine mist which eventually stopped altogether. On the far side from where I started I found the church was open, and free to enter. What I hadn’t realised about this one is that this is where the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach is buried.

Burial place of Johann Sebastian Bach

It wasn’t too far to another church, the Church of Saint Nicholas. This took a little longer to find, and I decided it wasn’t worth going in. I felt I was too short on time to linger too long. So, instead I walked onto the Gewandhaus - a concert hall. The last one of these had been burnt to the ground during the second world war.

Opera house made of glass and orange tiles

This was all I knew of to see in Leipzig, so headed back to the train station and got a ticket for €8.30 to get me to Colditz Sportzplatz via Grimma. This was the complicated part. Whilst most of this journey was by train, there was this one bit where I knew I had to find the right bus to get me there, and they only run once per hour. During the train ride to Grimma I checked the details repeatedly, and looked at the map, and was confident of where I needed to go to get the bus.

Yellow front of a train station with a minibus parked outside

When the train pulled into Grimma I noticed the train station seemed to suit the name of this place. It was grim. I was after Bus 619, and the first stop I saw said 619, so logically I stood there and waited at bus station 3. Time passed and it got to the time when the bus was due, but I couldn’t see it. I turned around, and about 400 metres away I could see a bus at another stop, and it said ‘Colditz Großbothen‘. Well that’s strange, I thought. Maybe there’s another bus that goes there but is slower?

Just in case, I started walking towards the bus, and the number on the side said 649. Or at least, I thought it did. I returned to the 619 bus stop and waited. After five minutes had passed the scheduled time had come and gone, and I thought it worth checking if there was a schedule for that other one at bus station 6. Strangely the sign said 619 stopped there too. Then I realised the bus I’d seen must have been the one I’d wanted, and I’d missed it. It’d be an hour until the next one, and too late for the extended tour. Surely after all this effort to get here, I couldn’t miss it now by stumbling at the last hurdle, the one I’d expected to be the most troublesome.

When I told my Granddad I’d be visiting Colditz he leant me two books by Major Pat Reid which detailed escapes from this infamous castle up until its liberation at the end of the second world war. I felt like maybe this would help me to understand the place I was seeing better when I got there. It may be another sight relating to conflict, but there’s a lot of them to see here. I decided I had to find another way to get there. Running was out of the question, as I figured if a bus would have gotten me there with little time to spare, running around 9 miles with a heavy backpack would not work.

It’d be expensive, but I realised my only option now was a taxi. I had no idea how to get hold of a taxi here. I checked on my phone and found the number for one, but got an automated message. I then thought of Uber, but found they did not serve this area. I was going to have to find another taxi number, or accept defeat and head back to Leipzig. It was then that I remembered there’d been a taxi pulling away from the train station earlier - maybe there was a sign for taxis there, a number I could call or something.

I looked back towards the train station, and since I’d been trying to find a solution, another had presented itself. A taxi was sitting there waiting. I walked up to it, and the driver stopped eating to answer. It was a very broken conversation, me not understanding enough German, and him not understanding enough English, but we figured out where I wanted to go, and how much he thought it’d cost. It was handy I’d remembered the German for castle was Schloss. He threw away his lunch, and I felt awful for him doing so, and ushered me into the cab.

It was a far shorter taxi ride than it would have been for the bus. It went through the countryside and through a couple of towns until one that said ‘Colditz’. He pointed out the castle, and said “tourist?”. I replied with “Si,” somehow defaulting to Spanish, and probably confusing him even more than he already was. I tried to clarify by saying I’ve got a tour of the castle, but he didn’t talk again until we’d followed the winding cobbled roads up as close to the castle as possible. It would have been €36 for the ride, but having just done me a massive favour I paid €40. It’s a lot, but I couldn’t not see Colditz considering that was my entire reason for having spent the morning getting to Leipzig.

I photographed a church first, and then looked around for the entrance. There were some steps up between buildings, and then saw a path leading to a gatehouse. This was it! I was over half an hour ahead of schedule, which meant I could find out what was happening with the extended tour first, and then find some spots for taking photographs. Missing the bus had actually turned out quite well in terms of opportunities, even if it did cost a bit to get there.

Entrance to Colditz Castle

On the way into the castle I found a door open that led downstairs, so I photographed that first, and then the courtyard, and then went into the museum shop. I asked about the extended tour, confirmed I’d pre-booked, and paid the entrance fee. They suggested that as I’d still got 35 minutes until the tour started I should have enough time to look around the museum first. So, I went upstairs and had a look around at what they’d got from various escape attempts. It was weird to see holsters and rifles made from cardboard, and the instrument that was played during Pat Reid’s escape. These weren’t just words in a book, these were real things in front of me, and the pictures I’d got in my head of these events started to seem more real.

Musical instrument used during Pat Reid's escape

Once I’d seen the museum, I went out onto the terrace; the area where prisoners in solitary confinement would be able to walk around once a day due to the terms of the Geneva convention. It was here that a Canadian once tried to escape by jumping over the wall, and looking over it now, it was a wonder he didn’t break his legs.

A few of the other rooms of the prisoners' courtyard were open, so I had a look around those too, and was back at the meeting point with time to spare. The guide for the day was Steffi, and she had keys to all the locked rooms she’d be showing us. The group wasn’t too big - there were four others, and two Londoners that joined after the first fifteen minutes.

Pat Reid's escape route

The tour started with the guardhouse near the gate which has a room for solitary confinement. From there we were taken to an old store room which is where Pat Reid had escaped through a narrow air shaft there. I think I would have fit through, but couldn’t have imagined how hard it would have been to get up there in the first place. I guess when you need to escape, it doesn’t matter how hard it is. The exit for that was then pointed out to us on the terraced area.

We’d completely left the castle now and were led around another way to where we could see the exit for the French tunnel. The door next to this took us back inside the castle where we were led to the wine cellar, which I knew was where the French contingent had tunneled into from the clock tower. In there we were shown the tunnel the French had dug, which had since collapsed.

If it wasn’t surprising enough that the Germans didn’t know it was there for so long, it’s unbelievable just how narrow that hole is which a person would climb into and also remove rock through. In the chapel we got to see the continuation of that tunnel, and just how hard it would have been to saw through the supports under the floor, and to dig a very deep hole on the other side. We also got to see the attempt from the British from when they used ‘ghosts’ for their digging to maximise time.

Escape tunnel through rock

The tour was getting close to finishing now, and this was a climb up a spiral staircase to a media room where we spent 15 minutes watching a summarised version of a documentary about an attempt at building the glider that had been found in the attic of Colditz, and had been mentioned in the book. This attempt included building a ramp on top of the roof, and was complete with the concrete in a bath as they’d planned. To their amazement, it had worked. This was something the prisoners of Colditz never got to find out as they were liberated by the Americans before they got to use it.

Replica glider stored in an attic

Above this room we got to see a reconstruction of the glider, based on the drawings that had been left behind as the whereabouts of the original was unknown. With the tour over I made my way back down as quickly as possible, looking for a place to photograph the castle from the outside. This was a bit of a trek, but I’d just about got time. The closest place I could find was a bridge over the Zwickauer Mulde river. It was about five to ten minutes walking fairly swiftly, though it’s unlikely I took the most direct route there.

View of Colditz Castle

I found my way to the Colditz Sportplatz, and made sure I was at what seemed to be the most likely bus stop. Fortunately Bus 619 did stop there, and after some issues getting the QR code for the ticket to scan, I was let on anyway, and took my seat. I could see why this bus takes so much longer than a taxi - it winds all over the place, and makes many stops in towns I’d not been through previously. Eventually it stopped down a sidestreet not far from the train station in Grimma. I looked at my watch, 17:12; I’d got around 15 minutes to get to the train station and wait.

It only takes a few minutes to walk to the station from the bus stop, so I found myself waiting on platform 1, and doubting whether I was on the right one. This was the same platform I’d arrived on, so surely I should be going back on platform 2? I checked the train timetable on my phone again, and sure enough it said platform 1, so I trusted it and found it to be correct.

At 18:00 I arrived back in Leipzig, hungry, and ready to find some food. First though, I needed to stop by the Rewe in the train station to get some bits for breakfast - something I’d forgotten yesterday. On my way I looked at food places along the way, but nothing really grabbed my attention. The shop was however a good place to get stollen from - another thing I could tick off my checklist.

From the supermarket I headed back in the direction of the hotel, certain I would find somewhere for food along the way. Before I knew it though, I was back at the ibis. I collected my luggage, and found at that point I was in the wrong ibis - there’s another next door, and that’s the one I’d booked for. It sounds ridiculous, but I’m sure there’s a logical explanation.

Hotel room in ibis Budget Dresden City

Once checked in, I dropped off all my luggage and again headed out looking for food. It was getting later now and I realised the options would be slimmer, and the places open would be busier. I headed in the general direction of the German Market, avoiding the places where there was a lot of noise along the way. There were police outside those too, and I got the impression it was something football (that’s soccer if you’re American) related.

At the German market they now had live music playing, and at the point I started queuing for a pulled pork burger, they were playing “Who’ll Stop The Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Unfortunately after ten minutes of queueing I found they’d ran out, so started to circle the square looking for somewhere else. I’d had enough, and looked on my phone for the nearest Burger King. Dire, but not as bad as resorting to McDonalds. After checking my phone, I looked up and found I was actually standing outside of a Burger King already so went in and got a chicken burger. When I left, the band had moved on to playing “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits.

A band playing on stage

I thought it’d be nice to eat my dinner listening to live music so I found somewhere close to the stage to sit, and started eating. Whilst I was there I heard a few tracks I didn’t recognise, but also songs by Pink Floyd and ZZ Top. I think I could have stayed there longer than I did, but I also wanted to get an early start in the morning, so headed back to the hotel to relax, and get ready for the morning.

Running: 2 miles, Walking: 7.7 miles, Bus/Taxi: 11.93 miles, Train: 109.3 miles

Tags: colditz germany leipzig travel trips

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© David G. Paul