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Post-War history and the current situation at Colditz.

After the end of the Second World War, Colditz town and Castle found themselves located in the Eastern Zone of Germany; for those readers who are too young to remember the division of Germany, it was also known as the German Democratic Republic or DDR, or simply as East Germany. This part of the country was under the rule of what was called the 'Eastern Bloc', countries under Communist control and effectively overseen by the Soviet Union.

The world-view of the ruling powers at that time [read: the Soviets] was such that they wanted to demolish both Colditz Castle and the nearby Podelwitz Castle, because they were symbols of a more 'decadent' era or some similar Communist excuse (such excuse probably also including the cliche word 'bourgeoise'). However the two castles were saved from this fate, but only because Podelwitz Castle was being used to house orphans and other homeless children, and Colditz Castle was being used as a hospital. The Castle, although still being used as a hospital, was allowed to fall into a state of general disrepair, and up until recently was actually quite dilapidated. [This lack of maintenance was not unusual in Eastern Bloc countries and evidence of this kind of neglect is still visible in parts across the former East Germany to this day]. Furthermore, Allied prisoners of war [POWs] had supposedly introduced several forms of slow damage-inducing pests into the Castle timbers, such as dry rot and woodworm; these too would have to be treated in any refurbishment project.

Nowadays, the Castle is owned and maintained by the local government of the State of Saxony - sort of like a county council in the UK. Under their aegis, part of the former Kommandantur buildings have been converted into a modern Youth Hostel, stripping out all of the former rooms and completely renovating that part of the Castle. None of the original character of the rooms has been preserved, if indeed any of the original rooms in the Youth Hostel area have been preserved at all. However, parts of the Kommandantur are still as they were during the War, especially the buildings on the South side of the outer courtyard. The external building that housed the Married Quarters during the War [at the Eastern end of the dry moat] has been demolished; this was historically important as it was the scene of both successful and unsuccessful escape attempts. Other buildings, such as the former German kitchens and store rooms in the Kommandantur courtyard, and the lower buildings which were situated along the 'seam' at the south side of the inner [prisoners'] courtyard have been demolished. These were the buildings that constituted parts of the Canteen, the Evidenz Zimmer [interview room] and part of the prisoners' kitchen. Many of these buildings had to be taken down because they had become unsafe. Oddly, the Castle holds little interest for most of the local people; quite understandably, they would like to see the money spent on local facilities. This seems unfortunately to be a carry-over of attitude from that of the Eastern Bloc era, but surely the money brought in by an influx of tourists would rejuvenate Colditz's economy?

Colditz town itself is a beautiful, quiet town of great character. The locals are friendly and understanding about tourists tramping all over the place. I was surprised to note that only 15-20 percent or the people speak English; perhaps this is another legacy of the Eastern Bloc era. One of the nicest people of the local populace that I met was a council worker chap who was most helpful and spoke wonderful English, telling us that the Park was going to close at six o'clock and he didn't want us to get locked in. [Not that that event would keep the British in of course!] In any event, the town is clean and well looked-after; there is very little trouble and best of all there are no Chavs. At all. Anywhere. Not even at night. The buildings are mainly well-kept and painted nicely. However, there are a few derelict buildings too; these are houses vacated by the 2,000 or so people who have left the town over the last five years. The biggest problem is chronic unemployment, last quoted to me as being at the 40 percent level. We already have seen that the tourist industry could indeed revitalise the economy; Colditz is hardly a ghost town but it does need a bit of a boost in my opinion!

There has been, in recent years, an extensive programme of renovation in progress at the Castle, which at the time of writing is still in progress. The Castle has been re-roofed, many of the old chimneys have been removed, and the most obvious thing is that most of the buildings have been repainted in white with the corner stonework picked out in cream paint. Although the Castle no longer looks as grim as it did when it was that dirty brown colour in some of the older photos, I do appreciate that if you want a building to stay standing, you do need to repaint it every so often!

The big tragedy about the renovations, however, is the eradication of much that is of historical importance. Please allow me to explain. Most of the tourists that go to Colditz Castle are British or Commonwealth. They are there for the World War Two POW history stuff. It's almost as if, as has been said elsewhere, a part of Britain is 'marooned' in Saxony. It's almost as if the British feel that they 'own' it; it's such a part of our national heritage and of our history. Because of this, and in order to maintain greater interest for British visitors, the POW-era features need to be retained in the Castle as far as possible. However, the renovation program, if it goes ahead as planned, will eradicate much of the historically important material in the interests of good intentions. I can understand what the Saxony authorities want to do, but I [and many other of my Colditz-interested friends] would like to see the preservation of the historically important areas and the opening up of more areas to controlled public viewing. For more details on the situation, see Gavin Worrell's page about the Colditz Preservation Trust here.

Recently, the access to 'extra' [normally 'off-limits'] places to visit during the guided tours has been curtailed by the Saxony authorities. Interestingly, the Castle tour guides are in something of a difficult position; although they are employed by Saxony, they understand as well as we do the sheer passion and interest that the British visitors have. They know that we would like to see more of the Castle but they are hamstrung by restrictions placed on them by Saxony. I got the distinct impression that the tour guide staff are genuinely proud of their Castle and would like nothing better than to show all the areas that we want to see. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, the privilege of visiting the Theatre, as an 'extra' to the usual tour, had been suspended, seemingly in 'reprisal' for some recent events involving British visitors, although the official line is to deny this. To me, that rings 65-year-old bells in my mind, since the Theatre was available for viewing, before that event, if you asked nicely ...    Anyway, it appears that access to the glider loft has also ceased - and it is clear that it is not the fault of the Tour Guides at all. However, the guided tour is still a fascinating experience and is really excellent. We got to see the Chapel, the wine cellar where the Chapel Tunnel began, and the West Terrace too. Certain rooms are always open, such as a good part of the Saalhaus [theatre block], which is open for general wandering around up to the first floor level, the Dentist's rooms and 'Prominente' cells [now with museum-style displays], and the Park is sometimes open too. Access to the Guard House is also available as that's where the escape museum is now housed.

However, the awful fact remains that we are in great danger of losing much of the irreplaceable heritage contained in Colditz Castle, which would be a colossal shame in anyone's book. This is one of the reasons I am doing this website - to raise awareness of the plight of Colditz Castle. I would suggest that if you yourself feel strongly about these issues, then please do take a look at the Colditz Preservation Society at Gavin Worrell's site. The former concentration camp at Auschwitz is, quite rightly, designated as a UN world heritage site with over 1 million visitors a year; the grounds and buildings have all been preserved for future generations. Even the remains of the gas chambers which the Nazis tried to destroy in early 1945 are still there; whereas Colditz is fighting for survival. Colditz was a symbol of the struggle against insurmountable odds agains the same evil that created Auschwitz; it is only right that this legacy too is preserved for the future.

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