Staying in a castle, any castle, would always be my first choice. Staying at Colditz Castle, star of one of my favourite 1970s TV shows, became a must, as soon as I realised that it is now a Youth Hostel. It is open for anyone to come and go as they please, no escape necessary.
STAYING AT COLDITZ CASTLE
Colditz Castle is now a youth hostel and open to anybody. We actually found that getting into Colditz was harder than getting out. Our sat nav directed us through ever-narrower medieval streets before telling us that we had arrived outside a gate that was for pedestrians only. We then embarked on a wide ranging exploration of the surrounding countryside.
TOP TIP: Do NOT drive your large family car down Schloßgasse.
Once we had arrived we set about discovering our room and the rest of the Castle. Rooms at Colditz are dorm rooms with bunk beds sleeping four or six people, all rooms are ensuite. There are a few family rooms with a double bed for parents. Being a Youth Hostel there are lots of facilities for youths such as table tennis tables, table football and wifi in the public areas.
Breakfast is a help yourself buffet, reminiscent of the breakfasts that I ate in German Youth Hostels in the 70s. You can eat both lunch and dinner here too but you need to arrange that in advance, we chose to head off down into Colditz town.
Why is Colditz Castle Famous?
Say you are staying in Colditz Castle to any British or American over 40 and they will respond with “I hope you manage to Escape”.
Say you are staying at Colditz Castle to a younger British or American person and they might ask if that was the Prisoner of War Castle.
Say you are staying in Colditz Castle to a German and you will be met with a blank stare.
Schloss Colditz, as it was never called in the 1970s TV series, became famous after World War II when Pat Reid, one of the Prisoners of War held here, wrote a book about his time in Colditz and the many escape attempts he and his fellow inmates made. A film ‘The Colditz Story‘ starring John Mills followed in 1955. Then in the early 70s came the Colditz television series starring David McCallum. Even better there was an Escape from Colditz board game. Which is why you need to be of a certain age and either British or American for the name to have resonance!
Vistiting Colditz Castle Museum
You don’t need to stay at the Castle in order to see inside. The Youth Hostel occupies the part of the building that house the German officers, the older Renaissance part of the Castle where the Allied Officer were held is kept as a museum. You can just wander round the building and special escape display but to see from the attics to the cellar you need to be booked onto a 2 hour long tour.
Many castles have beautiful chapels.
But not many have a PoW escape tunnel in the chapel!
There is a small museum dedicated to Escape from Colditz showing the ways that food tins and other unlikely things were used to dig tunnels.
Colditz Castle History
The vast white castle that we see today is a Renaissance Schloss but the first castle on the site dates back nearly 1,000 years. Unfortunately the first castle burnt down in the early sixteenth century. The fire gave the Electors of Saxony the chance to build a lavish building suitable for royalty. When restoring your burnt down castle what could be finer than to install a zoo in the back garden? Unlikely though it sounds the dense woodland behind the castle housed Europe’s largest zoo in the sixteenth century, the stream that runs in the valley is still called Tiergartenbach or Zoo Stream.
Fashions changed and the chic white walls were no longer quite the thing, the Electors let the castle rundown. In the nineteenth century it became a workhouse and then a mental hospital.
Once the Nazis came to power they first of all used it as a prison for Communists, homosexuals and Jews but in 1939 they decided it was a suitable venue to house officer prisoners of war. After the war Colditz Castle lay behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany where it was used first as a prison and then as an old people’s home.
After the collapse of communism the building was in a sorry state. Slowly it has been restored as a museum, youth hostel and home to the Saxon State Music Academy. When we were staying, soothing classical music wafted across the courtyard as an orchestra rehearsed.
Colditz as PoW Camp OFLAG IV-C
Colditz is a very beautiful and imposing castle, you can see it for miles around, with a fascinating 1,000 year history but for most British and American visitors it is the six years it was host to Prisoners of War that hold the most fascination.
Oflag IV-C to give Colditz its proper wartime title was the place that officer PoWs who had been caught trying to escape from other PoW camps were sent. So many ingenious and determined escapees in one place led to Colditz Castle becoming famous for escape attempts. Despite the fact that the castle is perched on a steep cliff and surrounded either by dense forest or a river over 30 men managed to escape.
Not only were the prisoners of war an ingenious bunch, they were also a pretty notable lot. Among those who went on to achieve fame after the war were Group Captain Douglas Bader, the pilot who lost both legs early on in the war but returned to flying. Second Lieutenant Desmond Llewelwyn who went on to be better known as Q in the James Bond films. Lieutenant Airey Nieve who became a Tory MP, was Mrs Thatcher’s right hand man and murdered by the IRA in a car bomb within the Palace of Westminster. Also Colonel David Stirling, who went on the form the SAS. When you tour the castle you can see evidence of their escape attempts.
In the courtyard are cardboard cutouts of the inmates and their guards. One of the most famous escape attempts involved the construction of a glider in the attic with the aim of gliding over the walls and river to freedom. In the event the war ended and the glider was not needed. It was recreated for a Channel 4 film and sits there still in the attic.
Colditz – so much more than just a castle
Colditz is actually the name of the small town that nestles at the foot of Schloss Colditz. It is a half timbered gem, straight out of quaint German village central casting. It deserves to be thronged with visitors but was not when we visited. The pretty central square has a couple of good cafes in which to sit and watch the world go by whilst eating an ice cream.
Where is Colditz?
Colditz is in eastern Germany in Saxony. It is 30 miles southeast of Leipzig and 50 miles west of Dresden. We drove down from Berlin which took us about 3 hours. Colditz Castle nestles on a high ridge above the Zwickau Mulde river.
How to get to Colditz
We drove down from Berlin which took about three hours. If you were heading for a castle mini break, then it would make more sense to fly to either Leipzig (an hour away) or Dresden (an hour and a half away). Once you are in Germany hiring a car makes sense as trains go nowhere near Colditz.
Visiting Colditz: Need to Know
- Colditz Castle Youth Hostel is open 7am – 10pm, bookings can be made online.
- En suite family rooms cost from €25 per person
- Colditz Castle Museum is open 10am – 5pm, entry cost €9
- Tours take 2 hours on Sunday and Monday at 10.30am and 3pm, cost €12
- Tours are available in English
Take a look a short film about our stay.
Pin for later.
Colditz was just one stop on our summer road trip to Germany. We started off by clambering over a disused iron works at the Landscaftspark near Duisburg and then explored Berlin. If you fancy some Germany themed reading check out my Books to Read in Germany post.