The very name Colditz is enough to send goosebumps down many people's spines, and so it might come as a surprise that the famous WWII-era high security prison for Allied officers is not as instantaneously recognisable to most Germans, who grew up without the string of books and films this iconic prison has inspired. A Renaissance castle straddling a crag above sleepy Colditz, some 46km southeast of Leipzig, Schloss Colditz has seen stints as a hunting lodge, a poorhouse and even a psychiatric hospital.
But its notoriety stems from its years as Oflag IVC, where the Nazis imprisoned officers who had already escaped from less secure camps and been recaptured, including a nephew of Winston Churchill.
As you would expect, some 300 prisoners here made further attempts to escape and 31 actually managed to flee. The would-be escapees were often aided by ingenious self-made gadgetry, including a glider fashioned from wood and bed sheets, and a homemade sewing machine for making fake German uniforms. Most astounding, perhaps, is a 44m-long tunnel below the chapel that French officers dug in 1941–42, before the Germans caught them. You can see some of these contraptions, along with lots of photographs, in the small but fascinating Fluchtmuseum (Escape Museum) within the castle.
On weekdays bus 690 makes the trip from Leipzig Hauptbahnhof to Colditz and back several times daily (€7, two hours). For specific timetables, see www.mdv.de.