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Colditz Castle has two courtyards, arranged adjacent to each other like the two circles comprising a figure '8'. We reach the first courtyard after passing under the clock tower at the end of the moat bridge [pictures are on the page detailing the southwest outside of the Castle]. The buildings forming the outer courtyard were known as the Kommandantur ; they housed the German garrison and their administration offices and so on, and was seen as a 'buffer' between the prisoners' courtyard and the outside world. In order to escape in this direction, the prisoners would have to run the gauntlet of the guarded and occupied Kommandantur yard. Of course, no-one ever knew how many hostile pairs of eyes would happen to be looking out of one of the windows as an attempt was being made!
As we enter the Kommandantur yard, we are facing in a northerly direction, and this view awaits us:
The large archway ahead leads to the western rampart and, eventually, to the prisoners' courtyard.
Moving forwards slightly, and looking across the courtyard to the northeast, we see this view:
The prisoners' courtyard is on the other side of the walls to the left of this picture; effectively the 'barrier' between the courtyards was only one room thick, with many windows of rooms in the prisoners' quarters actually overlooking the Kommandantur yard. This was known as the 'seam', and was a source of constant worry to the Germans in terms of potential escape routes. Those two arched windows in the wall to the left of centre are actually windows from the former prisoners' kitchens; a successful escape attempt was made through the kitchens, although not exiting through these windows, by Capt. Pat Reid and three colleagues. All four made home runs using that route. In any event, the Germans had already taken the understandable precaution of installing bars on all the prisoners' windows overlooking the Kommandantur yard to prevent such escapes; in fact all of the windows of the prisoners' quarters were barred. Nowadays, sadly, the bars have been removed from all but a few windows in the Castle.
Looking almost directly east now, we see the magnificent facade of the nineteenth century buildings forming the east side of the Kommandantur buildings. This part of the Castle is now a Youth Hostel. You can also see, to the left of the picture, the opening leading to the tunnel under the Kommandantur to the east side of the Castle. This is the archway through which the prisoners were marched on their journeys to the exercise Park. [Photo Credit: Melvyn R. Lawes]
Moving slightly further north, and looking now south-east, we see the buildings forming the corner of the yard in that direction.
Here's another view of the north-eastern corner of the courtyard.
Until fairly recently, this part of the courtyard was half-filled with single-storey buildings forming the German kitchens and various store rooms. These have, however been demolished as part of the 'renovation' process. How many times have you read that already on this website? Before that demolition, there used to be a tall chimney adjoining that tall building in the middle of the photo - demolished now, of course. The archway to the Park road is just visible in this photo [bottom right].
Standing now in the north-west corner of the yard, we come to the gate leading to the western rampart.
You can actually see up the rampart through the small door in the gate. For further 'travel' in this direction, see the page detailing the southwest outside of the Castle.
A couple of views now of the southern Kommandantur buildings. The brick section in the middle foreground used to be a store shed; all that remains now are the back and side walls. It is now used as a bicycle parking area.
From these photos, the topography of the outer courtyard now becomes apparent. The whole lot slopes upwards towards the east and south, except where it is sort of cut away for the roadway to the Park. The green felted roof in the foreground of the lower picture covers an archaeological dig where they are excavating some sort of stable block that they found after having knocked down the former German kitchens.
Here also is a view of the southern Komandantur buildings, with the scaffolding supporting the clock tower renovation to the right.
Once again, the green roof covering the excavation is visible. Moving now into the middle of the courtyard, here is a view of the windows of the former prisoners' kitchen:
...and then, looking slightly to the left of the last view, we see the south 'face' of the Saalhaus or Theatre block, which housed the Theatre and senior officers' quarters, amongst other things. It is probable that Reid's group exited from the right-hand window of the bottom-left-most pair of windows in this photograph, according to Reid when asked after a visit to Colditz in 1974. The prisoners had loosened the bars on the window sufficiently to allow them to get through.
Looking across from the eastern side of the courtyard now, the slightly dilapidated state of the western buildings is apparent. I'm not sure why it's like this; perhaps that building's paintwork is older than that of the other buildings; also it is notable that this building is still unpainted on the outside walls [facing the town]...
Looking now diagonally across from the north-east corner of the yard to the main gate, this is what we see:
This building is to the left of the one seen in previous picture. This pair of buildings, known as the Expedtionsgebaude, now house the offices of the Gesellschaft Schloss Colditz, the Colditz Castle Society.
Now for an orientation shot. This next photo was taken from one of the windows in the Saalhaus overlooking the Kommandantur yard, looking southwest. Again, points of interest include the slopes in this yard, the site of the former store shed, and particularly the terrace at the top of the flight of steps that climbs across the picture from right to left [west to east].
This terrace now forms the entrance to the Youth Hostel, of course, but I mention it here in order to explain that the most of the photos after this point were taken from that terrace.
So then, this is the view of the clock tower over the main gate, from the terrace:
...panning slightly left of the tower, we see the sloping garden path between the corner of the flower bed below the terrace, down to the small door next to the clock tower:
...and here is a closer view of the door:
This path and door are historically interesting from an escaping point of view. During Pat Reid's escape, having come through the kitchen window and crossed the path of the courtyard sentry, his plan was to go to that door and attempt to gain access into the building. The reason for this was that it was known from a former escape attempt that the attics of this building overlooked the moat and were not barred. If the escapers could gain access through this door, they would be able to get up into the attics and then climb down to the top of the moat with little difficulty. However, Reid encountered a problem. The key he had brought with him was incapable of unlocking that door. Because of this, the escapers had to try to find another way out of the courtyard. They had been using a small pit in the corner of the yard as cover while Reid was attempting to open the door; now, they found a tunnel leading out of the pit and under the Kommandantur buildings. Here is the pit:
...and another photo showing the position of the pit relative to the buildings:
This is what the pit looks like from the terrace above:
It was not possible for me to gain access to the pit, for better photography or for actual access, because it was fenced off. This is possibly in response to the escape of the 'Stockport Six' [they escaped using the pit]; it appears that the Germans have closed off yet another escape route from the Castle!
For Reid, though, the tunnel under the Kommandantur buildings led to a cellar where they found an air vent or chimney, up which they climbed on their path to eventual freedom. You can see pictures of the vent exit on this page; there is also some considerable detail on the pit and cellar in my Research Page on 'Reid's Cellar'.
Looking straight across the yard from the terrace, we see again the Expeditionsgebaude buildings on the west side of the yard:
...then panning across to the right, a lovely view of the Senior Officers' Quarters area of the Saalhaus [[Photo credit: Melvyn R. Lawes]:
The roof covering the stables archaeological dig is readily seen in the foreground. Also, if you look really carefully at the sky portion of the photo, you get a glimpse of one of the Castle's resident falcons. At the time of my visit, there were a nesting pair and their two fledglings, all four with the most beautiful cream coloured plumage; they fill the air with their high-pitched calls, and really add atmosphere to the Castle.
Here's another view of the Saalhaus, continuing as far as the former kitchen windows:
...and finally for the outer courtyard, a fine view of the Saalhaus, from the terrace again, showing from the rampart archway across to the kitchens:
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