Nowhere near Berlin

Trip Start May 08, 2006
Trip End Mar 07, 2007

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Flag of Poland  ,
Friday, August 18, 2006

Insert movie theme music in here...

Deerr Deerr derr derr derr derrrr........ der der

Thats right if you can understand that. I just left the town of Zagan. Once known by its German name Sagan. A little town of around 12 000 people with zero foreign tourists and not a single person that speaks english. Why did I go here.....

To live out a childhood dream.

Deerr Deerr derr derr derr derrrr........ der der

Thats right... The Great Escape Camp is here... Stalag Luft III

Had to leave Ciaran to go my own way. Didnt think he would want to go to a old POW camp in the middle of nowhere. This town isnt in any guide book, and the only reason i knew about it was because of the special features on the great escape dvd i watched before i left. No one in Krakow or Warsaw had ever heard of this place. It was a 7 hour train ride to the west of poland. I arrived and walked out the train station. Thinking to myself is this the one from the movie. Then remembering the movie was not shot in Poland, because it was under the iron curtain.

I didnt have any map because it was impossible to find a map of this little town on the internet. I also didnt really have a place to stay. I tried calling some lady who i found ran a hotel their on the internet. She didnt speak english. I asked the train lady for a map, she gove me a map of the whole of Poland which was useless!!! I just walked up a street that I thought went to the center of the town. Found a big billboard map. I was all good. Found the center of the town. Walked around took some photos, there was so many people with dogs. I headed to the lady who ran the hotel who didnt speak english. But she was very nice. It turned out to be a pub next to a swamp. I asked for one room and gestured that i called yesterday. She showed me the phone. Then i gestured that i wanted sleep and she took me to my room. All good.

Got some food while in the town, I asked for 2 Cheeseburgers, pointing and the sign and holding up 2 fingers. She gave me 3 burgers. I realised later that I my thumb sticks up a little when i do a 2. The burgers were massive. I could only eat 2 max if i tried. Then 3 drunk teenagers walked up to me and started talking to me. One could speak broken english!. They were so drunk all they could do was giggle. They wondered how i even got there. One guy was hungry. So i gave him my 3rd burger. He was estatic. It turns out that day in Zagan a local beer company was having a party day there. Everyone was getting drunk at this park, which had a massive fussball table for 8 people to play at once, and all this other cool stuff, like dart board competions and stuff. I wish i loved beer. At this carnival thing, they wierdly were playing the Forest Gump soundtrack. I knew every song that was coming on next. I Got yet more pizza and sat and watched over an hour of J LO video clips that were on. I think im a big J Lo fan now.

I sleep in my pub bed, woke up, with yet more bites!! Found a taxi and said 'train PKP' (PKP is the train station company), and then i said 'Stalag!!' He took me to the train station then the fun began. I said 'Train today, Berlin' She said yes and then i showed her my International student card which i had made in Lithuania from my expired TAFE card. She was baffled! She was on the phone for 10 minutes while the taxi driver was still on the meter outside. She came back and talked polish at me for 5 minutes, then tried to do the ticket. Some error kept coming up in polish, so she called up someone else. Then I finally got my ticket. It said Zagan to Forst. I go 'Forst? Is this Berlin?' she replied with polish for 5 minutes all i got was a nod and somewhere a Berlin so i went ooookkk. I double checked 'Berlin?' she nodded her head.

Then the taxi took me to the famous place. He dropped me off at the museum about 15 minutes drive from the town. The taxi cost me a fortune. But i wasnt going to walk. I walk up to the museum. Had to ring a doorbell. A nice lady comes down. Lets me in. I was the only one in the small museum or around for 5 ks i reckon. She sat me down as i watched a documentary by myself in a room with 30 seats. There was some Dr talking about the history of the camp in english. There was a fake blue brick wall in the background.

I walked around the museum, realised there was also a camp next to mine called stalug luft 8c for french and soviet troops. The museum wasnt that excting but i didnt care. I pointed to the map to where the camp was, about a kilometre walk away. She nodded in a yes and took me outside. To a mock up of the tunnel and a tower next to it. So i thought why not and went inside the fact tunnel and went about 20 metres on the cart under ground. Made for a good photo.

I then went and pointed at the map again, seeing the lady was talking to the garbage men who had arrived. Just then a car pulled up. I thought, tourists?? It was the museum manager. He walked up to me and shook my hand and thanked me for coming. His name was Dr Jacob something... I realised WOW!! This is the guy from the documentary. I didnt know what to say. He said he would take me in his 4wd to the camp. I got in and he took me there. He showed me a map layout and got out of the car and pointed to where the tunnel was. Then he said he had to leave and to walk down the old German road to the main highway. Then he left. I looked around I was so far from the main road. He had left me in the middle of no where. I walked around what was left on the camp. Yes rubble. It was overgrown by trees and there were some spooky bunker areas which i didnt dare go into by myself in the middle of the woods. i didnt stay long. I sucked in the atmosphere then started to walk back to the main road. I had my big back pack and everything on. Got on the main road and kept walking looking for taxis. Finally made it back to the train station after a 2 hour walk!! Was wrecked, got food, looked at my map of poland which had a bit of Germany. Saw Forst was nowhere near Berlin. Went up to the lone lady in the Train station. Showed her the map and pointed to Forst. Berlin!! she replied with a nod and a lot of polish with most likely yes no where near berlin, i assualted a horse in berlin!!! I said 'Berlin, will this ticket go there even though it says Forst' she replied later to what i found out would be No where near Berlin!! Thankyou Eurotrip. I gove up and just said to myself there is nothing I can do.

I hoped on the train and was woken up by a friendly German who stamped my passport. The most friendly passport officer yet. Then the ticket inspector later on who said, we have gone past Forst where is your ticket to Berlin? I was internally blowing up at that woman. Thinking of going back and clubbing her!. I had to pay for a whole new ticket to Berlin!

I was glad in the end to go to Zagan, even if it wasnt much. Still i achieved a somewhat childhood dream.

Deerr Deerr derr derr derr derrrr........ der der
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Mietek Stepien on

U have stay home men...

Oliver Beier from Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany on

Great story man! I laughed a lot - you are damn right, Zagan is nothing. Except the drunken, unemployed youth which in my case molested me and my nephews - horrible situation there. There seems to be no hope, thats what I felt. And I came there for a reason - my grandfather owned a small farm in a nearby village called Dittersbach today Dczchowieze. You should have spend a visite to the countryside in that area - the villages are very poor and the reason why everyone got a dog there is they use it as a guard of the house or farm. So nicking is quiet common there. At the time of the great escape my grandfather was fighting at the eastern front in russia in the german Wehrmacht, my grandmother stayed at home on the farm with her 3 kids. I am sure some of that prisoners walked along our farm when they fled. You know Stalag Luft III was the reason why Sagan today Zagan didn´t suffer onder the allies bombardment - they did not bomb this place because they were afraid of killing their own estimated 20.000 soldiers, all staff from the air force. The destruction of Zagan town took place when the russians conquered nether slezia - Niederschlesien, which was a part of germany. The allies in fact confiscated it and all ethnic germans had to leave - therefore a lot of polish people from north poland, the ukraine, white russia and galicia where expelled by the russians and brought to this area. So the history of Zagan and surrounding villages is one of displacement. Maybe that is the reason why the people there are not that happy - the population is a mixture of all polish geographicall pedigrees - plus the borders where not excepted by germany until after the reuniting of germany in 1990. Up to this moment all the people, especially the farmers, did not invest money and work into their farms because they where afraid this area would perhaps in some way become german again. Polen became a member of the EU and with the ending of the communist dictatorship in Poland the discrimination of the last germans there stopped. Today you can buy back the land of your forfathers, and I hope some day I am able to do that. We lived there for 700 years, poor peasants who reclaimed the land in generations.
I really did not know that the film "The great escape" showed the place of my origin when I saw it at the age of maybe 10 - until I came there. Nearly everyone I know saw the film, nobody knows where this place is today. They really should make more out of this.
Greatings from germany

Ken D on

I enjoyed reading about your experiences in visiting Zagan. I'm also hoping to visit the site of "The Great Escape" (perhaps in 2011?) but I'm having a difficult time finding much information on travelling there. Your Blog helped a lot in that regard. I assume getting to Zagan is easiest by train, but to reach the camp I may use a rental car rather than a Taxi.

bharden on

Yes train is the easiest! Hiring a car is probably a good idea too! Although I don't remember there being and place to hire a car around the train station.

Oliver Beier, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany on

Hi there to Australia,
the way for you to travel to Zagan again would be to fly to Berlin, rent a car and then take the motorway (Autobahn) No. 13 to Dresden - then you change on the Autobahn 15 to Cottbus towards the polish border, you cross the border and keep on traveling on that road - there it is called E 36 (E stands for Europastrasse - Europestreet), after 5-10 Kilometer you take the junction towards Zary and this will lead you to Zagan. This is the fastes way to get there, according to GoogleMap it is only 220 Kilometers - about 140 Miles.
You made a photo of a church - or that what is left from it. The rest burned down in the war - the german located anti aircraft cannos on the church and during the heavy fights with the red army this church, which was one of the most beautiful protestant churches in Eastgermany. My grandparents married there, I still got a photo with them standing at the entree. And the parents of my grandma lived opposite to the train station, her father worked for the railway.
The town zagan really should start advertisment connected to the film "The great escape" - it is a pitty that it does not, for example, is named on the cover of the DVD. Imagine what kind of boost that woud bring for tourism in Zagan. In fact that is the only attraction they got there, they really should work harder on that - they could organize guided tours on verified routes the prisoners took that night. Really, everyone in the english-speaking world knows that classic war epos film - no one knows where it happened. The town of Zagan could make a fortune out of this fact.
Thanks for your reaction, all the best from Mülheim an der Ruhr in the western part of Germany in the heart of the Ruhrgebiet - ruhrarea.

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