Trip Start Jan 10, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Poland  ,
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

After Mikolajki we headed up to the town of Gizycko (Gee-jitsko, with a hard 'g' and soft 'j') a small place on the lakes somewhat near the town of Gierloz. This name may not mean anything to most people, but the German name Gorlitz might - the location of the Wolf's Lair (Wolfsschanze), Hitler's headquarters during WWII.

We arrived in Gizycko early in the morning and after dropping our stuff at our pension, headed to Gierloz by bus. We were pretty surprised at the total lack of tourists on the local bus to Gierloz, despite the fact that tourists rarely seem to use local transportation, but the parking lot was packed with cars and there was even a camp ground and RV site for all the tourists. One of the buildings, the old officers' hotel, is now a hotel for tourists and a restaurant. There were tons of tourists, we figured about two thirds of them were German and the rest Polish.

So, some history. Chosen because of the landscape's natural boundaries, the fortifications and line of defence across Prussia, and its location on the railway line, Wolfsschanze began to be constructed in Gierloz the autumn of 1940 under the guise of building a chemical plant. Construction was continuous until the abandonment of the site at the end of the war. Altogether there were over 200 buildings, including several huge bunkers with walls thicker than 6 metres and roofs thicker than 8 metres. The whole complex was surrounded by double fences of barbed wire, between which was a minefield a hundred metres wide and ten kilometres long, containing 54 000 mines. It took Polish soldiers ten years to de-mine the area after the war.

Hitler came for the first time in the summer of '41 and spent most of his time there until the winter of 1945, when the Germans abandoned the site, blowing everything up as they left. Three days later the Red Army reached the area and destroyed what was left as well as the nearby town of Ketrzyn.
This was also the site of the attempted assassination of Hitler by the German von Stauffenberg.
Hitler's house / bunker was by far the biggest on the site, and the most impressive ruins. His living quarters were left largely intact, surely a result of the massive amount of concrete used in its construction, but his kitchen was completely destroyed. We walked through one of his hallways and it was pretty creepy, knowing we were in the place where he lived, worked and slept. The hall was very narrow, and completely black. His living area seemed really small compared to the size of the building from the outside.

At times it was pretty creepy walking around in the Wolf's Lair. Thinking of all the top officials that spent so much of their time there, all the evil men that made their plans there, made us slightly uncomfortable. It wasn't nearly like visiting Auschwitz or Majdanek though. There wasn't at all the same solemn atmosphere found at a concentration camp, but it was the same in that it is one of those places that are totally incomprehensible. You think you'll feel a certain way when you go, but it's impossible to really get your head around. Maybe more so than if you're reading about it at home, or looking at pictures. You think that going will make it feel more real, but instead it just makes you realize you can never comprehend that it happened at all.
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