Another catchup blog…..
This trip took us to the North East of Poland to see the beautiful Masurian Lakes District and the Wolf’s Lair where Hitler spent a great deal of his time during WWII.
Monday 26/10/15 to Wednesday 28/10/15
Today we headed north east to see the Masurian Lakes District and the Wolf’s Lair. It was a cool 4 degrees as we left, but the sun was shining. Great day for riding, even if little cool. Along the way, we came a cross a great biker cafe, the owner obviously has a cute sense of humour!
We travelled through some beautiful countryside, that was alive with the picturesque Autumn colours. It is so easy to see how we mere mortals derive inspiration from the wondrous Mother Nature, and yet WE tend to take all the credit! The small villages with the old wood homes and roadside shrines yet again a delight. The roads varied from great bitumen, to rougher cobbles and dirt; the latter just adding to another great ride overall.
The more than 2000 lakes joined by canals and other waterways that make up the Masurian Lakes were formed more than 12000 thousand years ago a the result of the Pleistocene ice age. It is considered to be one of the 28 most beautiful places in the world, and was even in the running to be one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature. It is a popular holiday destination all year round, but especially summer.
The ‘Wolf’s Lair” or Wolfschanze, is hidden deep in the woods near the town of Kętrzyn. The complex is made up of more than 80 buildings, with 50 of these being bunkers or various sizes. It occupies around 6-7 square km. This is where Hitler spent most of his time (more than 800 days) plotting and planning (one could say scheming), during WWII.
At the time building commenced in 1940, the area was known as East Prussia and the nearby town (now Kętrzyn) was called Rastenburg. It was strategically safe because of it’s location. The lakes to the east ensured no ground invasion and the very dense woods would have made aerial reconnaissance extremely difficult. The 50 grey bunkers merging into the grey woods when the trees were bare would offer a chameleon affect, ideal camouflage indeed.
The whole area was surrounded by approximately 50,000 land mines, yet ironically not a shot was fired in anger here. Sadly many Polish sappers lost their lives or were injured when removing these mines after the war.
There was a railway into the middle of the complex and around 2000 people lived and worked there at it’s peak. Span commented that this was the population of his home town (KooWeeRup), when he was growing up. Rather puts it in perspective I think.
Before going to see the actual ‘Wolf’s Lair’, or what remained of the bunkers, we took a ride through the woods, because we had glimpsed the blown up remains of other buildings. We did not initially realise that these were all a part of the huge complex. The sun was shining brilliantly through the gold and amber autumn leaves that still remained on the trees. There was a thick golden carpet of leaves on the ground too… just equisite! We were the only ones in this part of the forest and it felt magical. It was so very peaceful, so spectacularly beautiful! Once again we found ourselves reflecting on and talking about the horrors of the past that are a stark contrast to the beauty and serenity of today.
We found some very old graves nestled quietly in the woods, one dating back to 1851. There were some tiny ones too, that were perhaps those of children. We do not know because they were unmarked, yet someone remembers them as seen by the flowers and candles left there.
As we walked around the remains of the ginormous bunkers we were astounded by the amount of concrete it must have taken to build them, and the history that lay before us. It was here in a meeting room in 1944 that the failed assassination attempt on Hitler by Von Stauffenberg took place. We overheard a guide say that the concrete was 5-6 metres thick in all the bunkers except for Hitler’s, his was 8 metres thick. Now that’s a bloody lot of concrete!! The site was abandoned in late 1944 as the Soviet army was approaching, and the Germans blew up the buildings and bunkers as they retreated. The big lumps of distorted concrete and thick reinforcing wire, lay grotesque, but strangely beautiful, even somewhat austere amongst the beautiful trees of the forest, with the afternoon sunshine beaming through. We took so many pictures at the Wolf’s Lair that it is hard to choose just few to show here!
After a remarkable day at the Wolf’s Lair, it was back to our digs for tea, where we met a lovely family from the Czech Republic. They were taking a short vacation and we discussed at length how lucky they are to be in Europe and so close to so many beautiful countries.
We are truly envious of their ability to visit so many countries so easily. Met them again at breakfast and chatted a lot more before we parted ways, but not before they exacted a promise to visit them in the second part of our trip, after the winter.
We were on our way back to Warsaw when we came upon an old fort – Feste Boyen. What was to be a quick looksee turned into a few hours as once again we happened upon yet another remarkable historic place.
Rode around the perimeter first, giving a cheery wave to the men working to keep the weeds out of the stonework of the walls. It looked like such a intriguing place, so decided to go in to see more!
Once inside the gates, the autumn colours that greeted us were just stunning at every turn, in places they looked like a thick golden carpet. Fort Boyen was built as part of a chain of strategic Prussian fortifications in the mid 1880s. The walls are in the shape of a star or an irregular hexagon that surrounds an inner courtyard and buildings. Another interesting fact is that it was never conquered. We were told it is one of the best preserved examples of 19th century defensive architecture, and it certainly was in pretty good nick, given it is 170 odd years young!
As we were walking, a guy came up to us. He asked if we owned the bike out front and so we got to chatting.
His name was Yuriy, and he too is a biker; he has a Honda XR Enduro. He was with a group of medicos touring the fort, and stopped to talk with us…… the bike as it so often is, being a great introduction to a conversation and meeting good people.
We finally caught up to his group……they gave us an apple….we gave his wife and another lass a koala each before we set off, as it was getting late and we still had a long way to go get back to Warsaw.
They caught up with us again at the gate, because we had stopped yet again to take more pics. Yuriy and his wife Lena gave us a small gift. It was a small Japanese Omamori or talisman, meant to be for safe travels….. such a lovely thought, and something we will carry with us and treasure always. Yuriy and Lena invited us to visit them in Lviv in the Ukraine. We were not initially planning to go there, but most definitely will now as we look forward to meeting them again and seeing their homeland. Of course we had to have group pic before we parted.
It was late (around 4.30pm) when we left Fort Boyen, and it was getting cool, however we could not help but stop for a few more pictures on the way…… more stunning countryside and autumn colours. We found another old cemetery …. the Gizycko German-Russian War cemetery. There were 243 German and 175 Russian war graves from WWI and 6 German war graves from WWII. Today it was quite beautiful, all covered in Autumn gold, yet there was sadness here..
Once again we had not heeded Helmuth’s advise to be indoors by 4.30pm, because we were not wanting to miss anything during the daylight hours! The waterways and countryside just stunning and ever changing as the light faded. The full moon one side and the setting sun on the other were so beautiful.
It was fully dark by 5pm and getting colder by the minute. It had started to get foggy too, which made the the cold seem more intense. The cold, fog and deer on the roads made for some interesting and very alert riding indeed. At 4 degrees it was a tad cool, so we were very grateful to stop for a hot coffee at the Route 61 cafe. It was a wonderful surprise, that there was no charge or the coffee which is free to bikers…. such great hospitality! We gave the lady a Koala in trade and she was delighted! Out came the hip flask for a quick nip of Cherry Vodka before jumping on the bike for the final leg of our trip ‘home’ to our cosey flat in Warsaw. It was a veritable heat wave by the time we got there ….. 8 degrees!!
The next day Span went downstairs to the back of our apartment block to do a bit of bike maintenance. New brake pads needed in preparation for heading off after winter. He found some very interested and willing local helpers; they had little English and Span had even less Polish, yet the bike being the common denominator (yet again), they all understood each other perfectly and the job was done to the satisfaction and pleasure of all!
Just to finish……. a word to the wise……. READ the signs BEFORE you enter… and it was in ENGLISH too!!!