So firstly thanks to my reader vote for September 2017 for sending me here to Wilczy Szaniec in Gierłoż Forest near Kętrzyn. This was another poignant, sombre and fitting trip for my journeys and of course one to feature on my contiguous “Nigdy Więcej Wojny” series. So what was this trip all about?? Bluntly put – Austrian German killer Adolf Hitler spent over 800 days here during World War Two. Evil at work.
Getting to Wolf’s Lair near Kętrzyn
Base yourself in Kętrzyn which is just 10 – 12 kilometres away. I stayed in the Hotel Wanda and you should too – great place. Wolf’s Lair has no train station despite the fact a train line runs right through it. There is also only one bus route through Wolf’s Lair and that seems to only run in daylight hours Monday to Friday so you really have just six options:
1.Own/hire a car and drive yourself (I don’t own one and I didn’t want to hire one).
2.Hitch-hike (goes against my principles really on a visit to a place like this and often I despise hitch-hikers mentality as generally they just scrounge, though admittedly I did it a few times myself, but NOT HERE).
3.Walk (I didn’t want to walk the 24 kilometre round trip that day, plus the 4-6 kilometres in the forest itself).
4.Get a friend to drive you (I didn’t have any friends, yet, in that region).
5.Taxi from Kętrzyn.
6.Book a guided tour by bus/taxi. Too dear
My Budget Tip – Do It Alone
Booking a tour is too dear and besides I like to write about solo travel and how YOU can do it alone for cheaper. There are some Polish based tour companies who operate tours to Wolf’s Lair near Kętrzyn but their prices are crazy so I don’t recommend them. Do it yourself and you’ll save a lot of money. Be aware – some tour companies charge over 1,000 złotych!!! I kid you not.
1.Do It Alone Over a Night and Day
Doing it alone (even the Kętrzyn bit by taxi), with a night’s accommodation, all your food and drink and a train from a major city in Poland, the total will not even be more than 250 złotych!
2.Do It Alone on a Day Trip From a Polish city
Doing it alone by Polski Bus or train from the city you are based in on a day trip is the real saver. You will be able to have all your food and drink and a train/bus return from a major city in Poland, plus the taxi from Kętrzyn and back and the total will not even be more than 150 złotych. But it means an early start and a late finish, but that’s what you expect.
However, as you know I am a travel writer and I like to explore and spend a few days in an area, so I went for option 1 over a night and day and the taxi in option 5.
My Taxi Journey to Wolf’s Lair near Kętrzyn
So finally I realised it was option 5 – taxi from Kętrzyn. You can easily get a taxi driver to take you there from central Kętrzyn. The journey will take around 20 – 25 minutes maximum as I recall (it’s about 10 – 13 kilometres) and it’s on a meter. The maximum cost should be 40 złotych (£8 – 9), minimum should be 28 złotych (£6). So for me, less than £8 to get there was fine. My taxi driver spoke little English so we spoke in Polish and were able to have a good conversation. The journey in Autumn time was pleasant.
Arrival at Wolf’s Lair near Kętrzyn
On arrival you will be at the checkpoint and entrance, where there is a carved wooden wolf here and a barrier. In front of it sits the hut where you pay for your ticket. It cost me 15złotych. Your ticket is just a receipt, a piece of paper. This includes one day entrance to the entire complex. The venue is generally open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But please do check in advance and I reckon on holidays it will be closed completely.
Once beyond the barrier there is a car park and a huge map. The map is where you get your bearings and decide on your route. The map is in three languages – Polish, German and English.
Choices for touring Wolf’s Lair near Kętrzyn
All in all you have two choices once you get here.
1.Walk round yourself.
2.Pay for a guide.
Paying for a Guide
You can pay for a guide. It’s up to you. A Polish guide costs 50złotych. A foreign language speaking guide costs 80złotych. The languages include English, Russian, German and French. However it’s not that busy a place. It’s in a remote forest here. So if you want to make sure they have a tour guide for you in your language, get in touch in advance through the official Wolf’s Lair website. I wasn’t bothered with having a guide. As a travel writer, I normally love to do my own research as I often forget what guides tells me if I don’t write it down.
So I didn’t want or need a guide. I took one at Auschwitz in 2015 as it felt like it was worth it. Since then I backpacked to Stutthof and Majdanek without a guide. Again today at Wolf’s Lair I felt like I didn’t need or want a guide . Instead I bought a guidebook (in English as my Polish is still A2- level) and would use this on my route. You can buy the guidebook in the small shop at the entrance, or when it’s closed – at the hotel reception. They are available in multiple languages. Mine cost a mere 5złotych.
A bit of background about Wolf’s Lair/ Wolfschanze/ Wilczy Szaniec
Wolf’s Lair (in German: Wolfsschanze; in Polish: Wilczy Szaniec) was a top secret, high security German Nazi site based at Gierłoż Forest in the Masurian woods about 8 kilometres (5miles) east of the small Polish (formerly East Prussian) town of Kętrzyn (earlier known as Rastenburg). This tranquil Forest was notoriously chosen as Adolf Hitler’s first Eastern Front military headquarters in World War II for many reasons – location, wilderness, obscurity, camouflageness. From above it just looks like a forest, the bunkers are not so obvious as the tall trees hide them and nature covered a lot of the concrete.
The complex, which became one of several German Nazi Führerhauptquartiere (Führer Headquarters) in various parts of eastern Europe, was built for the start of Operation Barbarossa – the invasion of the Soviet Union – in 1941. It was constructed by Organisation Todt. Hitler and his men lived here and the entire base was guarded by personnel from the SS Reichssicherheitsdienst and the Wehrmacht’s armoured Führerbegleitbrigade.
Hitler first arrived at the headquarters on 23 June 1941. In total, he spent more than 800 days at the Wolfsschanze during a 3½-year period until his final departure on 20 November 1944. In mid-1944, work began to enlarge and reinforce many of the Wolf’s Lair original buildings. The work was never completed because of the rapid advance of the Red Army during the Baltic Offensive in late 1944. On 25 January 1945, the complex was blown up and abandoned 48 hours before the arrival of Soviet forces.
Why is it called Wolf’s Lair????
I also learned something new – the reason for the name. Wolfsschanze is derived from “Wolf”, a self-adopted nickname of Hitler. He began using the nickname in the early 1930s for HIMSELF and it was often how he was addressed by those in his intimate circle. “Wolf” was used in several titles of Hitler’s headquarters throughout occupied Europe, such as Wolfsschlucht I and II in Belgium and France and Werwolf in Ukraine. The name is therefore a red herring as I didn’t see any wolves wandering here. Although the standard translation in English is “Wolf’s Lair,” a Schanze (lair) in German denotes a sconce, redoubt or temporary fieldwork rather than a “lair”. A few wooden wolves are present on entrance to add to the nickname of the base.
Hitler’s Attempted Assassination at Wolf’s Lair
Despite the huge security, the second and most notable assassination attempt against Hitler was made at the Wolf’s Lair on 20th July 1944 by Claus Graf Schenk von Stauffenberg. Von Stauffenberg was a German resistant army chief of staff who tried to kill Hitler on 15th July 1944. After the failed attempt, he tried again 5 days later. He entered through an airfield at 10.15 am on the morning of 20th July 1944 and attended a conference with Hitler at 12.30 pm armed with a bomb in a briefcase. He leaves the bomb in the briefcase and leaves the room with an excuse. The bomb went off and killed 4 German Nazis – Berger, Schmudt, Korten and Brandt. Hitler, only two seats away from Korten, survived. Von Stauffenberg was later arrested and assassinated by the Nazi Germans in Berlin on his return.
My Tour of Wolf’s Lair / Wilczy Szaniec / Wolfschanze
Before entering the walking trail I head to the Hotel to get my guidebook and have a look around. The Hotel is of course a new building, or at least a well renovated part of the bunker style buildings here. And no, it didn’t alarm me to see commercialism here. Nowadays there is a cafe and restaurant and a bar to accompany the Hotel Wilczy Szaniec.
Why was it OK to see a hotel here? Because this isn’t the same as Majdanek, Auschwitz or Stutthof – this place was where the killers hid and planned. It doesn’t have the death like shake to the bone that German Death Camps have. No shiver runs down my spine, yet. It’s not a death camp in that people were not worked to death here. It’s a hideout for those that caused all those deaths. It was a cosy hangout for killers, manipulators, controllers and pure evil. Not dissimilar to the mindset of the wannabe world leader and GuruGod who stalked my friends my family and I for the previous year. I despise people who try to control the lives of others, in any way. Pure vile and hatred at work here.
I try to forget those nasty people I met on my journey but it’s hard here. Knowing I met people who could also do this harm to humans. Mental harm will always be worse for me than physical. I broke my arm and my leg on my journeys. I smiled and loved it. Life improved. In mental health there is no improvement or fix unless people tell the truth. I love honesty, purity and peace. It never gets me down. I abhorr lies, liars, hatred and war. We’re haunted.
“If this is peace, what are we to class as war” – Northern Irish person responding to the aftermath of the Omagh bomb in 1998.
I used my guide booklet to walk my way around the forest and “sights” on the list. There are three coloured routes in red, yellow and blue. I had time so I did almost every point on all three routes. If you are pushed for time I recommend the red route. It’s the most obvious route to take. Everything is numbered and well explained in your guidebook.
I also decided to start at number 1 (the hotel is actually number 1) on the list at the entrance. And work my way obviously through the “sights”.
Best Time of Year to Visit?
For me the best time of year to go to Wilczy Szaniec in Gierłoż Forest near Kętrzyn is Autumn. I might be biased as I love the Autumn season with the leaves falling. It brings me a sense of peace. I was there in mid October 2017.
I continued through numbers 1 – 12 in the knowledge that number 13 was coming. Number 13 on the list is Hitler’s Bunker…
Unlucky 13 Hitler’s Bunker
And there it is. In all its mossy ugly concrete glory. I come face to face with the devil himself. But today no Asshole Austrian German Nazi war machine. Just a church inspired backpacking Northern Irishman In Poland with a camera a map and a new sense of freedom.
I smell the fear and evil in my mind. I veer onto his lair. I take a step back. More photos and self portraits for you and I. Then it’s time to move on. Goodbye Hitler. Goodbye commanding GuruGods. We will never meet again.
The Leaf of Prosperity
But something incredible happens. Thanks to God. God knows the truth. He knows. He saw what Hitler and his gang did. He knows.
He also knows about the liars and GuruGods who tried to ruin my life.
And through this, God sends me a message here.
Probably the most spiritual message I’ve ever had.
As I turn and walk away from Hitler’s bunker I hear a soft noise overhead.
It can’t be a human as there are no others in sight.
It must be nature.
I stop and there right in front of me a leaf is falling.
Nonchalantly I put my right hand out in front of me.
This is spiritual.
The Leaf lands calmly and safely in the palm of my hand.
There is no wind to blow it.
It fell naturally.
It landed exactly on my palm.
I’ve got the leaf.
It was a message from God.
I feel so spiritual.
“Tell me your story baby” – Manic Street Preachers.
Of all the places in the world this could have happened, it happened immediately within seconds of leaving Hitler’s bunker. It’s the only time in my life I have ever caught a leaf. It’s the only time in my life that a leaf has fallen in front of me and landed directly in my palm. It was odd but it was a defining moment in my selfish life as it meant something to me, in the loneliness of this forest.
“My spirit has been purified” – Oasis.
Thanks be to God.
“Light my candles in a daze because I found God” – Kurt Cobain.
The rest of my tour seems irrelevant now. Spiritually I had already gained something of pure magic and a sign of peace and calm amongst this vile hatred. I was lost for words but I still toured the rest of the complex and took a load more photos. Here are some of them.
Restaurant, Hotel and Getting Back to Kętrzyn
After all that I then needed to get back to Kętrzyn. Wolf’s Lair was cold, quiet and lonely. I saw one other tour group that day. Nobody saw or noticed me. So I headed into the Hotel Bar for a hot cup of Earl Grey Tea and to make my travel notes and rest my mind.
After having my tea, I needed to get back and decided to ask the bar lady if she could arrange a taxi or give me a lift, or if I waited till the staff finish maybe I could pay one of them to take me back. Polish hospitality is one of the best in the world. Within minutes one of the guys came over and offered me a lift back to Kętrzyn in his car. I gave him 20 złotych even though I didn’t need to.
As we drove out onto the main road and away from Hitler’s Wolf’s Lair, I knew, as I always do that I won’t be back there nor do I want to be.
And in my pocket, I had a leaf.
My leaf of peace and prosperity.
“Great God who knowest all our need. Bless thou our watch and guard our sleep” – Vesper Hymn.
Here are the details of where Wolf’s Lair is:
http://wolfsschanze.pl/ – Official Website
Wolf’s Lair Wikipedia
Here are some videos of my trip of Wolf’s Lair near Kętrzyn: