We traveled on through the green pastures and endless rows of trees, eagerly awaiting our destination – Wolf’s Lair. Many of us recalled the historical site from the movie Valkyrie, a 2008 film featuring Tom Cruise, which focused on the failed attempt of Claus Stauffenberg (and his co-plotters) to assassinate Hitler. Most people think that Hitler was in Berlin during the war, however, most of the time he was in this place. His base was extremely well fortified and camouflaged by fake foliage to become immersed in the surrounding forest. Remnants of netting and plastic leaves on the trees were visible from the trail as we entered the area.
A large map displaying the schematics of the lair was posted at the entrance. Professor O’Sullivan immediately seized the opportunity to share with us the story behind the site and translate the display. After a thorough lecture and a series of questions from the group, we proceeded onto the trail hoping to meet our tour guide. We did meet her as well as mosquitoes that greeted us with gusto throughout the bulk of journey through the bunker site, requiring a series of bug spray showers every few meters.
Our guide, Jadwiga, was a passionate, humorous (sassy, even – see the video page), and extremely knowledgeable source for the physical site as well as the details of the assassination plot. She would intersperse her information with anecdotes that don’t usually appear in our textbooks, and that was quite refreshing and kept us attentive. Did you know that Hitler suffered from “gastric disturbances”? She told us, with particular relish, “He farted like a pig!” Not that we know how that sounds, but it definitely painted a picture!
From Jadwiga we learned how Poles, who now are in charge of these ruins and this whole formerly-German lake region, use dark humor and games to exult in the eventual victory over Hitler.
Lots of the buildings were half-destroyed and leaning to the side, only “supported” by what appeared to be bundles of sticks. We later found out that these sticks are placed there by Poles who choose a stick size according to the wish: a small stick means all your dreams will come true, a medium stick means you will come back to Poland (Aren't they already in Poland? We didn’t really understand that one), and the large stick meant you will have a good marriage.
|venturing under concrete-reinforced buildings|
The site was full of what appeared to be ruins from an ancient civilization; however, we knew that the Germans had occupied these buildings no more than 70 years ago. It gave us an eerie feeling to walk on the same footpaths that Hitler had taken not so long ago. It was one thing to learn about the events and read them in a book, but being there was an intense experience. The departing Germans followed a “scorched earth” policy, meaning that they wrecked everything so their opponents could not benefit. We explored and entered a few of the buildings that had managed to survive the destruction. Most of the rooms were dark and cold with stalactites of calcium deposits dripping down from the ceiling. The ground was rough and uneven and large fragments of fallen walls and ceilings formed all sorts of obstacles as we walked.
|Adam chose to test those limits.|
Jadwiga told us the purpose of each building – dining hall, conference rooms, ammunition warehouse, summer residence, etc. – and the places where the high ranking officers and infamous people in power resided. Even here, where Hitler’s closest associates were gathered around him, there were places off-limits to many.
Like all of our intensive experiences, we followed it with a meal. We found a single restaurant in a nearby town and gobbled delicious Polish foods way too fast. Then we returned to Folwark Lekuk.
|Folwark and the dreaded pirate kayakers|
Most of us went kayaking. Paired up, two to a kayak, each couple was distinct in their conquest of the lake: some sped on ahead and showed off, another couple (“the pirates”) got sidetracked by the wind, and some made intimate acquaintance with spiders when they veered into the reeds. It was an exhilarating contrast to the somber reality of the morning’s lesson.
For dinner, everyone gathered around a campfire next to lake. The sun was still shining at 8 p.m. as we all admired the vegetables that had been arranged for us and the sausages that were there to roast over the open fire. Full of food, exhausted from the exciting day, we all crawled back to our den for a good night's sleep.