Wolf's Lair. Visiting Hitler's secret headquarters in the far north of Poland.


In the forests of northern Poland, just 10km from the Russian border, lie the remains of Hitler's secret war headquarters. Despite the Nazi's own attempts to blow up the site as Soviet forces approached in January 1945 many buildings are in a reasonable state of repair. Walls made of thick reinforced concrete, and its remote location, have ensured one of the more unusual remnants of the Second World War is still standing.

In 1940 Hitler was spending a lot of time and energy on planning the invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa, and decided Berlin was too far from where the action was going to take place. Hitler liked to be in close contact with his Generals and had already overseen the invasion of France from Felsennest close to the French border. 


Hitler also wanted the building to be top secret, he was becoming paranoid about Allied attacks, as well as possible attempts on his life, although ironically the most well known of these was actually occurred at Wolf's Lair. 

Work began at the end of 1940, and within six months the purpose built military headquarters was completed. Surrounded by trees, with small gardens planted on top of the bunkers, it was perfectly camouflaged. 

The Allies never bombed it, although they often sent reconnaissance planes to try and find it. Equipped with its own railway station and nearby airfield it became a small functioning city, housing over 2,000 people.


Hitler spent over 800 days here during the war, it quickly became his main headquarters. As his nickname among his inner circle was Wolf, the top echelon of Nazi's based here started to refer to the concrete bunkers as the Wolf's Lair, a name which stuck.

The Fuhrer would have felt safe here, with food tasters ensuring that his bland vegetarian meals were not poisoned, and the site being extremely well guarded, with landmines located outside three concentric fenced zones, and protection by his own elite brigade.  


The two metre (six feet walls) which housed his bunker and its myriad of rooms would have added to that feeling of security, but it was this last point which almost proved his undoing.

On the 20th July 1944 Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg was attending a meeting at the Wolf's Lair. In his briefcase he carried a powerful bomb. Most meetings were held inside Hitler's bunker but due to some renovations, and the warm weather, a late decision was made to move the meeting to a nearby hut. This saved Hitler's life. 

The bomb exploded damaging the hut badly, and killing four officers, but only wounding Hitler. If the bomb had gone off in the confined concrete bunker it would have certainly have killed the Nazi leader. 


Little remains of the hut where the assassination attempt took place. The remains were demolished soon after, and now only the concrete floor and a small memorial to Von Stauffenberg remain. Reports are that the Polish government wants to rebuild the hut in the near future.

Getting to the Wolf's Lair was easy for Hitler. He flew from Berlin, while the administrative staff caught the train. The airport is no longer used, and although the train line still exists, the station has been abandoned. There are day tours from Warsaw, which would be pretty exhausting with up to ten hours in the car, and do not come cheap, particularly if you are not travelling in a group.

The easiest way for me was to catch train from Warsaw Central to Olsztyn. A cheap, comfortable and easy three hour journey, which was perfect for me in my jetlagged state, having flown in from Sydney the previous day. The idea of driving direct from Warsaw did not appeal, not just the long drive both ways, but also the idea of navigating the busy streets of the Polish capital so soon after arrival in the country.


Olsztryn is a provincial city. laid back with a few sites of its own. Wolf's lair is only an hour away on a direct road, perfect for a stress free introduction driving in Poland, at least as soon as you realise no one seems to obey the speed limit and you will get honked and tailgated if you do.

Wolf's Lair is open from 8AM to 8PM in summer, and entrance is a reasonable 15 Zloty per person, with 25 Zloty for parking. However, I would recommend staying overnight. There is an old Nazi barrack building which has been converted into a cheap and comfortable hotel on site. 

Although in fitting with its surrounds it has not joined the internet age and has no website or presence on booking.com. 


Run by the local government, a room is approximately 100 Zloty per night. An email to wilczyszaniec@olsztyn.lasy.gov.pl allow you to book in advance (they respond pretty quickly during weekdays). 

It is pretty small hotel so it is best not to just to turn up as it will probably be fully booked. Quiet, compact, and with a basic restaurant, and  bar with local beer served downstairs, what more could you want?

Well, there are other great advantages to staying at the Wolf's Lair Hotel.  A cost saving one is that a booking there gets you into the site without either admission or car charges. But the best advantage is that you get the whole site to yourself. You are free to wander around at any time. 

                 

The decaying buildings are particularly impressive and photogenic in the early morning, and totally eerie and unforgettable at night, accompanied by a torch and a hip flask of local vodka.

Signs advise you that it is not safe to enter any building. You can, of course, ignore these warnings at your own risk. The buildings are in various states of disrepair but no access is actually blocked, and, at least when the site is officially closed, there are no officials wandering around informing you of the rules.

Wolf's Lair remains one of the most impressive, and far flung, World War II sites that I have ever visited.



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