Wolf’s Lair: Hitler’s Bunker in Poland

I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.  It is 7:00am on a cold April morning in Warsaw.  I’m standing on the sidewalk holding my backpack like if I’m ready to hitchhike with the first car that pulls over.  I’m not.  I’m waiting for Anna from Intopoland to pick me up to go to WolfsschanzeWolf’s Lair– in Ketrzyn, Poland.

Wolf's Lair Bunker, Poland

Wolf’s Lair partially destroyed bunker

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Wolf’s Lair was Adolf Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia. Hitler spent nearly half of World War II (over 800 days) in this compound, which contains over 80 buildings including massive bunkers for high-ranking German Officials like Göring, Bormann, and Hitler, among others. It was here where decisions like the construction of the death camps and the fate of many European nations were made..

The 250-km-four-hour ride from Warsaw to Ketrzyn crosses through some of the most beautiful countryside, stuck-in-time villages and untouched valleys.  This is the Poland that is rarely seen and visited.  The farthest I am from Warsaw, the more foreign it feels.

Mazurian Forest, Ketrzyn, Poland

Mazurian Forest – Entrance to Wolf’s Lair, once filled with over 10,000 land mines

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It’s almost 11:00am and I am now at the Mazurian Lakes.  Getting close.  I feel like we are entering a once forbidden place.  I start looking very attentive to every detail as we whoosh through the forested rural road that leads to the compound.  The tall evergreen trees, the dark ground once covered with thousands of land mines, the desolate environment, the steel and concrete debris; all strange to me, yet somewhat familiar.  I am exploring the place I’ve seen through images and movies like Valkyrie.

Inside the compound I meet Jadwiga –a Wolf’s Lair local expert.  Today I’m her only visitor.  I feel special.  The place is all mine.

“Ready to see Wolf’s Lair? Jadwiga says to me with her accented English.

“Hell yeah!” I reply with a big smile.

“Since you are alone I’m going to give you a special tour.”

My lack of words betrays my serious composure and reveals my uncontrollable excitement.  I feel like a kid, unearthing treasures in a secret playground.

We head towards the remnants of the Situation Conferences Barrack.  This is where Col. Claus von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler during Operation Valkyrie (as seen in Valkyrie, the movie).  There are barely a few recognizable structural elements on the ground and a plaque that memorializes the act of von Stauffenberg.

Von Stauffenberg Memorial at Wolf's Lair, Poland

Von Stauffenberg Memorial at Wolf’s Lair

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As we continue and head towards the main bunkers area, I am stunned with the scenery.  No single bunker survived intact the German self-attack.  Every single of the over 30 bunkers were cracked from floor to ceiling, caved in, or completely obliterated by dynamite explosions.  You can only imagine the destructive force necessary to raze these 5 meters thick reinforced concrete walls.

I try to imagine this place as it once was before its destruction in January 1945.  That’s the time when Hitler ordered the SS troops to destroy this compound with high explosives to prevent its capture and use by the Red Army.  After the war, locals plundered the ruins leaving only the massive broken figures that today still cast the ghostly shadow of a dark moment in human history.

Destroyed Bunker at Wolf's Lair, Poland

Destroyed Bunker – see the walls leaning out and the roof caved in

Wolf's Lair Bunker

“Interior” of a Bunker

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“You chose the perfect time to come to visit.” Jadwiga tells me, as she continues, “The weather is not too cold and the deciduous trees have no leaves.  You can see the bunkers without the foliage cover.”

Nature has taken over this place, covering paved streets with layers of dirt and dry leaves, and complementing its concrete walls with muss and creeper.

Bunker after bunker I get a better understanding of the immensity of this compound and of the vast destruction left behind by the Germans.  The only habitable structure is the former headquarters for Hitler’s personal security, which today is a small hotel and restaurant.

Hitler's Bunker at Wolf's Lair

Hitler’s Bunker at Wolf’s Lair

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We continue walking until we get to Führer Bunker –Hitler’s Personal Bunker.  It is the biggest building in the complex.  Surprisingly, its exterior still stands with some noticeable cracks and damage, but its interior is completely destroyed.  Oddly this is bunker #13.

We enter the bunker.  It is dark, cold, and humid.  The walls are full of sweat.  The sound of the water drops echoes on the empty space.  As I make my way inside, it is impossible for me to recognize whether the remaining debris and fragments were once part of the wall, ceiling, or floor.  The interior is obliterated; the environment, ominous.

Internal Stair at Wolf's Lair Bunker

Internal Stair at Wolf’s Lair Bunker

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As we exit Hitler’s bunker, crossing through one of the crumbled thick walls that is almost laying flat on the ground, Jadwiga offers me a piece of a slightly discolored yellow tile that belonged to the Bunker’s Kitchen.  I’m astounded by this act.  She is giving me a unique souvenir.

We head towards the back of the complex and we enter another partially destroyed bunker.  This one belonged to Göring –Hitler’s appointed successor.  Once inside I see a massive concrete wall that has tipped over to the outside and an iron ladder right above it.

Inside Goring's Bunker

Inside Goring’s Bunker

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“Want to go up to the roof?”

“Can I?” I reply somewhat confused.

“Yes, that’s the special part for you.”

Not many visitors get to climb to the roof through the unsafe rusted iron ladder, but she thinks I’m fit and capable of accomplishing this.

She goes up first and I follow.  Once I have a solid footing on the crumbling roof, I take notice of the flak towers that once housed anti-aircraft machine guns that once protected the compound and of the massive and organization of this place.  All around me I see miles and miles of forest.  This place is well hidden.

Goring's Bunker at Wolf's Lair

Climbing the ladder outside Goring’s Bunker

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Back on the ground, safe and sound, we walk back towards the main entrance.  Two hours have passed since we started, and I still feel like I want more.  Walking through this abandoned destruction has moved, thrilled, and amazed me beyond my expectations.  I have enough to “digest” during my four hours journey back to Warsaw.

Hitler's Bunker at Wolf's Lair, Poland

In front of Hitler’s Bunker

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Comments

  1. Adam says

    Very cool experience and fantastic pictures you got here. How lucky to be alone and have it all to yourself. I would imagine getting to climb up and get a different vantage point was amazing, too. This is an area of the world we have never been to, but it looks amazing!

    • Norbert says

      It was very cool! Yes, the view from the top was somewhat surreal; like looking at an abandoned city eaten by the forest. Poland is a great place to go. It has so many overlooked sights that are well worth visiting.

    • Norbert says

      Thanks John! I’m also very interested in WWII history. I haven’t been to Eagle’s Nest yet, but it will be one of my stops when I go to Austria. :)

      • Ash says

        The Eagles Nest is Magnificent the views are something else – thanks for posting this and the photos my girlfriends family is 90 km south of here and I am looking fwd to seeing the place . Ash

    • Norbert says

      It was an incredible yet strange experience. At first I didn’t know how to react to it by how overwhelming and ominous it felt. Being there and gives you that eerie feeling that makes you reflect on the incomprehensible things that happened there.

      I still keep the piece of tile. It is a bit dirty and the glossy coat is all worn out due to the years of harsh weather. I consider this a unique souvenir to keep! :)

  2. jade says

    “Since you’re alone, we are going to give you a special tour”- Music to my ears! I love when I’m all alone somewhere. I bet that also added to the experience of the trip. I’ve heard of this place, but have never seen any first hand experience or photos from it. very interesting!

    • Norbert says

      I too love it when I do tours by myself! Guides are usually are more flexible and tend to interact better with you. Having the place for myself added a lot to the experience. It was easier for me to experiment, reflect, and to experience things without anyone spoiling it. :) It felt like I was rediscovering something.

  3. Sarah Wu says

    That is one really interesting trip that I would like to go, not that I’m a Hitler’s person. I think it’s a interesting sight to see. You seem quite enjoyable in those shots lol.

    • Norbert says

      hahaha! You don’t need to be a Hitler person to find this place interesting. There is so much history hidden here that anyone can enjoy a visit to this place. I did enjoyed it a lot. This place was really high on my European Bucket List. It was hard to get there… but it was way worth it!

  4. Siddhartha Joshi says

    WOW…what a post man! You were so lucky to be alone that day. Completely enjoyed the narration, I could feel your excitement as well.

    The surrounding areas look pretty, but somehow it all reeks of death. Or maybe thats just in the mind…

    • Norbert says

      Thanks Sid! Well, the area has a gloomy quality by itself. But when you add the psychological baggage of knowing what happened there, that’s when it feels very eerie. Still, I loved the experience!

    • Norbert says

      Thanks you so much Dave and Deb! Yes, although it is somewhat hard to reach and far from the city, I recommend anyone who goes to Poland to visit this place. It is a unique experience and it’s still very crude and real as to how it was left after the war.

    • Norbert says

      Yes, this history happened just a little over 60 years ago! It was so huge and it is still fresh in the minds of many. I would love to visit Berchtesgaden Bunker!

  5. Lisa E @chickybus says

    I absolutely loved this…..it really gave me the chills! I’m definitely interested in Hitler/WWII and am fascinated by this type of stuff. When I was in Berlin, I took a great tour of the city and stood above his bunker there (I’ve heard you can enter it now, but I’m not sure.)

    The way you described the Wolf’s Lair put me right there–and that’s the kind of post I enjoy reading. How awesome that you stepped off the beaten path and traveled back in time. Great experience!

    • Norbert says

      Thank you so much Lisa! Good to see you around. It was a great experience. I too have a huge interest in WWII history. Every time I have the chance to visit a WWII sight I go there to have a perspective of what happened there and when. Such a huge moment in history and so complex.

      Sadly, I missed his Bunker in Berlin. Didn’t have the time. But I’ll make sure I go there next time. :)

    • Norbert says

      Definitely. If you get to Poland this year, take a full day to go there (4 hour drive each way). I recommend you contact Anna from IntoPoland. She is very nice and to my best knowledge (from my previous research to go there) she is the only tour guide who is willing to go so far out of Warsaw to take you there.

  6. Dylan says

    Amazing account, more beautiful vivid photography still! Would love to go back to Poland for another history lesson – this period is what I studied at college – and whilst I’ve been to Auschwitz, I’ve never been to the Wolf’s Lair.

    And I can well imagine the Lair being surrounded by a sinister aura, much like the one I felt in Auschwitz.

    • Norbert says

      Thanks Dylan. Yes, Wolf’s has somewhat of a sinister aura but it is different from Auschwitz. In my opinion Auschwitz is very dark and heavy, where Wolf’s is more mysterious and somewhat scary.

    • Norbert says

      Christy, the inside of those bunkers are somewhat creepy and scary. I think I also added some creepiness to it since I was practically alone (like in the horror movies). It is completely dark, wet, unstable, and everything is crumbling down. It is a unique experience!

    • Norbert says

      Sure Michael. When you go to Poland, if you have the time, venture north to the small villages and Wolf’s Lair. That’s a Poland that is rarely seen.

  7. Suzy says

    Poland is definitely high on my travel list. From your descriptions, this area of the world sounds even more intriguing. It is nice you had the tour all to yourself. I can only imagine how eerie it would feel to wander around Hitler’s former hang out.

    • Norbert says

      I couldn’t believe how intriguing Poland is, yet how little we know about them and all those places. I’m so glad I had the tour all to myself, I think it added to the experience. :)

  8. Anna says

    What a great post! It’s almost year when we met:-) I’m really happy I could assist and it’s a very nice feeling to read about it now. Thank you and good luck!

    • Norbert says

      Hi Anna!! So glad to see you around and thank you for your comment! Definitely, your help made this experience so memorable, I’m so grateful for what you did. My recommendations for you are endless! :)

      Good luck to you too! And hopefully we’ll see each other in the future!

  9. Paula says

    Hi, Norbert. I’m about to go to Poland and almost booking all the way with IntoPoland agency. Do you recomend it? Can it be trusted? The reason for my fear (of being robbed): they ask me to pay 100% before the trip .What do you think? Should I go for it?

    • Norbert says

      Hi Paula –
      So great you’re going to Poland! it is a great country that is heavily underrated. I do recommend IntoPoland. I went to the Wolf Lair with them and they were excellent all the way. There’s a chance that Anna will be the one taking there from Warsaw. They are a reputable (licensed) company in Poland, so I don’t think there should be any fear of getting robbed of that 100% deposit. In my opinion, go for it!! Once you’re at the Wolf Lair, you’ll be glad you went with it. :) Let me know if you have any other questions about IntoPoland or Wolf Lair.

  10. Angela says

    Hi Norbert,
    Im currently planning a trip out to Wolf Lair. Wondering if you thought 2 hours was enough on site or would longer have been better? Do you feel you saw it all?
    We are tossing up driving ourselves from Warsaw and staying overnight (to get a full day out there) or getting Anna to drive us (which means just 2 horus on site)…..
    Thanks!
    Angela

    • Norbert says

      Hi Angela –
      I believe 2 hours are fine to see the site. While the complex is pretty big, not all areas of the complex are open or accessible. What you’ll see is the central and main area, where the most important bunkers (and most impressive ones) are located. I personally felt satisfied with my time there and with the pace I went through it (including Jadwiga’s detailed explanation – she’s a great guide, by the way).

      If you prefer to stay longer and walk even farther, you can stay at the small inn that is located right at the site.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

      Cheers!
      Norbert

  11. Dean says

    Hi Norbert –
    Enjoyed your post & pictures. I too am a WWII buff, but have not yet had the privilege of visitng the Wolf’s Lair. In the interim, I have been putting together a photo album of the Wolf’s Lair complex using photos found online, including yours. The problem is identifying which structure is shown in many of the photos, and so I’m writing in the hope that you can help:
    Do you by any chance still have the pamphlet you got at the site identifying what each of the ruined structures was? I have a photograph of the painted wooden site map near the entrance, but the building numbers on it are illegible and the photo does not include the Legend on the right side. I need some key to the building numbers that are painted in yellow on or near each of the ruined buildings. A good photo of the table model of the complex in the Visitors’ Center would also be very helpful if it shows (any of) the building numbers. So would a closeup of the wooden site map just mentioned if the photo shows the individual building numbers.
    In addition, if I were to e-mail you some photos, do you think you would be able to identify from memory what ruined structure is shown in each? If so, please let me have the e-mail address you’d like me to use.
    A couple of final questions, also to help me identify the structures in certain photos:
    a. In your post, when you refer to Goering’s “bunker,” do you mean his air raid shelter (which I think is Building 16) as opposed to his residential quarters?
    b. I have some photos showing a huge concrete slab, apparaently a former bunker ceiling or wall, which is lying tilted at about a 45 degree angle. Many people have put sticks under it (which I understand to be a Polish “good luck ” custom), making it look almost like the concrete slab is being propped up by the sticks. Do you recall what structure that tilted slab belongs to?
    Many thanks for your help. Please feel free to e-mail me directly. I would be most appreciative of any assistance you can provide.
    – Dean Allison
    California, USA

    • Norbert says

      Hi Dean –
      Thank you so much! I enjoyed a lot visiting the Wolf’s Lair, and from what I see you will too! I’ll do my best to help you with your questions. While I still have the pamphlet, I do not carry it with me because I’m traveling at the moment. But, I do have two pictures of the map on site that I believe will help you identify some of the buildings. I will email them to you. Actually, the photos I have are of that same map you mentioned, but the numbers are legible and I included the legend. Sadly I don’t have any pictures of the model, but I believe the map will help.

      Sure, feel free to send me any pictures and I’ll do my best to identify them from memory. My email is norbert (at) globotreks (dot) com.

      On your other questions:
      a. It is his raid shelter, building #16. His house is #15 and located right next to the bunker.
      b. That one is Bunker C, Bormann’s Bunker. Yes, putting a stick under that specific wall is a Polish good luck tradition. I really don’t understand the meaning behind it, but it’s fun to take a picture putting a stick there. :)

      Feel free to email me any more questions you might have.

      Cheers!
      Norbert

      • Dean says

        Hey Norbert –

        Thanks so much for your reply. Between sending my questions and getting your reply, I figured out the answers to questions A & B on my own, from comparing 100′s of other people’s photos. Also, I have since found closeup shots of the wooden site map and its legend, with the writing legible, so that stuff is all taken care of.
        However, I’m still trying to identify the structures/locations shown in various photos and will send you those via separate e-mail for whatever assistance you can provide. Again, thanks very much for your help.
        Best wishes. Enjoy Belize – - I’ve been. Take the river cruise to see Morelet’s Crocodile, one of the rarest in the world. And enjoy the diving.
        – Dean

        • Norbert says

          oh, thanks Dean! Look forward to your email.
          Cool, you’ve been to Belize! I haven’t done the river cruise yet, so I need to check out the Morelet’s Crocs. I’ve enjoyed the diving… it’s the best! :)

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