The Masurian Lake District is best known for its awe-inspiring natural beauty created by undulating landscapes dotted with the region’s famous lakes. Visitors typically visit this region of Poland to relax and unwind in nature’s playground, with watersports, horse-riding, trekking, and other outdoor pursuits in abundance. Mazury is not typically on the trail of those looking to discover history, except perhaps a flying visit to the Wolf’s Lair if you happen to be passing. However, within the Mazury area is an abundance of World War II history, most notably in the prolific Nazi bunkers of the region.
Harrowing, thought-provoking, intriguing and more, these Nazi bunkers are increasingly being accessed by the public. There are those centred around Wolf’s Lair itself, but with a little looking you can find bunkers that are more intact and tell the tale of this part of history.
The Masurian Lake District and World War II
This region of Poland was immensely important during the Second World War, being the strategic headquarters of the Eastern Front. The result is that dotted all around the region is evidence of this time. You’ll find bunkers that are intact, bunkers that are ruined, an unfinished canal, and of course the infamous Wolf’s Lair. It is here that various decisions affecting the whole world were made. Indeed, it is precisely because of the geographical nature of the region, that it was used by the Nazis in this way. The hills and lakes formed part of the East Prussian Defense System. War here was a complex affair because of the lakes, rivers and forests. This is why the region between Lake Sasek Wielki and Lake Nidzkie saw most of the bunkers and Nazi presence. It was their hiding spot yet close to the heart of the action.
The Hidden Bunkers of Mazury
In the Spychowo District of Masuria, there is a tourist trail showcasing some of the fortifications and bunkers of the Nazi regime during World War Two. It’s becoming increasingly popular and is definitely worth discovering. The bunkers are hidden within the Szczycieńska Forest. In fact, the route isn’t a traditional tourist route at all, but is cleared by foresters, and it’s thanks to these dedicated individuals that you can explore today. In total it’s about 5km of walking.
You’ll find the start of the trail not far from the village of Potom. Don’t expect the tourist transformations that you’ve likely experienced in other, more well-known, parts of Poland. However, don’t let this put you off. What you’ll find in the hidden bunkers of Mazury are really in tune with how the passage of time has treated these relics, and somehow it makes them all the more powerful.
It’s incredible that you can now visit these bunkers. They were overgrown and being taken by the forest, but this is an important part of history we don’t want to lose. The local villagers have worked to restore the interiors, cut back the forest from the immediate surrounds, and even expose some of the original trenches.
Preparing For Your Visit
If you’re coming by car then it’s sensible to park in Potom. From here you can follow signs to the start of the trail. Bring a torch, and make sure you’re wearing sturdy footwear, as the ground underfoot is uneven, and there’s plenty of slippery moss! This is a true forest path.
Nonetheless, along the route you will find information boards that lure you closer with the history being retold. You’ll begin to understand the important defensive position this area held as well as the purpose of each of the bunkers.
Within the bunkers themselves are displays that show what the bunkers would have looked and felt like during World War II, both in terms of weaponry and the soldiers in position. It’s easy to imagine yourself there, and the feelings are mixed and confusing to say the least.
What is there to see?
Visitors to the hidden bunkers of Mazury can see a range of bunkers and learn about the differing history and purpose of each in an open air style museum. There are bunkers which served as shelters from battle. These passive bunkers were designed to protect the infantry in the area from enemy fire. There is also an anti-tank dugout, dating from 1944, as well as the numerous ‘kock pots’ which were concrete cooking spots serving the plethora of military in the area.
When the Nazis first made this such important place, the buildings were made of brick, and even wood. What you see now is the plethora of later replacements made of concrete which were modernised, reinforced, and later expanded. Construction of the shelters was still going on in 1944, and in fact some of the bunkers were never completed.
When people think of World War II they will often think of the infamous Wolf’s Lair. This is the place that Hitler lived during most of the War, and as such is a prominent place on the map of history, and made up of over 80 buildings. It’s not far from the Masurian Lake District, just to the east of Ketrzyn, and is open daily from 8am until dusk, so easily accessible for a visit.
Interestingly, it’s often enroute to the Wolf’s Lair that visitors realise there is more than just the most famous Nazi bunker, as on the road side here you’ll be able to spot signs for other hidden bunkers.
For those looking to completely immerse themselves in WWII history you can stay at Wolf’s Lair in part of the original headquarters in a basic hotel, or on the campsite. Furthermore the restaurant is in Hitler’s former personal security headquarters. There is no escaping the Nazi feel.
If you’re looking for more from your trip to Hitler’s Lair then there is a unique opportunity to take aim in General Jodl’s Staff Bunker and have a go with the replica WWII weapons and guns. Visitors during the summer months can also climb aboard a military truck or German VW Kurierwagen to explore the surrounding bunkers.
In 1945 Hitler ordered the SS troops to completely destroy the Wolf’s Lair, which they did with intense ferocity. It is therefore even more harrowing and intriguing, but really begs you to visit some of the other, more complete, bunkers of the Mazury region.