I fell in love with Poland years ago. . . but first I fell in love with my wife. Ever since that first trip to meet her family for the first time, we have been following a pretty reliable travel schedule where we pass the winter holidays with her family every other year. Every time we are there I discover something else that is visually beautiful and often historically important.
Recently during one of our trips we spent some time in the Owl Mountains in Lower Silesia, where both of her parents grew up. Toward the end of WWII, below those mountains the Nazis were busy creating a network of tunnels. Project Riese (German for giant) was a network of tunnels that may have been intended as an escape route, but the details are unclear and some of the tunnels and their secrets have yet to be unearthed.
We toured two of the tunnel complexes Osówka, and Włodarz. Being underground always carries a somewhat otherworldly quality. I have toured a couple of mines here in the United States and also in Poland, I am not claustrophobic but it usually takes a few minutes for the mind to accept the many tonnes of earth above your head. But the historical context makes these passages even more strange and alien.
A literal river Styx has to be traveled through part of Complex Włodarz. Some of the tunnels are partially filled with water and our tour guide packed us into a tiny boat and pulled us through increasingly tight passages -- all hands were to be kept on the boat, to lazily rest them on the edge of the boat would be to guarantee the loss of some skin as the boat bumped rocky walls through some tighter stretches.
The real function of the tunnels may not have been an escape route. The underground areas are large enough to suggest that once completed it could have housed a city's worth of people. The tunnels were likely not a means to escape through to another place, but rather a place to escape to. As with much of history the specifics are fuzzy and the human mind fills in many blanks. The theories revolving what may or may not be hidden in some yet unearthed portion of the network include a train car filled with stollen gold.
More images from these tunnels can be seen through the link below: