After finding the castle in the bushes, Jean and I chatted with the elderly lady whose name was Erena. She showed us old pictures of Schosdorf in German times. She had lived in the village since 1953. She said her son had written a book about the village but the publishers rejected the manuscript. Erena said many old Germans who had worked in the castle occasionally visited. She also said, to my surprise, that it was not destroyed in the war, but afterwards. She said a conflict emerged involving the Russians, but I don’t know anything about this. Erena showed us an old cupboard inside her house. She said it had come from inside the castle post-Second World War. I was intrigued by all of this. I’d been aware that a piggery had existed in Schosdorf during the war. Erena revealed her house had been a piggery in the war! (with 30 pigs).

We swapped addresses, and I now have Erena’s son’s address. I’ll contact him to learn more. I’d not thought to ask Erena whether the castle played any role during the war, something I’d like to know. I asked Erena to organise copies of all the photos for me, and I gave her 20 Zlotys as payment. She said it was too much money, and I said it didn’t matter. I then gave her 20 more Zlotys as a present because I thought she deserved it. She said at 80 years old, it’s no life being on your own.

Later, I waded through the bush to the castle for one last look. It is disappointing that some locals have dumped lots of rubbish on the floor of the tower. I couldn’t enter. And the rubbish actually sounded a little like it was alive. And empty beer bottles here and there. I’d thought I’d left a map on the castle’s front step…but no.


18 June – I’ll never forget 18 June 2012. I got what I came for on this trip to Europe, and in coming to Poland. With a new clue as to the whereabouts of the castle that I’d wanted to see since I was a young kid, we set out. We crept along in our hire car in the area we thought it would be. I asked an old lady in her garden for help. Fortunately, she spoke rusty German. She showed me exactly where to go, pointing into dense bushland, covered by a canopy of tall trees that created darkness within. I moved inwards into very thick scrub, wrestling with thin tree branches and vines by the thousand. The ground under me was undulated and invisible, covered in fallen branches and undergrowth. I didn’t know where I was treading, but I kept moving anyway. With each step, I slid, cracked twigs, brushed against bushes, got scratched, and was stung by the odd stingy nettle, but I didn’t care. (I wore shorts and thongs, utterly the wrong footwear, but I had decided that if I’d worn sensible clothing, I’d have found nothing.) Jean didn’t follow, and I wasn’t surprised. Then, ahead of me, behind a curtain of natural greenery, I detected the outline of something large and man-made. “There’s something here!”, I called to Jean, who still didn’t follow. As I moved closer, it was like one’s first sighting of Titanic, an outline appearing of something lost and buried, now found.

The castle, what’s left of it, has been completely re-claimed by nature. It’s obscured by bush in most of the 60 photos I took. The back entrance is obvious, as is the tower which once supported a flag pole. You can also make out what were the rooms to the right of the front entrance. As I suspected, there was a cellar here, and an entrance to it in the back stair-well. The castle is on a hill, possibly the uppermost part of Ubocze (formerly Schosdorf), the front facing south-west. I did my best to pace out its length and breadth while negotiating undulations, vines and bushes.

It’s a pity this ruin is buried in the bush, reclaimed by nature, and almost forgotten. For now, I’m very glad to have seen it finally after all these years.

17 June – Frustrated with the disappointments of yesterday, we decided to visit the Czech Republic, especially since it’s so close. First, we headed south-east to Jelenia Gora. When we got there, we couldn’t find the centre of town, so we pressed on. As we neared the border, the soft, green undulations of south-west Poland gave way to a more mountainous landscape, carpeted by 30 metre high fir trees, packed tightly together, with long, thin trunks that followed the motorist along the windy roads. It was like driving through a beautiful, green tunnel of a thousand giant Christmas trees without the decorations. Here, we stopped at Szklarska Poreba, a lovely spot which reminded us of Betws-y-Coed in Wales. One shit coffee and tasteless tea later, we soon passed an abandoned border post, and found ourselves in the Czech Republic, country number 41 for me.

Further on, the Czech police flagged us down. Uh oh, we thought. But all they wanted was that we turn our headlights on. In broad daylight? OK.

We stopped in one town, but it looked like a real dive. We pressed on along Road 14 through Tanvald, Jablonic, around Liberec, and made our way to Frydlant, which sounded nice and looked good on the map. But it was another dive. We headed west into Poland again, turned right at Bogatynia, and drove north-east to Luban, and south-east back to our hotel. A round trip of a couple of hundred k’s at most. Arguably quite pointless, really.

17 June – I studied my 1952 US Army map of this immediate area of Lower Silesia again this afternoon. I spotted something which has given me a new clue as to the location of my elusive ruined castle. Tomorrow, we’ll try again.

17 June – Last night, we gathered in the hotel dining room with locals to watch the Poland v Czech Republic football match (Euro championship). A local drunk appeared early, bombastically sharing himself around the room, announcing his presence in every corner. He smashed a glass, but was not thrown out. He took his shirt off, and I thought “now he thinks he’s a player!”. Eventually, he approached our table. We said we were from Australia, and he said in English “Australia! Oh my God! Oh my God!”. Then he walked away. Back he came with a beer for both Jean and me, and, in fact, he bought a beer for everyone in the room! Incredibly, by the time the game started, he left!

A girl was painting the Polish flag on all her friends’ cheeks, so I asked her to do me too. Soon, we all stood for the Polish national anthem. The game began, and no one scored for a long time. It would have been really nice to have been in Poland with Polish locals present, draped in the red and white colours of their country, and to witness a Polish
victory. But it wasn’t to be. The game ended 1:0 to the Czech Repubic.

16 June – Here in this local area of south-west Poland, we’ve done everything we could to find traces of the ruin of the castle my great-grandfather, Felix Thode, lived in until 1884. The conclusion we’ve reached is that it is nowhere to be seen. I have with me several pictures of the castle intact and others of it in ruins. Two separate sources have said firmly that the ruins are of another castle at Rajsko, some distance away, not at the village of Ubocze, which was known as Schosdorf in German times. Our castle was in Schosdorf. A map indicates one ‘ruiny palacu’ (ruined palace) near a certain intersection in Ubocze. We’ve driven by several times and seen nothing. In fact, in a spot near the intersection, there is indeed a ruined building which could be a possible remnant of the castle, although it’s almost on top of someone’s property. An old woman sat right by this ruin. I showed her pictures, and said “Ruiny palacu?”. But she sat stony faced with lips shut. Eventually, she called out to someone who never came. I asked “Ruiny palacu?” to others in Ubocze, who gave me rough directions to another ruin supposedly in Raszeny, the next village. According to the map, there are two ruins. But only one in Ubocze. The locals don’t seem to be aware of that one. One of my pictures is actually also in a frame hanging in our hotel. The helpful receptionist has never seen any ruin of our castle. She and the tourist information office at Lwowek Slaski both maintain that my photos of a ruin are of the one at Rajsko. I’m told the ruin in Raszeny was destroyed in 1740. The one in Ubocze, 1945, which fits. Sadly, the castle at Ubocze seems almost lost to time. I could write rubbish about it, and chances are no one would ever refute it. It’s as though the historical slate has been wiped clean. I’m very sad about it.

15 June – We crossed into Poland mid-afternoon, my 40th country ever. The only obvious sign we’d left Germany was when our Internet stopped working! Poland seemed instantly to be an outwardly poorer country. We arrived at our hotel, the Stacja Nad Kwisa, in Gryfow Slaski, and soon followed Kolejovic street into the nearby town for a look. We are in Lower Silesia, which was part of Germany until 1945. Not only did the place look like it needed a good scrub and several licks of paint, in many places the rendering was peeling off buildings. On one building’s wall, fallen rendering revealed German signage underneath, reminding the passer by of earlier times.