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.

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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.

15 June – The day started quite well. On our way to Poland, we went to Hainsberg, near Dresden. In Hainsberg is the paper mill established by my great-great-great-grandfather, Gerhard Friedrich Thode, in 1838, which still exists today, long after it left family hands. In March, I’d requested a tour of the site. I’d received no reply, so I walked in unannounced, showed them a copy of the letter I’d sent, and politely asked for a tour. They were a bit stunned. We got a tour, and it must’ve taken an hour and a half.

We saw a modern factory which today produces 120 tonnes of recycled paper per day. It was fascinating to look at. We were taken all over, including into areas from the time of my ancestors, original halls, walls, and windows. Even a dark underground waterway from the time of the Thodes. Outside, there is an original pond, but the guide said it will have been removed by the time of the 175th anniversary celebrations next year. The guide also pointed out very old railway tracks where paper and other raw product had been delivered in the earliest times. And a wooden sign reading “Thodesche Papierfabrik”, from the middle of the 19th century, still hangs in Reception. The company is today known as the Papierfabrik Hainsberg. They are of course churning out infinitely more recycled paper than in my family’s time, with customers all over Europe. I was very happy with the opportunity to have had a tour like this, and to see that something my ancestors started is still going, and doing a lot of good.