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Do It: Exploring military history in Rabštejn

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Jana Vejmelková - Rabštejn: The tunnels were carved out by prisoners during WW II. (JANA VEJMELKOVÁ)The tunnels were carved out by prisoners during World War II. (JANA VEJMELKOVÁ)

Czech-Saxon Switzerland is known as the ideal place for those who love hiking.
The diverse landscape is full of city-like rock formations, deep gorges and passes and offers visitors plenty of opportunities to relax in the midst of beautiful natural surroundings.

If you like military history and happen to be in the area, be sure to check out the Rabštejn-Janská underground airplane factory complex that dates to back to World War II, located near Janská and Česká Kamenice. Today it’s a museum run by local enthusiasts.

Only four of the original seven planned underground structures were completed: A, B, C and H, which isn’t accessible to the public yet. The complex was built by prisoners of war and the inmates of concentration camps, who under very hard conditions between August 1944 and April 1945 carved out 17,500 cubic metres of tunnels (out of the originally planned 80,000 cubic metres).

Jana Vejmelková - mask: Many of the artifacts were found in the woods that surround the underground factory. (JANA VEJMELKOVÁ)Many of the artifacts were found in the woods that surround the underground factory. (JANA VEJMELKOVÁ)The museum was founded in 2003 through a private initiative of Karel Hunčovský, Vladimír Pešek and his wife Danuše Pešková, members of the Rabštejn civic association.

The main part is in the unfinished sector C, which was originally intended for the manufacture of small parts. The entrance is located near the Preidl textile factory building.

The exhibition has four parts. The first is dedicated to the history of spinning mills, and here you find parts of spinnig machines and other instruments. The second section covers war-time production, concentration camps and the construction of the actual underground factory. On display are parts of weapons, munition and other equipment that once belonged to soldiers or prisoners. The third part is all about the local flora, fauna and geology.

The final section of the exhibit is dedicated to the aircraft catastrophes that happened here. According to available information, 19 crashes occurred in the area, most of them near hiking trails. The exhibit right now includes parts of the wrecks from four of these crashes. And the display is continually being expanded.

Period photos and articles accompany the exhibited artifacts. Most importantly of all, though, your tour guide will be a true enthusiast; the museum is essentially his hobby. He will pull you in with his stories, describing in detail the conditions under which the prisoners worked here.

Jana Vejmelková - factory: The Preidl textile factory is in a state of extreme disrepair. (JANA VEJMELKOVÁ)The Preidl textile factory is in a state of extreme disrepair. (JANA VEJMELKOVÁ)With an expanded ticket, you gain access to parts of the tunnels that were hollowed out only very roughly. On the walls, illuminated by your guide’s lamp, you can observe the structure of the sandstone walls. And when the lamps are switched off, you really learn what it’s like to be in total darkness.

The next part of the tour is up to you. We visited sector B, where the tunnels are quite wide and you feel as though in a labyrinth.

If you are planning a visit, you need to make a reservation by phone at least a day in advance. Tours are available in Czech and German. English speakers need to take along an interpreter. Each tour lasts around 2.5 hours (longer if you have an interpreter) and requires the participation of a minimum of eight people. Basic tickets cost CZK 80. For an expanded ticket you pay CZK 100, CZK 150 if your tour is in German.

No matter what time of year you decide to go, I recommend bringing along a flashlight or a headlamp and a warm sweater because, at just 5°C, the tunnels can get chilly.

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