The chimney sweep who conquered Königstein Fortress

The chimney sweep who conquered Königstein Fortress

The chimney sweep who conquered Königstein Fortress

March 2018 will mark the 170th anniversary of the only "conquest" of Königstein Fortress. The chimney sweep Sebastian Abratzky from Mahlis near Oschatz succeeded in this daring deed.

What exactly happened on March 19, 1848 and how Abratzky got to the fortress plateau will probably never be fully explained. On the one hand, the Saxon military authorities, for understandable reasons, covered the affair with a cloak of silence, but Abratzky himself also did a lot to cover up the whole thing. His own description of "The only ascent of the Königstein Fortress by Sebastian Abratzky", which was first published in 1859, confuses minds to this day. What happened on that beautiful Sunday in March 1848 was more or less a coincidence.

After completing an apprenticeship as a chimney sweep, Abratzky went on the move and ended up in Königstein on the Elbe. There he wanted to work for the construction of the Saxon-Bohemian railway. He therefore used the beautiful spring weather on the day after his arrival, a free Sunday, to climb up to Königstein Fortress. But he wasn't allowed in because he didn't have a single dollar in his pocket. So he set out to at least walk around the fortress on the patrol path. On the east side of the rock massif he found a crevice that tempted him to dare to climb it without a rope. As a chimney sweep, climbing chimneys was nothing unusual for him. He also managed to climb the 34 m high rock face to the breastwork and thus to scale the plateau. Abratzky was immediately arrested by completely surprised soldiers and locked in the so-called Mohrenkammer of the old barracks. During his imprisonment, he had to tell the commander of the fortress exactly where his advancement had begun. The master bricklayer of the fortress was now to ensure that such an incident could not be repeated. After almost two weeks of uncertainty for the "conqueror" of Königstein, the trial before the fortress tribunal finally took place, at the end of which Abratzy was sentenced to 12 days in prison . The detention on remand was counted against him and he had to leave the fortress immediately after the verdict in order to return to his hometown of Mahlis via Dresden. He was ordered to maintain the strictest silence about what had happened. Today we know that he didn't stick to it...

We therefore want to leave it at this point with the unqualified recognition of Sebastian Abratzky's mountaineering achievements. The further life of the chimney sweep from Mahlis in the following years offered little of note anyway and was lost in the turbulence of the second half of the 19th century.

Shortly after his "stay" on the Königstein, Abratzky did his military service and in the years that followed made numerous entries in police files and even multiple stays in prisons. His life ended on January 26, 1897 in a protective detention center in Dresden. He was buried in the Johannisfriedhof in Dresden-Tolkewitz. Abratzky had four daughters and a son Max.

We also have that son Max to thank for the fact that at the end of 1928, more than 80 years after his father climbed the Königstein, the name Abratzky appeared again in documents and again in connection with Königstein Fortress. In the summer of 1928, Max Abratzky applied for a small plaque to be put up at his own expense on the rampart of the fortress, roughly at the point where his father had climbed the plateau.

The small plaque, the size of which the responsible military authorities had limited to 16 x 20 cm, was affixed, but never. Rather, a dispute developed, which was carried out by Sebastian Abratzky's son and grandson.

The chimney sweep who conquered Königstein Fortress

As if the Reichswehr offices had already suspected it, there was no agreement between the two. Rather, with their disputes, they offered the pretext for finally refusing to erect a memorial plaque on the fortress. At least that was what the military wanted.

From today's point of view, it seems very difficult to understand that in the 1920s, Sebastian Abratzky's attempt to climb the Königstein Fortress was still being kept secret from visitors to the Königstein.

As early as the beginning of 1926, the Reichswehr Ministry had formulated in a secret letter, after examining a textbook for the Königstein tour guides: "The army command considers it necessary that the wording of the explanations given to foreigners , all information is removed that indicates that the rock face can be climbed at certain points.” *

After the end of the "commemorative plaque affair" the military district command IV responsible for Königstein Fortress came to a clear statement in a letter dated January 1929: "...it should also be noted that the climbing of Sebastian Abratzky is not mentioned in the guided tours... “. *

The somewhat yellowed documents from 1928 and 1929 that have survived in the archive show us that the ascent of Königstein Fortress in 1848 had lost none of its explosiveness many decades later and remained a hot topic for the military, treated with great sensitivity. Even in the years of peace between the world wars, it had become apparent that Königstein Fortress, despite civil administration, should remain an object of great military interest and an invincible one at that!

Ten years later, this was confirmed: Königstein Fortress went down in the history of World War II as Oflag IV B officers' prison camp.

Hans-Joachim Rühle

* Correspondence 1928/1929 from the estate of Dr. Fränzel, Königstein Fortress Archives