Would You like A Moat or Maze with Yours? CASTLES FOR SALE

By Ruth Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 1996 | Go to article overview

Would You like A Moat or Maze with Yours? CASTLES FOR SALE


Ruth Walker, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Want to own a castle, dating back to the Middle Ages, complete with a moat?

Or maybe your tastes are more modest: Would an 18th-century manor house within commuting distance of Berlin do? It needs a little fixing up, but the surrounding countryside is great for hiking or cycling.

For as little as a single deutsche mark (64 cents), either of these properties could be yours. In a campaign to restore historic properties neglected during the Communist era, the state of Brandenburg, formerly in East Germany, has issued a catalog of 49 castles, palaces, and other buildings for sale. For those who show a plan to restore these properties - and the means to do so - authorities are willing to entertain offers of a "symbolic" price, as little as a single deutsche mark. Brandenburg's efforts are part of a larger plan by Central and Eastern Europeans to come to terms with an architectural heritage once despised by their Communist political leaders as relics of class warfare. This process is going on at a time when even some wealthy Western European countries are having to consider what is the right level of public support for the upkeep of all their fancy real estate. "The important thing above all is that we don't just want to get rid of them," says Thomas Hainz of Brandenburg's cultural affairs ministry. "We want to find new users for these properties...." Among the properties are a genuine castle, Wiesenburg, first mentioned in historical records in 1161; a palace, in Sommerswalde (1891), built as a miniature version of the Reichstag; a water mill (18th century); and some simple but historically significant half-timbered houses (18th and 19th centuries); as well as a good number of manor houses and villas. The larger structures are grand enough, but not quite the baroque splendor of Bavaria and Bohemia. Rather, they express the more austere ethos of the Protestant nobility of Prussia. The catalog, which came out last month, gives a detailed listing of each property with a color photo, along with architectural drawings, historical photos, maps of the surroundings, and contact addresses and telephone numbers. Property after property is listed as "empty," and for many of the structures the "suggested use" is given simply as "open." "The Communists had problems with these buildings - for ideological reasons," Mr. Hainz says. "Some of them they simply demolished. Others they turned over 'to the people....' " Brandenburg is striving for a balance between economic viability with preservation of cultural heritage, within the constraints of historic-preservation standards. This balance is also the goal of the International Fund for European Heritage Conservation. It is run by Christian Dromard, an architectural consultant in Viroflay, France, who has worked for the governments of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary on issues of restitution, restoration, and now economic development of castles. These governments have two motivations in dealing with their castles, Mr. …

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Would You like A Moat or Maze with Yours? CASTLES FOR SALE
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