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
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
"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. …