STALAG SVEN; (1) Duplicity, Passion, Betrayal and Sudden Death. No, Not Another Tale from FA Headquarters, but the Extraordinary History of the Hotel Picked to Be England's World Cup Fortress (2) How I See It
Byline: ROBERT HARDMAN
THIS is a story with more dramatic, smouldering passion and more thwarted ambition than any episode of Footballers' Wives. At its core is a feisty young millionairess and a society scandal plus an emperor, a dashing doctor, racism, snobbery, a fairytale castle and tragedy after tragedy.
But it all happened and the result of this sorry tale is the Buhlerhohe Schlosshotel, a granite castle protruding from Germany's Black Forest.
And it is about to acquire a very different fame - or notoriety.
In a few weeks, this grand old place will be the World Cup base for England's footballers.
Most fans are already arguing over Sven Goran Eriksson's choice of players for the tournament. Equally debatable, though, is his choice of accommodation for the squad.
He has certainly picked the ideal place for the players' wives, who will be lodged in another palatial joint in Germany's richest town, Baden Baden.
There, they will enjoy colonic irrigation, Egyptian sand massages and plenty of gossip, including the tale of the Duchess of Windsor and her gay lover.
But the footballers may find it rather harder to settle in to their digs.
Short of taking his team to an obscure ballet or a lecture on Greek philosophy, I cannot envisage a more incongruous experience for Sven's pampered millionaires than 'Der Buhlerhohe'.
This magnificent five- star castle spa, with its stupendous views and its mournful history, might have mineral water coming out of the taps, but it is hardly footballer-friendly.
For a start, it sits on a mountain and, therefore, lacks that fundamental requirement: a golf course. It doesn't even get Sky Sports.
There is no disco, no casino and no card table here at the historic Buhlerhohe. Mr Eriksson clearly believes that a monastic approach is the key to victory.
There is not even a television in the bar. Instead, there are several Old Master paintings including a selfportrait by the 17th-century genius van Dyck.
Tonight, amid the Old Masters and the oak panelling, there is only one woman below pensionable age in the bar of the Buhlerhohe. But this place was never designed as a fleshpot for fun-loving celebs. The Buhlerhohe is rather grander than that.
Its guest list spans the political and historical spectrum from Nelson Mandela to Adolf Hitler (who made so much noise that a guest had the temerity to complain). Recent guests include Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan.
Soon, this stern old pile will be able to add the likes Beckham, Owen and Walcott to its long register of noble names.
But its founder must be turning in her grave.
For the Buhlerhohe was never built as a hotel or spa. It was one headstrong woman's memorial to her late husband. And it ended up claiming her own life.
Hertha Schottlander was born into great wealth in Breslau in 1871, the daughter of an immensely successful grain merchant.
For Hertha and her three sisters, life's priority was to make a good marriage and in due course she was married off to a banker called Pringsheim and produced the mandatory son and heir. But she craved adventure and found life woefully dull.
One day, the German army was on exercise nearby and several officers were billeted at the family mansion.
Among them was the handsome Colonel Wilhelm Isenbart. Hertha was transfixed by his aristocratic Prussian pedigree and his tales of derring-do.
He was also married, but flirtation soon progressed to a passionate affair.
The couple agreed to leave their families, divorce and remarry. In the ruthlessly austere social climate of the day, it was a major scandal.
There was an added religious dimension. Hertha was Jewish and Wilhelm was Catholic. Nazism was decades away, but anti-Semitism was still rife in grand Prussian military circles. To lessen the scandal, Col Isenbart was promptly raised to the rank of Major General and swiftly booted out of the army. …