“FOR SALE”: Old Castles in Europe
by Helga van Horn and Stephen Ferrada
Castles are everywhere!…if you know where to find them. In Europe, East Germany to be precise, has become a kind of “Wal-Mart” for castle shopping…
Think “castles” and most Americans think Walt Disney towers, turrets and dungeons. There are a few of those still around but the bulk of castles and manor houses in Europe are baroque and either restored to perfection or falling down. Many are in-between, still habitable, and at prices most Americans can only dream about.
To refresh the memory, a short historical recap: Castles were traditionally built to defend and not to impress, particularly between the 12th and 16th century in Europe. From the mid 16th century on the Renaissance period introduced home comforts such as paned windows, fireplaces and ornamental details, followed again by the 18th century baroque period when towers and battlements gradually disappeared.
Instead of defense, prestige and elegance took over. Buildings adopting larger windows, wooden parquet flooring, tiled stoves for heating and on. An abundance of crests, coat of arms and many decorative highlights became evident, gardens and parks laid out in the English style incorporating lakes and fountains became all the rage. To be involved with building such a castle was clearly an emotionally challenging and creative experience for all concerned.
Later, into the 19th century, the desire to combine the romantic Renaissance architecture with “modern” convenience led to a flush of imitation “Neo-Gothic” designs. High turrets and towers flourished again, their popularity outstripping supply, even today.
Before deciding the type of castle one would like it is important to decide where it should be. France and Tuscany in Italy are still very popular locations although it must be said that the conveyancing procedures in France can be complicated and expensive while property in Italy (mostly manor houses rather than castles) are considerably more expensive than elsewhere in Europe.
2) The richest selection of castles and manor houses are to be found in the eastern states of former East Germany, followed by more eastern countries, like the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and others.
It has been said that looking for castles in East Germany is equivalent to a small child in a candy store…the opportunities are rich indeed but great care is needed to make the right choice. This part of Europe is positively dripping in recent and not-so-recent history, bordering on the old Austro-Hungarian Empire with the great historic cities Prague, Vienna and Budapest within easy driving distance from any of the eastern Germany states.
After the end of WWII and the introduction of the communist “Land Reform” laws in 1945, virtually all private castles and manor houses were confiscated by the authorities for municipal purposes. The bare minimum in repairs were carried out over the 40 some years of the GDR (German Democratic Republic.) The situation worsening after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of Communism. Many historical buildings were simply left standing empty and unattended for nearly 20 years, while others were sold to speculators in the early 1990´s who mostly did nothing to hinder further decay.
As a result many ancient castles and manor houses have suffered…but they are still standing and are serviceable, a credit to their original superb build quality. Combining solid condition with good location there are many “gems” to be had. Take the baroque 1685 built knight´s castle in the Saxon village of Klingenberg (www.poshjourneys.com). Selling price 40.000 US dollars, with a spiral sandstone staircase and magnificent rural views to die for…
Sure there are a few problems and it needs full restoration but 300.000 dollars could make it habitable (in part at least). A genuine baroque baronial residence for the price of a condo in an large American city!
Buying property in Germany could not be easier. Non-German nationals can buy property outright, conveyancing is straight-forward and reasonable. However…it is essential to have a knowledgeable consultant on hand, somebody familiar with the purchase procedures, who can help and advise about restoration plans and who speaks the language. The fees paid for such a person is worth every red cent spent!
Let´s face it…the dream of your very own castle or ancient manor house in Europe is a very seductive one. Yet it is only the fortunate few, with ample funds, who can avoid getting their hands dirty. For most of us some kind of...
3) …fixing-up is unavoidable. But problems with municipal services, historical building authorities, and countless other unforeseeable issues can create headaches for all buyers, with or without limitless funds…hence the need for a good and reliable consultant.
If you do decide to buy a “fixer-upper” it is vital to have the funds for the full purchase price lined up as well as the most urgent repairs which may require a professional contractor. German banks will not give loans to non-nationals. It is essential to budget for all the incidental expenses including daily living if you want to live in the castle yourself, as well as the likely on-going restoration costs. With careful planning a whole family could move into an unfinished building earlier than at first imagined.
In case financing is a problem why not team up with other “castle-fans” creating a partnership and pool
resources to buy (and restore) the castle of your dreams? This way the purchase price and restoration costs can become surprisingly affordable. This writer, together with three partners, bought a castle near Leipzig in Saxony and has first hand experience of what is involved in buying and running it.
The author of this article, together with associate Manfred Pawlik (specialist in castle restoration) and Englishman Stephen Ferrada, both of whom have valuable experience related to buying and restoring historical property, have all bought their own dream properties in East Germany. The highs and lows of castle ownership, the tears and laughter, have all been experienced.
And there has never been a better time “to take the plunge”…the dollar hitting a two year high against the Euro recently.
For more details and pictures of castles that are for sale go to:
Helga van Horn and Stephen Ferrada