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 "Walmart
for castle shopping
Think castles and most people 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 romantic Gothic
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.
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
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 massive Castle
Muehlberg built 16th century, a knight´s castle in the state
of Brandenburg. Selling price 600.000 dollars, partially restored
with a spiral sandstone staircase and magnificent rural views, or
a romantic hilltop castle in Bavaria, partially restored for about
900,000 dollars. Castles come in all sizes and price ranges from
40,000 dollars for a genuine baroque baronial residence to several
million dollars for a stunning fully restored 13th century castle
set high above the Rhine.
Buying property in Germany could not be easier. Non-German nationals
can buy property outright, conveyancing is straight-forward and
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 are worth every red cent
Let´s face it
the dream of your very own castle or ancient
manor house in Europe is a very seductive one. But an attainable
Fixing-up is in most cases unavoidable. But problems with municipal
services, historical building authorities, and countless other unforeseeable
issues can create headaches, hence the need for a good and reliable
consultant who can handle the job for the buyer.
Financing should be in place beforehand so that you can plop down
a deposit if you find your dream castle. The purchase process takes
about a month and is handled by a notary who in Europe is the equivalent
of an attorney. The writer of this article, 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
historic 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
dollar hitting a two year high against the Euro recently.
Helga van Horn and Stephen Ferrada