This time they’re hard-working: the aristocracy is back in eastern Germany, but blue blood is no longer the key to an easy life.
Nazism, followed by Communism, had a far-reaching impact on east German society, and particularly on east German aristocracy. There was no place for nobility in the post-war GDR, so palaces, castles and country houses were absorbed by the state, and their owners were either incarcerated or sent packing overseas.
But in the years since the reunification of the two Germanies some of those original owners have returned, and started to get the family properties back again. The restoration process is by no means straightforward. It varies according to when you left, who you were, what happened to the property since, and whether you’re prepared to enter a local legal process. Many of the returnees have decided to dig into their pockets and buy their properties back.
The original family Schloss was destroyed by the Communists, so the Baron now lives in a bungalow
Thus Baron Helmuth von Maltzahn, whose family built Schloss Ulrichshusen back in 1562, had to spend four million euros to buy back Ulrichshusen’s blackened ruin in 1993 and to restore it to the grand hotel it is today. The von Maltzahns also started a music festival, and that along with the hotel and parkland manages to attract 50,000 visitors a year to a region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern that badly needed some new source of revenue and employment.
And nor is the Baron alone in these efforts; around a hundred other noble families have returned to the former GDR, re-establishing themselves in local communities whose economies have struggled in post-Wall years. They’ve been dubbed the ‘gumboot barons’ because of the energy with which they themselves have tackled even the most basic labouring jobs.
Amongst them are Count Guido zu Lynar and his son Rochus, who grew up in Portugal, but have spent the last 15 years restoring the family property in the Spreewald, Schloss Lübbenau, now open as an upmarket hotel. Not far away, Georg Prinz zur Lippe has restored Schloss Proschwitz as a winery, with a handful of guest rooms and a couple of apartments in the castle itself.
And in Karwe, 45 miles north-west of Berlin, the von dem Knesebeck family has bought up 1,600 acres of its former estate and refurbished the huge 18th-century brick barns into ‘country getaway’ apartments rented to well-heeled urbanites. But the original family Schloss was destroyed by the Communists, so Baron Krafft von dem Knesebeck now lives in a bungalow.
Information on castle hotels in Brandenburg (site in German only)