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German Castles for Sale ... Cheap!

Poster: angela@ascc01.ascc.lucent.com (Angela Pincha-Neel - ASCC)

>From SCA-East...


 By Edmund L. Andrews

 BAUTZEN, Germany -- The Gaussig Castle has everything that an up-and-coming
 duke or count might want: a ballroom; a fully stocked library; a hunting room
 complete with hundreds of deer antlers mounted on the wall.  It even comes
 a Gothic chapel.

 All this and more than 30 acres of land is now on sale for just one German
 mark, or about 58 cents.  Offers from foreigners, including Americans, are
 welcome.  Offers from just about anybody would be welcome.

 There is a catch, naturally.  Gaussig, lying about 30 miles east northeast of
 Dresden in what used to be communist East Germany, is a fixer-upper's
 nightmare.  The roof has leaked so much rain and snow that the top floor has
 nearly collapsed.  Many rooms, stripped down to brick and timber, look like
 they were bombed.  The kitchen hasn't been renovated in at least a

 The only non-negotiable requirement by the castle's current owner, the eastern
 German state of Saxony, is that the new owners must properly restore the
 property, consistent with its historical architecture.  The likely cost: at
 least $7 million.

 Gaussig is not unique.  Seven years after communism collapsed, local
 governments in eastern Germany find themselves stuck with scores of empty
 castles in varying states of disrepair.  Too expensive to keep up but too
 historic to tear down, the castles have problems ranging from flooded dungeons
 and crumbling turrets to buckling floors.

 All of these castles, even those put to public use, were allowed to decay by
 East Germany's communist government, which had taken them over after World War
 II.  When Germany was reunified, a special provision in the unification treaty
 kept the castles in government hands, unlike other expropriated property, with
 less historical value, which was supposed to be returned to its former owners.

 Now officials in Saxony, which owns almost 100 castles and has already spent
 more than $300 million on renovations, has hit on the strategy of selling
 big ones for one mark apiece.  If the first three castles find new owners,
 state officials are ready to sell nine others for the same price.

 And there are other bargain-basement opportunities.  About 30 miles west of
 Dresden, state officials are looking for investors to take over Colditz
 Colditz, which needs at least $60 million in fix-up work, became immortalized
 in a best-selling book and several movies as the place where high-ranking
 British soldiers were kept prisoner during World War II and from which they
 made several spectacular escapes.

 Buyers will have considerable freedom to use the castles as they wish.
 Government officials say that converting them to hotels, restaurants or
 homes is perfectly fine, though they would probably draw the line at turning
 them into giant video-game parlors.  The new owners are asked to provide at
 least some public access, but that could be through something as simple as
 holding one or two public concerts a year.

 "The state has already spent an enormous amount of money restoring castles,
 we have so many financial demands from all sides of the economy that we have
 draw the line somewhere," said Vera Kretschmer, a spokesman for Saxony's
 Ministry of Finance.  "We can't fix up all the castles, so we are trying to
 find private investors."

 But the bargain-basement castles are generally not in areas that attract
 tourism.  Bautzen, with about 600 residents, is in the middle of an old
 open-pit coal mining region that was relentlessly torn up under the old
 government.  Today, the region is greener and cleaner, but nearly 40 percent
 the workers are unemployed or in make-work jobs.  The situation is so grim, in
 fact, that Saxony's Ministry of Economics has pinned much of its hope for
 recovery on a new Indianapolis-style speedway in the neighboring town of
 Lausitz, which would be built mostly with government money from Bonn.

 For all the problems, the castles are awesome to behold.  The Milkel Castle,
 just a few miles from Gaussig, boasts a yellow facade with stately round
 on the east and west wings.  A mausoleum in the nearby woods holds the remains
 of Count Carl Theodor Ludwig von Hohenstein.

 But part of the basement is flooded, many floors are badly warped and much of
 the living space looks like that of a school dormitory -- which was in fact
 case during the Cold War.

 The property is not entirely vacant.  Eleven families live in the two
 that flank the castle, and all of them are understandably ambivalent about the
 property's future.  "It would be a shame to see the castle come down," said
 Elsa Schmidt, a widow who has lived there for 30 years.  But, she added: "We
 all hope that if someone buys it, they let us stay in it."

 Though government officials emphasize that furniture and personal belongings
 are not part of the one-mark offer, there is room for negotiation.

 At Gaussig Castle, the library was preserved under the old government as a
 mini-museum and remains stocked with leather-bound books, handwritten ledgers,
 china and even a baby-sized sled that were all owned by the family of Count
 Karl Schall-Riaucour.

 In the ballroom, which was carefully renovated during the 1980s, are pillars
 carved into Roman figures that appear to support the ceiling.  Paintings, and
 ornate friezes adorn the walls, along with full-length mirrors.  The hunting
 room contains not only hundreds of deer antlers, but also silverware and

 Miss Kretschmer, from the Ministry of Finance, said the state had received
 than 25 expressions of interest in the Gaussig and Milkel castles but no firm

 But castles-for-a-mark may be the start of a new trend.

 Just a few weeks ago, the German federal agency in charge of privatizaton
 offered to sell two bankrupt shipyards in eastern Germany for one mark apiece.


 Mitchell MacBain
 Marwick, Settmour, East

  _  _  _             |  In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there
 ' )' )' )  Semper    |  was in me an invincible summer.      -- Albert Camus
  /  /  /   Esuriens  |
 /     (_'            |  M. J. Lecin     mlecin@nsdux7.netsysdev.dowjones.com

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