Restoring a Castle
In the Fall of 2014 we bought a castle in Germany, an imposing castle with a massive keep and amazing vaulted rooms. The castle was built by two knights in 1237. We bought the castle for 1.00 Euro! Yes, one euro, not a misprint. However, on top of it we had to pay for the land the castle stands on which came to 119,000.00 Euros. Still a great bargain considering the castle has about 30,000 square feet and about two acres of ground. But don't go racing off to Germany now to buy a castle for one euro. Along with the low purchase price comes the big expense of restoring it. The castle was not fit to live in, let alone make it into a business. We are four partners and pooling our money. The purchase did not break the bank, but the restoration would. Thus we had to consider a bank loan for a couple million euros. Arranging the loan would be looked after by a German associate who had the experience dealing with banks for such purposes. He combed the land for over a year, contacting this and that bank, all who said they are potentially interested, but in the end turned us down. A castle in deplorable condition is not the kind of collateral a bank warms up to. To risky. And us living in the United States was another unacceptable factor for a bank to hand out a fistful euros. But then our associate said he had a ex-banker, a broker who arranged financing, but it would cost 3,500 euros to hire him, but he, but being an ex-banker he had lots of in's with banks and financing would most likely be set up by the beginning of May. May came and the guy actually had a bank lined up which had agreed to financing us. My son Nick and myself flew to Germany to meet with that "Wunderkind" of a broker. He was almost an hour late for the meeting, said he ran into traffic coming from Berlin which is a two hour drive. Understandably. No harm done. We talked, all looked good, then we went to lunch. When it came to paying the bill the broker reached in his pocket as if he would offer to pay for lunch, but instead he said; "oh goodness, I left my wallet in Berlin." We paid for lunch and I wondered about him. But I put my skepticism aside and we returned home. From all indication it looked like we would be able to begin restoration in mid-summer. But May passed, then June passed without hearing anything from the broker. Our associate called and sent e-mails, but no response whatsoever. By the middle of July I was more than skeptical. I called the bank which he said had agreed to finance us. They had never heard of the man, had never spoken to him, and had they indeed spoken with him, he would have known that this bank does not finance castle. The man had swindled us out of 3,5000 Euros and lunch! We took him to court. Our associate was not happy either, but thought there was little that could be done. I called the broker and to my surprise he picked up the phone, not knowing who it was. When he heard it was me, he said in a rather nervous voice, for me to call back in five minutes. He had just come home, he was soaking wet since there was a terrible thunderstorm outside, and he had to run and close the windows! It was the last time any of us spoke with him. We took him to court, we lost!
In March of 2016 we opted to end the search for financing once and for all, and we decided to restore the castle step by step. Although our associate did not approve of this and thought we should continue the search for a bank. But we declined. In a meeting with the mayor of the city which had sold us the castle, our plan was received with enthusiasm. When the city sold us the castle they wanted it to be a business, beneficial to the local population. Our plan to have a genuine Texas-style barbeque restaurant and an American-style sports bar, was a use that would bring jobs to the community and at the same time the castle would be accessible to the local population. To make it even more genuine American, the beer would be supplied by the San Diego based Stone Micro Brewery, which has opened a brewery in Berlin. And thus, we contacted a contractor whom we had know for some time, to start restoration on a small scale. He had restored a couple castles, including his own, and offered us a very reasonable price to finish phase one which was two apartments for us to live in, the sports bar, a kitchen and a beer garden. We shook hands and the work began. All looked promising when we returned to the United States, to come back when our apartments in the castle would be restored.
The first who pictures are how we first saw the castle in November of 2012. The inside pictures were taken in April of 2014
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In the spring of 2014 the castle looked a lot friendlier than when we had seen it in before - photo by Heike Nyari
An article in the local paper aout us having bought the castle. Second picture: Nick Gaby and Eberhard Krahnefeld. Jim Hengels and myself. Third picture: Nick, Donald Gardner, Jim Hengels
On August 29, 2014 we bought Castle Schnaditz - From left to right" A welcome reception at the Kohlhass Club, a local club whom the city gave two rooms in exchange for looking after the castle. An arrangement we agreed if the club would install a small museum in the future. This was enthusiastically accepted by the Club - from left to right in the middle picture; Nick Van Horn, the future Pit Boss for the Barbeque operation, Gabi and her husband Eberhard, my bus driver who introduced me to the castle, partner Jim Henglels and myself on the far right - Nick and standing with partners Donald Gardner and Jim Hengels.
On June 7th we flew to Leipzig. Nick for good, I for six weeks. Our contractor met us at the airport and we drove to the castle. But when we arrived the excitement quickly ebbed. Our apartments were only roughly finished, the walls restored and the floors stripped of their east-German linoleum. Furnishings consisted of a bed and nothing else There was no toilet, no shower, no sink. To get to a toilet we had to go down a flight of stairs and across the courtyard where a simple toilet had been installed by the local historic association who had a couple rooms, which the city had given them to use and which we agreed they could use in the future if they would install a little museum. It was after seven in the evening and we were tired from the thirty hours on planes. We decided not to stay in the castle and drove to go to a nearby village where we knew a "pension" a small simple hotel, where we had stayed before. But it turned out they did not have a vacancy. Another small guest house was also fully booked. A third one which was suggested to us, we couldn't find. It was now past eight and the day began to wane. Having no place to stay with night approaching, we had no other choice but to go back to the castle to spend the night in our bare-bone apartments. I made our beds with fresh linens I had brought with me, and wanting nothing more than a bed, we slept well in spite of the construction-dusty floors, the absence of bathrooms and the curtain less windows.
After a good nights sleep things looked not quite a disappointing as they did the evening before. We decided to stay in the castle, making do with what we had. Fortunate was that we knew our neighbors, Eberhard and Gabi, who lived on the other of the moat that fronted the castle. Eberhard is a bus driver, and through my tour company at home, I had hired him as our driver, whoever we had a group in Germany. In fact it was Eberhard to introduced me to the castle. He told me that each morning he would look at the castle and hoped that someone would come to restore it. We had breakfast with Gabi and Eberhard, and they offered us their shower. All was good. But our upbeat mood quickly came to an end. On June 9th the county building department came, and with them officials from the Denkmalschutz, the state historic preservation department.
They were not happy with us! We had neglected to inform them and the Denkmalschutz that reconstruction would begin. Of course reconstruction had begun in March and a good deal of work had already been done. They said it was all in the building permit that we had to do this. But the building permit is a document so difficult worded that it is difficult to make out the correct meaning of sentences. Both our contractor who is not German but Dutch, and ourselves misunderstood it. But the damage was done and our visitors began to complain and our contractor became irritated. Words began to fly, and before long a heated argument took place which ended in a building stop. We were ordered not lift one finger as long as the building stop was in place. With that they left and said they would deliver the verdict in writing.
A written copy of the building stop was delivered a few days later, but not to us directly, it was dropped in a mailbox outside to which we had no key. Carefully, with salad tongs, we fished it out. It was the most offending and insulting document we had ever received. Full of insults and threats of penalties if we don't follow orders. Page for page the same frightening sentences repeated themselves, always ending in monetary penalties for as much as ten thousand euros. If deemed necessary, the building could even be closed off totally and machinery and tools could potentially be confiscated. We, meaning our corporation, is referred to as a troublemaker and is responsible for monetary penalties if they are assessed. The document ends with: We cordially ask the Schloss Schloss Schnaditz corporation to pay 421.00 Euros to cover expenses. It was the only polite sentence in the document.
A week later another group of men from the state historic preservation department in Dresden came to walk through the castle. At first, walking through our private quarter, they said little, but bemoaned the material that were used. Not the same as five hundred years ago, but more modern ones, something that was not approved of. In one room with a fantastic vaulted ceiling they cringed, shook their heads and I thought they might start to cry. What a shame, what a shame, they said, although the ceiling looked quite stunning, certainly better than it had looked before it was restored and had cracked plaster and holes everywhere. Perhaps it was the gray-greenish color of the cement and plaster which had not yet been painted. They wanted one of the worker cut out a small piece so they could analyze what color it once was, and what color it should be again. Downstairs in another vaulted room, the floor and walls had been restored and it looked fabulous. They said nothing. But a sandstone post in the middle that held up the arched vaults was the cause of much irritation, of head shakes and several to bad, to bad's. Its base would have to be dug up since it was assumed an old floor was a foot and a half under five hundred years of floors, added through the centuries. We said nothing
First three pictures: Restoration work is under way. Pic. 4: Our workers at lunch in the castle courtyard, Pic. 5: The post which had be dug around in the opens of finding a centuries old floor. Pic.6: Replastering the walls
Pic. 1 and 2: The futue Sports Bar Pic.3 and 4 - The fabulous vaulted ceiling that causes much upset at an insprection Pic. 5 - Restoring one of our apartments
Pic.1 One of the apartments before and after restoration Pic. 3: The living room in the same apartment Pic.4 sand 5: Base coat on the walls before a calk coat is applied. Pic. 6: A kitchen in the making
Mid August 2016 - It seems things are looking up, at least there are indications that we may soon be able to continue, be allowed to have a proper water and sewer system and install heat into our apartments. It has been a cold, rainy summer with temperatures hovering around 50F. The upside is that there is a bumper crop of mushrooms in the woods behind the castle, the down side, it's cold when getting out of the shower.
Keep following us on this page, we will report it all, the good and the bad the future will bring us.
Our first customers, a local school group, only they brought their own food and Pit Boss Nick, just cooked it for them.
At the beginning of August an other group from the Demkmalschutz head office in Dresden arrived. This time it was not the walls or the ceiling, or the materials used that were the culprit of discontent, but the canals that had been dug for the sewer and water lines. We could not just dig they said, without them first analyzing the situation. Who knows what may be found beneath, old walls, old pots, bones were not mentioned. They would need to see plans. But plans did not exist. Our associate would have to produce them. We were now between a rock and a hard place. We could do nothing, not inside and not outside. Our hands were tied. How long, no one knows.
Sometimes, when the fancy strikes him, the pit boss Nick-right in the first picture- fires up the smoker and invistes friends and neighbors to an informal dinner in the courtyard of the castle. Texas style smoked ribs on the smoker. Two pictures of the amazing vaulted rooms that will be the main restaurant. A window in the oldestpart of the castle.
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August 25 - I am returning to the castle after six weeks taking care of my travel business at home. I had looked forward to cooler weather after 90-plus temperatures in Reno. But, when I arrived it was 93! Although it cooled off quickly after the sun set. Before I went to bed I stepped out on what everyone calls my "beer garden," my huge terrace which is the roof of several rooms downstairs. In the thirties it was a beautiful terrace as shown in the picture below. But now it is just a tar papered roof. I would have liked to set out a table and chairs, but I can't do this since the chairs would punch holes in the tarpaper. In the future though, I want to be just like it is in the picture. I stayed out for a while gazing at the stars in the inkblue sky, stars we never see in our lit-up world. The big dipper stood directly above the small tower dominating the sky. Although it was cooler now, the air was soft and there was a great silence all around me. The castle with its two towners stook dark against the star-lit sky, like a paper cut-out. I was glad to be back.
As to progress, there was little, not much had been done since I left. We were still under the building stop that had been ordered by the county building department because our building plans did not match our plans for the room where the bar is going to be. We were allowed however, to go ahead with the installation of new sewer and water lines, as important a project as any. The courtyard was still torn up and the canals with the new sewer lines lay open. We were not allowed to close them them until someone from the Denkmalschutz (the historic preservation department) would show up and check them for "finds." The man from the Denkmalschutz came a few days later. Unlike the others we had met from this organization, he was young and said that, from the look of it, nothing seems to be buried in the trenches, and to go ahead and close them, but to let him know should something show up. I ask him what could possibley be buried in the courtyard which had been dug up numerous times, maybe a fouty year old plate that little Hans had dropped and broken during the DDR (Deutsche Demoncratic Republic, the official name for East Germany) when the castle was home to numerous families, refugees from other eastern European countries, or people who had lost their homes during the WWII. He said perhaps that could be true, however, such "finds" were of no interest. However, todays castle stands on the foundations of the first crude fortress that was built in 1237 which had been a small moated castle. Perhaps by digging some traces of this fortress may show up. Someone, some day, may come across stones or a stone wall from this ancient fortress. No one though, had ever found anything of it. Todays foundations date "only" to the 14thcentury, of interest yes, but these foundations are plainly visible and have been archived already. If however, something from this period of time is found that has been overlooked in the past, then the site would become a historic dig. Thus we made sure nothing would be found! Most unlikely anyways.
One of the hundreds of Elderberry bushes that grow at and around the castle - The pear tree that our residence beaver ate fro dinner - new water and sewer lines wered finally installed - the future beer garden in the courtyard.
The courtyard with both the small and large towers - laundry on my terrace - the terrace as it used to look, picture from 1930
For some time we went on doing what we were allowed to do, still it was progress even if it wasn't the progress we wanted to see. One afternoon in late August, the troops from the county building department and the Denkmalschutz showed up. A young intern followed, schlepping a folder of at least a thousand pages, what they contained we never found out since it was never opened. They walked around, not saying much until we went into the room that is to be the future bar. It is one of the highly historic rooms that is of great interest to the Denkmalschutz people. The floor in this room had been already been redone excepat for putt ing tiles down. In the middle it was a sandstone post which holds up the vaulted ceiling. After someone from the archeological department dug around in it, it was decided that the tile floor we had put in would have to be dug up, some 15 inches deep which would make it even with the floor in the next room. We agreed to have a test dig done, to see what is under the floor. A problem was a wall that someone in the group thought may fall down - our head construction man said if we dig the post out, maybe the whole ceiling which is held up by it may collapse. But that was put aside as not likely. A narrow trench however was ordered along the wall to see what will happen! Thus the men started digging. First along the wall. It did not fall down. Then the workmen took out the tiles and started digging the floor, which brought up a revelation no one from the Denkmalschutz and the building department had taken into consideration. While removing the floor the workers came upon one of the arched tops of the cellar ceiling, a mere two inches below the floor! The reason why the base of the post was not showing! This settled, the experts left, a bit embarrassed that they had not realized this after the archeological expert had missed this. That little bit of fun would cost us 2000 euros. Not funny!
A bonus though was a number if plaques with the profile of the German Chancelor Bismark which had been produced in the castles brick-making shop, for the Chancelors 100th birthday (he had died before this time though.) they were sold as a limited edition but sales of them were meager and the plaques were stored away. During the East German time the floor in the room with the post desparately needed repair, but there were not tile factories around from where new tiled could be bought. It was then decided to take the Bismark plagues and put them upside down on the floor. No one gave a hoot that the plaques may be of historic value. Most of then which we dug up had chips or cracks in them, but since they were laid the face down on the dirt floor, they were relative well preserved, some even perfectly.
Left to right: The post that was to be dug up - one of the Bismark plaques - the dramatic vaults in the future restaurant
In the following weeks we were allowed to do some basic work. A brick wall was put in to close the vaulted restaurant off from the kitchen which would be in-between the bar and the restaurant. The wall turned out beauiful and one of our talented worker put a Bismark plaque in it which faced toward the restaurant.The Denkmalschutz ignored the wall, they don't like to dish out compliments. We also went ahead and put in two bathrooms in the bar area and closed the kitchen off from the the hall that connects the bar and the restaurantn. I had found a picture of a fabulous sofa that would fit perfect that would be a stunning accessory in the hall. Whether I am ever to able to find it or something similar is a large? mark.
and best of all, paying for it out of our own pocket, we finally had carpet and kitchen flooring installed in our apartments. After living on rough dusty floors for several month this was an event! It was not the poshest carpet, rather the cheapest we could find, but it looked nice and was even nicer to walk on. Heat comes next.
The future kitchen - Far right: Getting a load of sand with a 1941 Lanz Tractor
Mid-November 2016 - I have come back after tending to my business back home in Reno. It has been wet and rainy and it rained the day I arrived. It is colder and the trees have lost their leaves. The lushness of summer has gone, replaced by a stillness among the dark bare branched oaks and other decidious trees whose shapes are mirrored in the moat that winds through the park. A problem is the resident beaver that has made his home in a cave of branches he has built under a large tree at the side of the moat. He is an excellent logger as he strips and cuts down sizeable trees. He has stripped the bark from our beautiful pear tree which may not live since trees breath and take on water through the bark. The city has wrapped many of the trees with wire to keep him from destroying more since beavers are a protected species and the rascal can not be moved or disturbed.
The electrician was to come by the middle of November but that did not happen, nor did he come by the beginning of December. The workers closed drafty windows and doors with styrofoam to keep the cold out, but even with that the castle became cold. There was no heat anywhere except the electric heaters we had in our apartments and the tiled wood stove I had in my apartment which worked well as long as it was fed. At night it went out and it was a challence to get up in the morning. Athough I had two fuzzy blankets, a quilted comforter and a down cover on my bed which kept me warm enough, getting out from under that heap of comfortable warmth was punishment. Once dresses - I looked like I was going skiing - I went downstairs, crossed the courtyard and walked down a vaulted hallway to get to the kitchen which wasn't heated either but was next to a small room which was heated since the historic club used to drink beer, play cards, hold a monthly meeting and we ourselves used it to eat our meals and to watch TV. The TV was ancient but it had a good picture and was hooked up to a dish.
As December advanced the hope for the electrician dimished and for all practical purposes work was shut down. On December 20th we celebrated Nick's and our neighbor Eberhard's birthdays which were a day apart. Nick and Eberhard slaved the day away smoking meat. It was a gray and cold day and working outside keeping the two smokers going was demanding. But it all paid off, there was smoked turney breast, grilled T-bone steaks, beef ribs, pork ribs, pulled pork and all kind of side dishes and 38 guests. The big clean-up came the next day.