Castles for sale 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 your 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 started to appoint larger windows, wooden parquet flooring, tiled stoves for heating and so 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 transfer of property title 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 being like 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 saturated with 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 was carried out over the 40 some years of the GDR (German Democratic Republic.) The situation became worse 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 prevent 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 massive Castle Muehlberg built 16th century, a knight´s castle in the state of Brandenburg. The asking price is 600.000 dollars. It is partially restored with a spiral sandstone staircase and magnificent rural views. Another example, currently on the market is 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. Property title transfer 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 you will incur to hire such a person are 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. And an attainable one.
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”…the dollar hitting a two year high against the Euro recently.
A few words from us about some of our favorite castles:
The Rittergut in KLINGENBERG: Stephen says…
This large and splendid 350 year old baroque castle (a so-called Rittergut or Knight´s castle) is an impressive sight as one enters the village of Klingenberg from the east, some 25 Kms SW of Dresden in Saxony, as it lords over the a beautiful stream, valley and forests beyond. Once the focus of the community this castle is now a sorry sight, waiting for an enlightened investor to breathe life again into its ancient stones…most windows have been damaged, the rendering is falling off in many places, even a small tree is growing out of the beautiful staircase tower…complete restoration and modernisation is necessary.
Used as a municipal building up until about 1990 the basic structure and foundations seem to be in sound condition. The main baroque roof structure is solid and rot free…apart from a nasty localised attack of wet rot on the west side of the building. Not pretty but entirely repairable. What is pretty is the magnificent stone spiral staircase at the front of the building facing the sleepy village square, combined with rural views over a valley at the rear and a truly wonderful vaulted cellar. The annex was built originally as a distillery and could easily return to a similar function revising the distillery plus a brewery perhaps.
Parking and access is tricky at the moment but the local Mayoress has agreed to make enough land available from the public square to restore some privacy to the front areas. At the rear of the castle an old cess pit would eventually have to be replaced with a new biodegradable system…says the Mayoress.
Klingenberg is definitely appealing, not just because of its great location (I can already see the tower-like structure of the castle illuminated at night from the valley side…) but because of its dual-function potential…baronial home and workshop/business in one. And it is for sale for very little money!! But don’t forget you can’t just move in – initial renovation is necessary which will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of around $400,000.
The Rittergut at MULDA: Stephen says…
My first reaction was to say that only the truly mad (or brave) need apply. On second thoughts…only the truly mad (or brave) need apply!
Not that this enormous baroque (built 1724) and almost barrack style structure is not habitable…it most definitely IS …if bus-terminus proportions are your thing and a somewhat bohemian life-style appeals. Not surprising considering that Bohemia (west part of the Czech Republic) is only about 15 Kms away. If its land you want (over about 23 acres, mostly meadow but plenty of forest) with space for horses then this Rittergut could be for you, with the castle plonked right in the middle. All in the rolling and most beautiful landscape imaginable… it reminds me of the Cotswolds in England. Who would have thought Germany or Saxony could be like this?
What appeals to me most are the massive iron-clad blue and white entrance gates leading directly into a vast flag-stoned reception hall cum sitting room with large open fire place. It takes little imagination to see oneself entering with a mud splattered horse, dismounting as a wench offers mulled wine for refreshment in a silver goblet and a stable boy leading the steaming steed away to its stables. Tired but happy, withdrawing to the welcome warmth of blazing logs at the far end of the hall…a dream that could really happen (the “wench” could be the wife…).
When one considers the massive oak beams, 5 feet thick walls with window alcoves deep enough to camp in, the vast vaulted ceilings of the kitchen/living areas and the general bohemian nature of the place, mediaeval would be more appropriate than “baroque”.
On a more practical note a lot has been invested in the Rittergut to cater for a large family´s daily comforts and a couple of holiday apartments, which hardly occupy even half the available space on the ground and first floor… there is space indeed to develop a lot further. A new public open-air swimming pool just down the hill from the castle would guarantee interest for family weekends in the summer and potential for several more holiday flats plus a restaurant which has been planned by the present owner.
Altogether an impressive place…at a price which I know can be knocked down considerably if the buyer is serious. So, what are you waiting for?
Stephen Ferrada, for Posh Journeys. July 2010
Castel Naundorf: Helga says…
Don’t even think of buying it… I want it myself!
Helga van Horn, for Posh Journeys. July 2010
For more details and pictures of castles that are for sale go to: