Noble German families are selling their family homes for as little as €1m. Derek Scally reports.
THE rise and rise of the German property market continues apace but one niche yet to be explored by Irish buyers is the ultimate luxury: your own castle.
For the price of an unremarkable Rathgar townhouse you can buy a historic property from a German noble family - Adlinge - all too happy to sell.
"There aren't enough Adlinge for all Germany's castles any more," says Dr Susann Mathis, spokesperson for Sightseeing Property, a leading consultant in the high-end market segment.
She sees a steady transition with interest from abroad growing as many noble families reassess their property holdings. Well-off couples in their fifties and sixties are increasingly mobile and anxious to travel and see the properties as an expensive burden, as do their grown-up children, who have made lives for themselves in the city.
Clients looking for a castle often have a romantic impetus but are also aware of the arguments in favour of such a large purchase: grounds which you won't find in any newer buildings and a solid structure that has stood the test of time.
"It's about the basic needs of well-off people looking for independence, lots of space and a representative building," said Dr Mathis. "Mostly the history of the building is not as important as the location." The German countryside is dotted with hundreds of castles and the most famous is Neuschwanstein, built for King Ludwig of Bavaria in 1886. Seeing as it won't ever be coming on the market, however, buyers will have to console themselves with one of the other castles available, from imposing citadels with moats and turrets down to the live-able, roomy variation: the Schloss (castle).
The sheer number of castles in Germany is a direct consequence of its history. Until unification in 1871, the German territory was a loose conglomeration of 39 states with 35 princes. Each had their own castle, as did their relatives, and life didn't revolve around a single capital city.
"It was different than in France where people decamped to Paris for the season," says Dr Mathis. "As a result, German castles were built as self-contained residences for year-round living, with grounds."
The market for castles is as varied as the properties themselves. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany's federal government created an agency charged with selling off hundreds of castles confiscated by the East German authorities. Many were in ruins and available for as little as one deutschmark but required huge renovation work.
For buyers interested in the ultimate fixer-upper, there are still bargains to be had in the east. But as the market matures, the eastern market is converging with the west, with a growth in representative properties offering a turnkey standard.
"Interest from abroad is definitely growing, particularly from the Nordic countries and England for castles as residences and company headquarters," says Mr Harald Robiné, a consultant specialising in luxury properties in the Dusseldorf region.
"Dusseldorf is becoming increasingly popular: it's a rich city, a business and trade fair city but also a fashion city." One property pearl Robiné has on offer is a Wasserschloss (water castle) built in 1288 with a 1,200sq m (15,500sq ft) living area in the main castle and an additional 350sq m (3,767sq ft) in the adjoining Herrenhaus (gentlemen's quarters).
Half an hour from downtown Dusseldorf, the castle has a huge pond and moat, stables and an additional guest house. It was completely renovated in 1988 and again in 2000 and the asking price is €3.45 million.
"These castles on offer in Germany are of an incomparable quality, usually in extremely good condition with modern heating - those who can afford a castle here can usually afford a good technical fit-out," says Mr Robiné.
As well as western and southern regions, attention has turned to Germany's north-east regions, between Berlin and Hamburg, which offer easy access to the two largest cities as well as the Baltic coastline.
Sightseeing Property has several castles in the region, including a 19th century castle in Mecklenburg, restored in 1992 with library, bar and wine cellar: it is going for €2.5 million. Just two hours from Berlin is a Gothic castle with 1,100sq m (11,840sq ft) of living space and grounds for €1.5 million.
Having a good agent is the key to premium property purchases. Sightseeing offers a complete service and will accompany its clients through a long-term search and deal with sellers who are parting with property that may have been in the family for centuries.
"It's not always easy dealing with the sellers," admits Dr Mathis. "It would be so much easier if we could tell people the wonderful history of the castles - the prince and princess stories - but a lot of people don't want the fact that they may have to sell publicised in the papers."