Schloss Grades

During a decade-long restoration, Constantin M. Staus-Rausch showed tourists the castle's transformation from a desperate state to a jewel.
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Constantin M. Staus-Rausch, the owner of Schloss Grades
Artiom Ganin is in Austria talking to the owner of Schloss Grades in Carinthia. Constantin M. Staus-Rausch became the youngest person to buy a castle in Austria when he purchased Grades in 2015 at the age of 25! It was his passion for preserving cultural heritage that brought him to where he is today. The restoration of the 1,000-year-old castle was completed in early 2024 and it is now shining again. Mr. Staus-Rausch chose the centuries-old citadel, which combines Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles, as his family home. But almost 90% of the castle is open to tourists, who are welcome to take a guided tour of Grades. It is also a concert venue and a dream destination for weddings. I asked if Mr. Staus-Rausch would like to convert part of his majestic estate into an exclusive hotel. His answer was a resounding NO. The castle is a family home where friends are always welcome.


Artiom Ganin (AG): Constantin, you were 25 years old when you bought the castle to become the youngest person to own a castle in Austria! Why did a young person like you need a castle at all!

Constantin M. Staus-Rausch (CSR): Well, actually I was 25 years old. At that time I was the youngest person to buy a castle in Austria for about 50 years. I studied history and art history in Vienna. After my studies I worked for the Austrian National Committee Blue Shield. An organization under the protection of UNESCO.
CSR: Blue Shield is comparable to the Monuments Men who saved art and cultural heritage at the end of World War II. Protecting and preserving cultural heritage around the world became a personal passion of mine, and at the end of my work for Blue Shield, I wanted to find a historic building of art-historical value that I could restore and open to the public. It did not have to be a castle. I also visited a historic mill or a 500-year-old farm, but Grades was absolutely perfect for my ideas.
AG: Let me ask you, what do you do for a living?

CSR: My main job is Grades, restoring the castle, opening it to the public and merchandising the house. But I also run an auction house.
AG: Did it take you a long time to find a suitable castle to buy?

CSR: It took me about two years. There were very few castles among all the buildings I visited. Some were not as historically valuable, some were too big for my budget, but Grades was perfect. I always say that I found Grades as Grades found me.
AG: What's your love story with Schloss Grades, how did you come across it?

CSR: Well, it's the same story as how people find the love of their life nowadays. I found it on the Internet.
What was the biggest discovery at Schloss Radibor in Germany?
AG: Please describe your feelings when you saw the castle for the first time - what struck you most.

CSR: I visited the castle with a friend who owns two castles. It was not easy to get an appointment. The first real estate agent wouldn't even show us the house. He said the condition was too bad and he couldn't sell it to me. So I called a different agent and we met. It was interesting to see the charisma of this building. The best craftsmen of their time had worked here. It obviously needed some love, time and money, but it seemed possible to restore it to its former glory.
AG: Who was the previous owner and why didn't they try to restore the centuries old complex?

CSR: The house was owned by the church for 950 years. In 1995, the diocese went bankrupt and had to sell some of its historic houses. They sold Grades to a consortium of investors, but they didn't have the right idea of what to do with the building and how to restore it. So nothing happened for 20 years. Then I bought it.
AG: When Grades was in the hands of the local diocese, the castle housed a silk wallpaper factory. How much did it affect the condition of the castle?

CSR: The house served as the residence of the bishops of Gurk, was the seat of the local court, and was an administrative center for centuries. In the first half of the 18th century, Bishop Johann Maximilian von Thun transformed it into a splendid baroque residence.
AG: As far as I understand, the complex is like a puff pastry. You have a Romanesque layer, a Gothic layer, a Renaissance layer, and so on and so forth. That can be a challenge for any kind of work. What was the biggest challenge during the restoration.

CSR: When you have a house of this age, you will always find traces of previous eras. The place where the castle was built was inhabited by Celts and Romans. According to the legend, Saint Hemma built a chapel here before 1045.
CSR: Parts of this chapel remain the oldest part of the castle. Since then, each generation has added to it. (By the way, this is the tradition in which I see myself as the present guardian of the house).
CSR: When you know that there is another layer underneath every layer, you work more carefully. That became my idea of restoration and preservation. The biggest challenge was combining a thousand-year-old building with the comforts of a 21st-century home. Installing electricity, central heating, Wi-Fi and building nine bathrooms was a big step forward.
AG: It was reported that the castle came on the market with a price tag of some 700,000 euros. But how much did the restoration cost you in total?

CSR: A lot!
AG: Any help from the state - by providing resources or compensation for expenses?

CSR: About 5% of what I spent came from the authorities.


AG: I've read that only the stucco and ceiling paintings remain as traces of its former glory. What about the furniture, furnishing and other valuable artefacts, interiors, or artwork?

CSR: In fact, of the original furnishings, only the stucco, the ceiling paintings, and some of the original Baroque doors remain. The first bankruptcy of the diocese was after the Napoleonic wars. The furniture and paintings were sold.
CSR: The furnaces were damaged and demolished over the centuries. A painful loss is the altarpiece of the baroque chapel. We don't know anything about the painting itself, we don't know when it left and where it is. We only know that it depicted Saint Joseph.
AG: I know that you've accidentally bought a piano that you believe was played by Ludwig van Beethoven. Last year you wanted to send it to Vienna for restoration. How's that going and have you made any progress with your research into who might have played it?

CSR: At the moment it is in a safe place, but my priorities are with the house. First I restore the house, then all the other stuff!
AG: What kind of interesting antique artefacts have you found on the premises during the restoration work? Where do you keep them?

CSR: There are two cabinets full of artifacts we've found over the last nine years. Such as precious tiles from the ovens of all the ages, many shards of pottery, coins and relics from all the generations that have lived in this place.
CSR: One very important discovery is a stone cannonball from the Turkish siege in 1473 that proved the Turks were in Grades.
AG: You are the first owners to live in the castle year-round. Where do you live?
CSR: I live in an entire house.

AG: Are all parts of the castle open for visitors?
CSR: No, about 90% of the house is open to the public. Bedrooms and guest rooms are private.
AG: What's your favourite part of the castle and why?

CSR: That's a tough question. I have so many places that I love. Having breakfast in the herb garden in front of the castle in the summer is wonderful, sitting on top of the tower with a wonderful view of the mountains, the nursery with windows facing three different directions, and so much more. After a day of hard work, it is my Renaissance four-poster bed.
AG: The castle has an interesting and, as far as I know, quite rare kitchen with a huge fireplace. What are you cooking there now?

CSR: The medieval black smoking kitchen is an amazing place. You're actually sitting inside a 15-meter chimney in front of an open fire. We use it throughout the year for barbecues and when we have very special dinners with a show. In the past, many houses had these kitchens, but only a few survived.
AG: Of course, one of the biggest problems is keeping the castle warm in the winter. Do you only have heating in the living quarters, or have you come up with some modern green technology to heat the building?

CSR: Two years ago we built a central heating system that uses wood chips. It is an amazing feeling to come home to a warm castle. We use our own wood, so I think there is no greener technology for a house like this. And yes, we are able to heat the whole castle, which makes it very comfortable.
AG: And what's your monthly electricity bill, if I may ask?

CSR: We will survive…
AG: Another big problem by today's standards is the amount of light you get during the day. I was looking at the pictures and I could see this wall with a few tiny windows (compared to the size of the wall). How dark is it inside?

CSR: One of the most wonderful things about the house is this amazing location on the south side of the valley. We always have a lot of sun and daylight and the rooms are not dark as you can see in the photos.
AG: The landscape is absolutely beautiful in the area where the castle is. There are hills and mountains, a winding road leading through green pastures, private houses scattered here and there. Idyllic. And then there's your castle above it all. Isn't it boring? Don't you miss the bustle of the big city, and have you ever thought that you might have made a mistake by settling in this huge castle on a hill?
CSR: I am in this wonderful position that Grades is right in the heart of Europe. It takes me three hours by car to go to Vienna or Venice. It takes me two hours to go to Salzburg or Ljubljana. I live where other people go on vacation. Over the past 9 years I have made many friends in my new home of Carinthia, and many friends visit me throughout the year. I have never regretted buying Grades.
AG: Almost ten centuries of history are impressive. The walls of the castle have witnessed a myriad of events. Tell me about your ghosts. The owner of Burg Rhinestein in Germany jokes that he has lived in his castle since the mid-1800s and has never seen one. What about you?

CSR: Funny - I recently wrote about that joke by another person. Grades has a rich history. It was a court of justice for about 500 years, many people were sentenced to death during that time, but the place of execution is far away from the castle. No ghosts have returned since I have been here.
CSR: Many people say that the house has a very good aura. They feel a strong power in this place. I am not very sensitive to these impressions, but I can understand why people loved to live here for more than 2,500 years. And I can imagine that the river that surrounds the castle hill on three out of four sides could have a good influence.
AG: One can visit your castle on a guided tour or enjoy a concert or event. Can you book a room and spend a night there?

CSR: No, my castle is my home. Friends and family are always welcome, and we open the house to the public for tours, dinners and cultural events, but we don't run a hotel, it's a private home.
AG: You also offer the castle as a wedding venue. Is the income from tours and weddings enough to cover the upkeep of the castle?

CSR: Not yet, but the business is growing.
AG: Looking back, what would you have done differently if you had to start your restoration journey all over again?

CSR: Non, je regrette rien! I would do it exactly the same way again!
AG: And my traditional question - please give some advice to a dreamer who would like to buy a ruined castle and save it!

CSR: Be part of the restoration! Work with the craftsmen, the archaeologists, the restorers. Learn to do things yourself. Always be at the site and see what they are doing. Make it your home, but don't forget the generations of people who lived and worked here before you. Always enjoy the privilege of being the guardian of a very special house and never forget to look to the future!
AG: You are now working on a book to tell the world about your adventures and the challenges you faced from the moment you bought the castle until the first visitors entered its gates. When will it be published and... can I get a signed copy?

CSR: The book is my celebratory conclusion to the restoration of Grades Castle. I want to give people who have a dream to live in a castle, to restore a castle, to take responsibility for such a project, some good advice on how to succeed. The book will be published this summer so you can buy it. I will let you know when the English version is ready!
I hope you enjoyed the story of Mr. Constantin M. Staus-Rausch, the owner of Schloss Grades in Carinthia..

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Photo credits: Schloss Grades, Mr. Constantin M. Staus-Rausch

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