Schloss Seisenegg

Maximilian Mautner Markhof who lives in his 13th century castle believes that any castle - no matter how big - is intended for one family only. This is the reason why remodelling it into a hotel makes no sense for him.

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Maximilian Mautner Markhof, the owner of Schloss Seisenegg with his dog
Artiom Ganin is in Austria talking to the owner of Schloss Seisenegg in the town of Viehdorf in Lower Austria. Maximilian Mautner Markhof's ancestors originally came from Bohemia, which is now part of the Czech Republic. He represents a family who for centuries have been involved in brewery and distillery businesses. Maximilian told me that the biggest challenge is to reside in a big house and face what he described as "overtaxation" from the state. He also finds it really upsetting that people are jealous as they think living in a medieval castle is pure enjoyment. However, in reality it means running it, maintaining it and even trying to get warm, as the place - just like any proper medieval castle - is rather cold. Still, Maximilian believes making a hotel out of such a property is not the way to go because castles have always been intended for one family only. Period!

BEER BREWING FAMILY WITH A MEDIEVAL CASTLE

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Maximilian, would you be so kind to tell me a few words about yourself and your family!
Maximilian Mautner Markhof (MM): My name is Maximilian Mautner Markhof and I am a descendant of a famous Austrian brewery and distillery family - we've got our nobility in 1872 - originating from Bohemia. We have been active in this industry since the early 17th century and have owned many breweries. One of the most famous was Schwechat in Lower Austria. I'm an art historian and some sort of a "cultural manager". My wife Anne is a well-known Austrian architect and we have two children.
CnP: What an extensive background in beer making! What kind of beer do you have and where can one taste it?
MM: This is correct. The family introduced the cooling system for the "Lager-Beer" and improved brewery processes, which made Viennese beer world-famous. We also invented modern baking yeast (Mautner Markhof Hefe). Our new product is called "Seisenegger" and it will soon be available for purchase.
CnP: Every beer lover should definitely try it! Old brewing traditions are rife at this very old castle, which dates back to the 13th century. I know that in the beginning of the 20th century part of it collapsed and the castle was left abandoned. Do you know anything about the first attempts to restore it after the 1923 collapse?
MM: After the collapse the broken parts of the castle were abandoned and the family withdrew to the other parts of the residence. In the late 1960s the state of Austria helped to save the roof of the main keep. No other attempts to rescue the old parts of the castle were made till 1995 because of the lack of funding. Then restoration works started – firstly, the broken walls, ceilings and roofs were rebuilt. It was done in an authentic way, so the castle now stands merely as it stood before the 1923 collapse.
CnP: The latest restoration works occurred in the 2000s. Any interesting findings?
MM: Yes and no. We had no findings, but we used the authentic medieval stones to rebuild the walls. These were the very stones which belonged to the part that collapsed. Unfortunately, the ceilings had to be redone in flat concrete.
CnP: It looks like a very expensive undertaking. Did you finance the works from your pocket or did the state help in a way?
MM: We financed most of the works ourselves. We paid for the repairs and rebuilding works, for the installation of central-heating and sanitation systems – imagine there weren't any before 1995! The only exception was a new roof the tower got in 1969.
CnP: What are the challenges you face with your castle?
MM: You know, it is challenging to live in a big house and to face overtaxation by the authorities. Then there are also jealous people who think residing in a medieval castle is never-ending fun. They just have no idea what it means to live in such a cold place and maintain it on a daily basis.

CnP: So, what are the benefits of residing in a castle then?
MM: Well, living in a castle means being in line with history itself. And space overrules commodity. Also, one of the most precious things is that you can touch history – literally!
CnP: What's your favorite part of the castle?
MM: I really love our two libraries.

CnP: You don't have any medieval mechanisms which still operate, do you?
MM: No, we don't. The medieval mechanical parts were removed after the Napoleon War in the early 19th century. But there is still a hand pumped water pond and the old scales in the courtyard.

ANY CASTLE IS INTENDED FOR ONE FAMILY

CnP: I think many people would love to pay you a visit. What can you offer to your guests?
MM: We do offer guided tours for groups around the castle and used to show them all of its former "official parts" and of course the medieval chapel. One can also use the castle as a wedding venue.

CnP: Is it possible to spend a night at your castle?
MM: Normally, it is not possible. To do it you have to get a private invitation.
CnP: Maintaining a castle normally requires a lot of efforts and expenses – do you plan to offer accommodation for tourists – maybe allocate a couple of rooms to compensate for the maintenance costs?
MM: Due to the medieval essense of the castle, we can't make one part of it a so-called "hotel". Let me tell you one thing - castles have always been large houses for ONE family - with or without staff - and they should be used that way!
CnP: What about rooms for your own guests – where are they located?
MM: The guest rooms and suites are not accessible without passing private rooms. We have for example a Renaissance suite with a beautiful ceiling, a Habsburg room and a French room.
CnP: Could you tell me about the interiors of your castle?
MM: Seisenegg was a modest castle of "lower nobility" owners. Only one state room has 18th century landscape frescoes. The gem is our chapel dating from 1358, its walls were painted in the medieval times. Interestingly, the castle still has a layout of a fortress, which originated in the Middle Ages. In the end of the 16th century it was "upgraded" with new stairways and windows. Unfortunately, most of the original furniture disappeared due succession/heritage quarrels.
CnP: Any castle ghost spotted? Or maybe you've experienced something unusual within the castle walls?
MM: To be honest, we had a ghost of a person who committed suicide. We gave him a Catholic funeral in the family crypt. He no longer appears. It looks like he thanked us and now rests in peace. You know in the 17th century, Schloss Seisenegg was owned by a protestant Von Greiffenberg family. One of its representatives, Catharina Regina von Greiffenberg (1633-1694) was the most famous baroque female poet of the time and she lived here - at Seisenegg!
CnP: Seisenegg is surely a very imposing castle. Austria has hundreds of them and they all look great. Could you name an Austrian castle which you like (apart from your own)?
MM: If we speak about privately-owned it is Hochosterwitz in Carinthia, Raabs/Thaya in Lower Austria. As for public ones it is of course Hohenwerfen near Salzburg. But I have to be frank with you – I really love every old and every historic building in any country. These buildings need to be preserved. They need to be inhabited, even the most rundown ones!
CnP: What would you tell those who are dreaming about buying a dilapidated castle to restore?
MM: I would suggest, that by restoring a historic house one must absolutely respect its size and form, which means no modern alterations are allowed except of course heating, plumbing, and sanitation systems. If you need more space, just buy a bigger castle!
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Maximilian Mautner Markhof, the owner of Schloss Seisenegg in Lower Austria.

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Photo credits: Schloss Seisenegg

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