Schloss Gamehl

Dagmar von Stralendorff von Wallis bought her ancestors' family nest after the reunification of Germany.

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Dagmar von Stralendorff von Wallis, owner of Schloss Gamehl. Photo credits: mein-urlaub-im-schloss.de
@Castles_and_Palaces' Artiom Ganin had a chance to talk with Dagmar von Stralendorff von Wallis, who owns Schloss Gamehl in Germany's Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Dagmar's ancestors had owned the castle before the partition of Germany in two states after WWII. Actually, the estate which is next to Wismar had belonged to the von Stralendorff family since 14th century. After the reunification Dagmar decided to get it back and since the possibility of restitution was ruled out, Dagmar bought the family nest of her ancestors. Together with her husband she spent several years working hard to carefully draw up plans and get down to restoring the property. The castle now houses an exclusive hotel close to the Baltic Sea. The couple does not reside in their castle but use every opportunity to spend time there. The Neo-Gothic Schloss Gamehl was built in the 1860s but it keeps up with the times - just take a look at a TESLA charging station next to it.

I'm grateful to Claudia Schaffhausen of Baltic Manors for helping me to organise this interview.

RESTITUTION NOT THE OPTION

Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Please tell me about yourself and your family!
Dagmar von Stralendorff-von Wallis (DSW): My name is Dagmar von Stralendorff-von Wallis, born in 1961 in Etterbeek, Belgium, because my father was an official of the EEC (now the EU). I studied law and I am now the managing director of Hotel Schloss Gamehl. I am married to Georg von Wallis, a lawyer and we have two children; Katharina - she is an orthodontist, she is married and a mother of a little son Konstantin. We also have son Nicolas, he is studying law in Munich now.
CnP: You are a family of lawyers and know a thing about law! Did you apply the restitution legislation to get the castle back from the state? As far as I know your family owned Gamehl castle till 1945.
DSW: The restitution of the so-called Junkers, who were expropriated in 1945, was not politically desired at the time of reunification. The official reason given by Kohl's government at the time was that the Soviet government had agreed to the reunification of the two German states provided that the expropriations of 1945 - 1949 would not be reversed. Many of the so-called former owners have contested the legal process, but both the Federal Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice have rejected restitution.
CnP: I understand. So you had to buy it back. What was inside the castle under DDR rule?
DSW: Indeed. Gamehl was used in the post-war years from 1945 mainly as a residential house for refugees from East Prussia, the post-war period was a great challenge for everyone at that time. If there was a housing shortage in Gamehl, one or two new rooms were simply converted in the attic. We also found several bathrooms, kitchens and converted rooms throughout the house during the renovation. The large hall was used for various celebrations, harvest festivals, weddings and youth dedication. Even now, residents of the area often come and fondly recall the celebrations in the manor house. The present-day library and the Blue Salon used to house a Konsum, i.e. a grocery store for daily shopping. The park was divided into various allotment gardens.
CnP: Judging by what you say about the converted rooms and bathrooms, etc. the restoration works should have taken a lot of time. How much time did it take you to complete the restoration?
DSW: The entire refurbishment took about 2 years; the preliminary work, i.e. the conceptual design, planning and application for funding took about 5 years.
CnP: What was the most difficult and challenging thing to do?
DSW: It was very challenging to get to grips with all the trades, especially as the refurbishment was my first experience of conversions. I hadn't imagined that there would be so many different opinions when it came to structural decisions. For example, when it came to the treatment of the wooden floor, I asked the parquet specialist, the construction manager, the carpenter and the restorer for the best solution. So each of them came up with their proposals - I should varnish, oil, wax or soap the floor. So I the four experts gave me four recommendations. The meeting with the villagers was also very exciting, we first approached each other cautiously, there were fears and reservations on both sides.
CnP: Did you have to coordinate you're the restoration process with the German culture authorities? In France for instance, if it is a listed castle you get a state historical architect who makes sure you restore in line with certain rules like a specific architectural style etc. They are very strict.
DSW: We had to coordinate the restoration with the Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments, but our experience there was very good. The cooperation was smooth and unproblematic, but unfortunately we received almost no funding from them. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern simply has too many manor houses and castles that need to be maintained and restored. For the uncovering and restoration of the coats of arms, which the Wismar portrait painter Carl Canow had put on Gamehl, we have, however, received money from them.

A CASTLE WITH A TESLA CHARGER

CnP: Did you have any excavations on site?
DSW: In the 1920s, excavation work took place on the island; there was the oldest settlement of Gamehl, namely a fortified tower. The exhibits found there are on display in the "Schabbelhaus", the town history museum in Wismar. When my husband and I renovated Gamehl Castle, no excavations took place.

CnP: Which interesting artifacts did you find at the site?
DSW: During the redesign of the park we found some bones - but thank God they were only the remains of an animal.
CnP: Was the restoration costly?
DSW: We don't like to talk about the amount we invested, but the renovation cost us a lot of energy, sweat and enthusiasm.

CnP: This is why you now have a TESLA charging point, right? Actually, you are the first castle owners I talk to, who have it!
DSW: Jokes aside - only if every individual makes an effort we can bring about a change for our environment. An important contribution is the conversion to electric mobility, which can only be achieved if there are enough electric charging stations. In the meantime, however, all environmental topics are also an important marketing tool; the guests do appreciate an effort in terms of sustainability. We also have installed a wood chip heating system.

CnP: Going green is important and some castle owners told me you need to adapt to modern times. Please tell me do you live in the castle?
DSW: No, we live in Berlin and go to Gamehl as often as possible, then we also stay in the hotel.

CnP: What's your favorite part of the castle and why?
DSW: I especially like the island, it's so quiet there and I always imagine how my ancestors drank tea there, or went for a walk.
CnP: Tranquility and nature is what a lot of people need nowadays. To be honest I like the tower with the flag very much – what's inside?
DSW: There is yet another room in the attic and a steep staircase to get to the top.
CnP: Tell me an interesting fact from the castle's history!
DSW: The house was built by my great-grandfather to keep his children healthy. Imagine - my great-grandfather Franz v. Stralendorff was married twice and had 17 children; almost all of the children died of tuberculosis (only 4 children grew up), so he had decided to rebuild the family house in 1860. The previous baroque building stood directly on the pond and there's a suspicion that the children contracted TB due to the dampness in the old house. Castle Gamehl is therefore flooded with light and has a large terrace facing the South; the children should breathe in plenty of oxygen to stay healthy.
CnP: The castle is now an imposing hotel – how many guests can you accommodate at a time?
DSW: We have 19 rooms and suites; with extra beds we can accommodate 52 guests. Each room is individually designed and adapted to the circumstances, i.e. in particular to the existing floor plan. Nevertheless, my sister-in-law Hildegard Still -v.Wallis has succeeded in developing a uniform line for the design. There are guests who want to stay in every room once.
CnP: What is so special about your hotel – why one should prefer Gamehl castle over other options?
DSW: Hotel Schloss Gamehl offers a level of privacy that is unparalleled in any other hotel. Our guests feel not as paying guests, but as private guests in a castle. Our entire team is dedicated to discreetly fulfilling all their wishes and needs. Particularly popular is the option to book the whole house, e.g. for weddings. Party like a lord of the manor!
CnP: 2020 and the first part of 2021 are quite tough for the hotel industry – how do you fare through these hard COVID times?
DSW: The Corona Pandemic has presented us with special challenges - we could not plan in any form. We could only answer the many requests of our guests week by week, even now we don't know if and in which form e.g. weddings will be possible next year. It was not easy for the staff either, as they did not get a full salary for weeks.
CnP: Did you get any support from the state?
DSW: The state has supported us with short-time allowance, so that the hotel did not have to be burdened with the salaries for the employees. Other financial support for the running costs was also taken over by the state.
CnP: This is not the case elsewhere. The Gamehler Talks is an interesting speaking event – please tell me what's the philosophy behind it?
DSW: The Gamehler Talks were created by my friend, a journalist and presenter Gisela Steinhauer. Her idea was to introduce prominent guests in a small, exclusive circle through a conversation; it's not an interview, but a real conversation, which Gisela always does perfectly.

CnP: Who was your most exciting speaker?
DSW: All our guests were very exciting and interesting, but the highlight was Joachim Gauck, the former Federal President, who is a native of Mecklenburg.
CnP: Which other activities can you offer to your guests?
DSW: We offer carriage rides in the area, you can rent bicycles with us, and the Baltic Sea beach is only a few kilometers away. But especially you can explore the beauties of Mecklenburg.
CnP: You've come a long way with your castle hotel – from a rundown property to a majestic castle – what would you tell those who would like to follow suit - to buy a dilapidated castle, restore it to former glory and open a hotel? Would you do the same again?
DSW: Anyone who wants to restore a castle has to bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm - such a restoration is a long-distance run. It certainly helps if you live locally and try to solve the various problems as pragmatically as possible, otherwise the costs will run away from you. I think a project like this is something you only do once in a lifetime.
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Dagmar von Stralendorff-von Wallis, the owner of Schloss Gamehl in Germany's Mecklenburg-Vorpommern!
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Photo credits: Schloss Gamehl, Dagmar von Stralendorff-von Wallis

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