Schloss Nidda

Nicole and Axel Friedersdorf rescued XVI castle in Hesse, which once housed a court and a prison.
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Dr. Nicole and Axel Friedersdorf, the owners of Schloss Nidda
@Castles_and_Palaces' Artiom Ganin sat down with Dr. Nicole and Axel Friedersdorf, who bought the XVI century Schloss Nidda near Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany's Hesse. The large scale restoration works have turned the rundown former local prison and court house into their cozy home and an extraordinary residence, which they lease to all sort of artists. The castle is not Nicole's and Axel's only passion - they are great fans of buhurt also known as historical medieval armored combat - it is when you put on heavy armor half your weight and engage in a fierce battle. The owners have also told me how they accidentally stumbled on an ancient fireplace hidden from everybody's eyes and why Axel licked at the castle on the day he saw it.


Castles and Palaces (CnP): Could you tell me a few words about yourselves – what do you do for a living?

Nicole Friedersdorf (AF): We are Dr. Nicole and Axel Friedersdorf. Axel is a well-known carpenter and restoration specialist of the typical wood-framed house you can find all over Germany. Due to his expertise he decided to devote all of his time to the restoration of the castle. I have a a PhD degree in immune and oncology and pursue a professional career as Senior Marketing Director in the Global Med-Tech Industry. I dedicate all my marketing expertise, free-time and holidays to the castle – which is quite challenging. We both practice historic sword fighting (mixed martial arts wearing a 35kg heavy armor plus weapons) and are both members of the German National Team in Historic Medieval Armored Combat.
Axel Friedersdorf in his medieval armor
CnP: How did you come across this XVI century Schloss Nidda? I've read that you were just looking for a bigger house and got the Schloss instead!

NF: That is correct. We were looking for a bigger property - a farm, an old building with staples or similar, which we could then renovate and lease, settle there and of course organize various events. So, we started searching across several online real estate platforms. It was easy. Any kind of property within 30km around our former hometown would do provided that certain requirements - a total area and the number of rooms – are met. And so it just popped up all of a sudden after a month of searching - on a Sunday evening. Later we found out that it had been on the market for ages, but it never showed up.
CnP: Why did you need this castle at all?

NF: To be honest, we believe that the castle found us. It was magical. To start with the fact that we never deliberately searched for it. But we somehow found it. So, we quickly booked a tour of the castle and fell in love with it. Mind you, it was not attractive from the inside at all. We made an offer to the seller and bought it on our terms! Our dream came true!
CnP: So what did you feel when you got your own castle?

NF: It was unreal, absolutely unreal! Even now after four years passed telling someone that "You know, we own a castle and we live there," sounds totally unreal!
CnP: But before you moved in you had to do quite a lot, didn't you?

NF: The castle had been abandoned for a decade although it is located right in the middle of the town. This resulted in its gradual decay and vandalism. So, it was not in a good shape to put it mildly. Eighty six window glasses were destroyed on purpose, it had shattered doors, mold, animal poop all over the place – just to name a few facts.
CnP: Who was previous owner of the castle?
NF: The previous owner was kind of an investor and this person turned a blind eye on it.

CnP: What did your friends tell you when you bought this property?
NF: Axel has a friend in America and I think his quote was the best. "Dude, if someone deserves a castle, then it's you, man!" So, half of our friends did not believe it, what a nice joke they said, the other half had no doubts we did it because they knew that we would be bold and crazy enough to do just that.
CnP: So, shattered doors, broken windows. What a ruin of a castle! How difficult was it to bring everything back in order and what challenges did you face?

NF: The restoration works literally affected everything starting from electricity to heating, tiles, and wooden floors to masonry. The biggest challenge was to explain to inexperienced authorities what needs to be done to get the allowance to do it perfectly. Axel is a pro, he is experienced in medieval restoration while they are not.
CnP: How did the local authorities help you with the restoration efforts? Were there any problems?

NF: The heritage preservation service was very supportive and they still are! They are simply marvelous! But we had some problems with other authorities and parties, which had nothing to do with the restoration. Once the castle was given a kiss of life some people started making claims to what they had no right to whatsoever. But we clearly showed them their place.
CnP: Do you have any green technologies employed in the castle?

NF: We would love to install solar panels but in Germany you can't do it on listed buildings. So, we have no chance to go that green or use modern heating systems.
CnP: You bought the castle in 2018 and in 2019/2020 the COVID pandemic struck. How did you cope with it?

NF: The pandemic gave us a lot of time to renovate the castle. We planned to start events and weddings from early 2020 on and we were speeding up renovations like hell in 2019. Then the pandemic struck, and we were forced to take a step back allowing us to finish the projects with no hurry.
CnP: Some castle owners in France are terrified with the 2022/2023 winter – they are expecting crazy gas/electricity/heating bills because of the war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis. Are you scared?

NF: Right from the start we installed energy saving systems. We replaced conventional lighting with LEDs, we insulated the inside walls with eco-friendly historic materials (e.g., clay), we also installed the second windows on the inside behind the original old ones and so on. And we made sure we do not heat unused rooms. This is actually the basics and anyone should be aware of that. We just have a few rooms more to think of now.
Original wooden floor


CnP: I know that your castle is also home to people of art – how does this scheme work? Do they have to pay for their stay?

NF: There are multiple ways. We currently host an art studio where two artists – a painter and a harp-builder - share the place. Fun fact: the harp-builder is an old school friend of Axel. They've been friends since they were 6 years old. They rent the place under very artist-friendly terms. We also offer a summer stage (in the courtyard) and a winter-stage in the castle, artist can apply to perform on the stages or rent them.
CnP: What about ordinary people – how can they book a night at your castle?

Axel Friedersdorf: In 2023 we will open a hostel for "traveling witches and wizards" of all ages. The "Haunted (k)nights castle hostel" will be like straight out of the magical world. It will be a great experience for everyone. As Nicole is a huge potterhead, a dream come true here!
CnP: Normally old castles have their own secrets – what about Schloss Nidda, what kind of secrets has the castle revealed to you?

AF: We found a hidden chimney/fireplace behind the wall dating back to the XVI century with perfectly preserved stone masonry. The castle prison has a cellar, which is just partly accessible. We noticed that the cellar itself seemed to be smaller than it does look on the plan. So, we compared the measurements and found a bricked up doorway – almost invisible - to the other half of the cellar, we are now a bit scared to open it. Next Halloween we will certainly do it! But only in our friends' company!
CnP: Do you have any ancient mechanisms which still work?

AF: We found a huge Victorian armored cabinet with three lockets. But no keys. We tried to crack the lockets open but failed. Historic quality as its best. Then 2 months later we found a small safe hidden under several layers of the wallpaper two rooms away from the cabinet.
AF: In this safe we found an envelope neatly sealed and labeled with old writings on it, containing the old keys for the cabinet. No joke or Escape Room urban legend. The lockets were working like they were brand new and opened.
CnP: Do you live in the castle all year round and if so where exactly in the castle?

AF: We permanently moved into the castle 6 month after we bought it. Since then we have moved into different spaces inside the castle six times. So, it works like this – we renovate a certain part, rent it and move into the next one, where we start from scratch. Some 4 years passed and we have almost finished renovating our private rooms on the second floor of the castle!
CnP: Describe your typical day please!

NF: We get up at 6am at the latest. We have a coffee, feed the furry friends living with us, walk around the castle with the dog. Then Axel gets back to the renovation works. I work remotely most of the time, so I go to my castle office. When we host an event or a wedding during the week Axel gets involved – he takes on the managerial duties as well. On the weekend it's my duty. At noon we head to the local brewery (because our castle kitchen is non-existent), which also serves fine food.
NF: We made friends with the host. Very often we also get a lot of cakes as the junior owner of the local traditional bakery settled in the castle last year. Last year we decided to share those! Every second day before dinner we go to the castle gym in the attic which we share with all the castle inhabitants. Exhausted and filled with nice food we take the dog for a walk, then get back and try watching Netflix but fall asleep within 5 minutes!
CnP: What's your favorite part of the castle? Why exactly this place?

NF: Axel's favorite part is the vault dating back to the XI century, the times of Frederick Barbarossa. The emperor's favorite residence is just 30km away from us. You can find the same masonry marks in the castle like they are in Barbarossa Palatine which is amazing. Axel uses the vaults as his private historic armory to store the swords, halberds, and armor he needs for his sport. My favorite place is the last remaining part of the medieval wall, which used to run around the castle on the second floor. Here - like on a small balcony- you are on the same level with the trees and birds, and you can enjoy the tranquility. You have a wonderful view, it is perfect for relaxation.
CnP: Tell me a fact from the castle history which few people know!

AF: The castle was once surrounded by water, it was a true medieval fortress. Today you can just guess it. There is a small ditch now covered with grass and a boardwalk, which runs around the castle.
CnP: There's a registry office in the castle so it is now a mecca for newlyweds – what's your vision for the castle's future?

NF: Weddings give you the best vibe one can have at a castle. Pure love and positivity! So, we are looking forward to receiving even more newlyweds! So, we currently work on a nice wedding garden, for couples to be wed in the courtyard. We are also planning to host bachelor parties- where bride or groom can practice sword fighting and prove their skills on courtly manners.
CnP: How often do you organize medieval festivals or medieval battle tournaments?

NF: We have one huge sword fighting tournament per year. In addition, we host every Sunday sword fighting classes for all skills in the courtyard. And we train the local high school every Tuesday. Axel educates has been teaching the students for the fourth year now. it's been a success as it is the only example in Europe where sword fighting is a high school subject.
CnP: You don't regret buying this castle, do you?

NF: No, not at all! When we visited the castle for the first time, we knew we wanted to buy it and that we would never regret it. After the real estate agent, who showed us around the castle left, we stayed like five minutes longer and my husband licked the front door stone pillar. This was to make sure that it will be ours. In Germany we say: "If you lick it, it's yours!"
CnP: Any other recommendations to medieval enthusiasts apart from licking a castle?

AF: You need to fall in love with it first, truly fall in love to be willing to give and put all you have into it – time, stamina, commitment, creativity, motivation, hope and of course money. Purchasing a castle is sometimes not the largest part of your investment – it is very often the restoration that takes years your efforts to keep it in a good shape over years to come. You need to have a plan for that! And be prepared to get a lot of attention – negative attention from envious people who just see the castle, but totally ignore the work and investment. Also be ready to lose your "so called friends". The true ones will stay though - and that's the good part: you'll end up having a bunch of great friends around you with who you can enjoy the castle.
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Dr. Nicole and Axel Friedersdorf, who own Schloss Nidda in Germany's Hesse!
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Photo credits: @Schloss Nidda

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