Local Anger at Swank New German Government Guesthouse | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 22.02.2007
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Local Anger at Swank New German Government Guesthouse

Most nations have official guesthouses where government leaders can entertain high-ranking foreign visitors. Now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also boasts one, 60 miles north of Berlin.

Two police officers on their horses patrol in front of the Meseberg castle

Meseberg Castle is all about pomp and circumstance

A magnificent 1738-built Baroque-style property called Schloss Meseberg (Castle Meseberg) is situated in the eastern state of Brandenburg encircling Berlin.

On Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will play host at the castle for the first time to French President Jacques Chirac, during one of their regular German-Franco consultations.

Under a deal reached with the Messerschmidt Foundation -- a privately-owned organization that bought the castle in the mid-nineties -- the government will be allowed to use the property as its guesthouse for high-ranking officials over a 20-year period at a rent of just one euro a year.

The government for its part has in the past year spent 13 million euros ($17 million) modernizing its kitchen and heating facilities and by ensuring its security and technical facilities are also state-of-the-art.

Mixed feelings

Castle Meseberg

Meseberg is probably the cheapest castle in the world: the German government will be renting it for 1 euro per year

While there is general satisfaction in Brandenburg that a worthy role has been found for the magnificently-restored property, feelings in Meseberg (population 135) are mixed.

The decision to renew the 1.7 kilometer-long (1 mile) approach road to the castle has raised eyebrows in the village even though community officials say the rough-surfaced, pot-holed road, was in dire need of repair.

The main cost will be borne by the German government and Brandenburg state, but villagers with properties along the route are also being called on to make contributions, ranging from 2,000 to 15,000 euros.

Where were they before?

Evelyn Briesmeister, 65, a village resident, is furious.

Conference hall at Castle Meseberg

The castle has been meticulously restored to its past splendor

"The state of the road didn't bother a soul in earlier times," Briesmeister said. "Now, because government officials will be driving cars along it to the Schloss the whole village is made poor."

Her husband, Horst Briesemeister, 70, agrees. Both have signed a citizen's petition in protest.

Frank Stege, 45, the district's head official claims the decision to renew the approach road at a cost of 1.2 million euros was taken in December 2005.

"We aim to make the payments socially tolerable for the villagers," he said.

Transfer of power

In the old Federal Republic during the years of division, the government's official guesthouse was to be found atop a hill overlooking the Rhine.

Jacques Chirac kissing the hand of Angela Merkel

Jacques Chirac will be Merkel's first guest at Meseberg

Nick-named the "Rotunde" (Rotunda) with its 23 conference rooms, it played host to a whole list of world leaders in the post-war years, ranging from Leonid Breschnev to Bill Clinton, the Shah of Persia to Queen Elizabeth of England.

But after German reunification and the controversial political "power transfer" from Bonn to Berlin in 1999, it was clear a new government guesthouse would have to be found closer to the old-new capital.

Schloss Meseberg received little consideration at the time. Situated in the former GDR (East Germany), it was just one of a series of decaying country retreats which had fallen on hard times during the communist era.

Then, the Munich-based Messerschmidt Foundation, a private organization that renovates dilapidated monuments across Germany, acquired the castle in the mid-1990s, and spent 25 million euros over the next 10 years restoring it.

Footing the bill

The Brandenburg state government, it was thought, would find a role for the castle and was miffed when Matthias Platzeck, the state's premier, ultimately rejected the idea.

George Bush jokingly demonstrating how to eat a Bismarck harring, watched by Angela Merkel

Last summer, Merkel welcomed George W. Bush in her constituency in Stralsund

But Platzeck did toss the idea to then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder who was seeking a suitable venue for summer government conclaves and a place for putting up high-ranking foreign visitors.

His dilemma was spotlighted in early 2005 when President Bush arrived for a visit. Concern about his safety led to a planned Berlin stop-over being moved to Mainz, near Frankfurt.

Late last month, German Chancellory Minister Thomas de Maiziere was handed a symbolic key to Schloss Meseberg.

Referring to the castle as a government venue for international conferences and foreign guests making overnight stays, de Maiziere predicted that "history would be written in the Meseberg meetings of the future."

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