Impoverished high nobility: expensive gift

Guelph Prince Ernst-August wants Marienburg Castle back from his son. He wanted to give it away – to save costs.

A winter fairy tale – but on closer inspection it becomes ruinous Photo: EAC GmbH

The wooden showcases in the Chinese room are empty. Still. In September, burglars broke into Marienburg Castle near Hanover and stole the Guelphs’ historical weapons collection. Sabers, muzzle-loaders and pistols – all gone.

The fact that the display cases that visitors pass on their tour of the castle are still not filled with other Guelph treasures months later shows the full misery of this castle. Perhaps even of the House of Hanover. Because there may simply not be much left to put in showcases.

The neo-Gothic castle sits enthroned on a hill and, with its turrets and crenellated walls, looks as if it had been modeled on a Disney castle. The last king of Hanover, George V, gave it to his wife Marie of Saxe-Altenburg as a birthday present in 1857 and had it built by 1867 as a magnificent summer residence for the family.

Georg had already gone blind in his childhood. At first only in one eye. Then he hurled the tassels of his purse into his face and unfortunately hit the other. He never saw the castle, which his wife called "my little Eldorado," but he could feel it on a cork model.

A streak of bad luck since construction began

The streak of bad luck for the castle may have begun shortly after construction began. The commissioned engineering major embezzled money. Then the Guelphs were defeated in the war against Prussia. The castle was never completely finished. On the ceiling of the Knight’s Hall and the Dining Hall, the dark wooden beams were not covered with stucco or a wooden ceiling decorated with carvings. The floor has no parquet, but stone tiles. The bare walls lack the ornate printed wallpaper found in the other rooms.

George fled into exile to Austria in 1866, and Marie followed him a year later. She lived only a little more than a year in the castle on Marienberg, named after her, and never returned. After the Second World War, the family of Ernst August III and refugees lived in the castle between 19. The total of 130 rooms were not inhabited for longer.

Ernst-August senior declared that he had revoked the donation of the Marienburg to his son "because of gross ingratitude".

Today’s Guelphs have monetized the inventory of the Marienburg. Ernst August Albert Paul Otto Rupprecht Oskar Berthold Friedrich-Ferdinand Christian-Ludwig Prince of Hanover Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg Royal Prince of Great Britain and Ireland, better known as "Prugelaugust" and "Pinkelprinz," transferred Marienburg Castle to his son, Prince Ernst August Jr. in 2004.

He, in turn, knows how to behave better than his father, does not pee in public and does not beat up photographers. He is best known nationally for Hanover’s version of a royal wedding. He married fashion designer Ekaterina Malysheva in July 2017 in Hanover’s Marktkirche church, in front of which around 100 riflemen from the "Das Grobe Freie" rifle fraternity stood guard in their uniforms – Lower Saxony style.

The gala rejoiced: "The whole world looks to Hanover" and the couple had themselves driven through the city in a closed carriage, in which once also his great-great-great-grandparents Georg V. and Marie sat on their wedding day.

There is just enough money for a Christmas tree, but not enough for the renovation Photo: EAC GmbH

In 2005, this same junior hired the auction house Sotheby’s to auction off over 20,000 art objects in the Marienburg for ten days. Among them were suits of armor, a silver service for 200 guests, and also the Chinese porcelain that originally stood in the now-empty Chinese Room. The Guelphs thus raised 44 million euros. Spiegel Online called it a "princely junk day."

Today, the state of Lower Saxony assumes that several million of these were invested in the palace. However, the cash injection did not stop the decay. Part of the slope on which the castle stands, and with it the surrounding walls, is in danger of slipping. The building needs to be completely overhauled from the basement to the roof, the entire technical equipment needs to be renewed, windows and facades need to be renovated, and the interiors also need to be restored.

The paint is crumbling off the walls. The neo-Gothic library is reminiscent of an umbrella in its shape. The vaulted ceiling arches merge into a central column decorated with flowers and gold leaf. Behind the glass panes of the dark wooden cabinets are leather-bound books. The splendid impression lasts only briefly, however. The colors on the ceiling are stained, and in many places the paintings are chipped. And visitors can also discover damage in the Guelphs’ other living and social rooms.

An engineering firm has estimated the restoration costs in an expert report at 27 million euros – too much for the palace owner Ernst August jr. At the end of November, the hereditary prince appeared before the press with Lower Saxony’s Minister of Science and Culture Bjorn Thumler to announce that the castle would be transferred to public ownership for a symbolic euro because he could no longer maintain it and would otherwise have to close it. "I am aware that the restoration of the castle is financially burdensome for the state and the federal government. But it far exceeds my financial possibilities," the political magazine Rundblick quotes him as saying.

Liemak Immobilien GmbH, a subsidiary of the Klosterkammer Hannover, is to take over the building. The federal government has already promised a subsidy of 13.6 million euros. The rest would be up to the state. "The declared goal of all those involved was and is to permanently preserve Marienburg Castle for the public as a total work of art, a cultural monument and place of remembrance with great significance for Lower Saxony’s state identity," Thumler said – provoking protest from the opposition Green and FDP factions.

Doubts about refurbishment costs

The criticize that the deal was closed without involving parliament or at least the budget committee. "We have great doubts about the figures quoted," said FDP member Susanne Schutz. The fear: Marienburg Castle – about which the visitor guide claims that George V once financed it entirely without tax money and only out of his own pocket – could become increasingly expensive for Lower Saxony taxpayers.

The biggest protest, however, came from Ernst August senior. The latter declared in a letter to the subsidiary of the Klosterkammer that he had revoked the donation of Marienburg Castle to his son "due to gross ingratitude". Now the sale is on hold. "The House of Hanover must now clear this up," said Minister Thumler on the sidelines of a state parliament session. He added that the state had no indication that the objection could change anything about the officially established ownership situation. Nevertheless, the state could not possibly be an arbitrator in this internal family dispute.

The junior nevertheless wants to hold on to the sale. The Ministry of Culture assumes that the renovation can begin in 2020 – if the transfer of the castle to the state remains.

This raises hopes among the employees of Marienburg Castle, who guide up to 200,000 visitors through the historic rooms every year. "Something has to happen now," says a castle guide in the courtyard, where a bushy fir tree with fairy lights stands before Christmas. It can’t be allowed to deteriorate any further, she says. "This castle was built with so much love. It was built out of love."

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