Battle for the future of the German version of Camp David at a reduced price – POLITICO
MESEBERG, Germany – The French have Fort de Brégançon, a spectacular medieval citadel on a Mediterranean islet. Americans have Camp David, a sprawling retreat referred to as “Shangri-La” by past presidents for its secluded mountainous beauty. The Germans have Meseberg.
Haven’t you heard of Meseberg? You’re not alone.
Official retreats often serve a critical function, allowing world leaders to escape the noise and bustle of their capitals to reflect on big decisions or host foreign leaders in a relaxed setting where deep conversations sometimes produce historic agreements. . Camp David was the site where the Normandy invasion was partly planned, where Eisenhower and Khrushchev met, where Israeli and Egyptian leaders agreed to make peace.
The official retreat of the German Chancellor, Schloss Meseberg, an 18th-century Baroque castle located in a small town of 150 people in the countryside north of Berlin, doesn’t carry the same weight.
the castle by the lakeWith its majestic columns and high mansard roof, it is undoubtedly a beautiful residence. But in a country famous for impressive castles, the Schloss stands out for its relative simplicity.
That was exactly the intention. Berlin wanted an official withdrawal that reflected the modest spirit of its leaders. (After all, Chancellor Angela Merkel is known to do much of her own grocery shopping.) In a country that is not comfortable with the notion of its own global power, that humility also fits Germany’s self-image as a modest geopolitical actor.
Hans Heinrich von Srbik, President of the Messerschmitt Stiftung, a foundation that protect historic buildings and owns Schloss Meseberg, he succinctly put it in a recent telephone interview: “Meseberg was beautiful enough for Germany and not as pompous as the French. [residences], which would not have suited us. “
However, some in Germany question, considering the considerable expense involved in maintaining the retirement and the lack of importance attached to it, whether it is worth keeping the lights on, voices that may grow louder once Merkel’s successor decides. what to do with Meseberg. .
An unpretentious choice
The Messerschmitt Stiftung was founded in 1969 by Willy Messerschmitt, an aircraft manufacturer with a complicated legacy: he is best known for the Nazi fighter jets he built during WWII, using forced labor. Its foundation first saw the castle after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the structure, like many others in former East Germany, was abandoned and run down. The foundation eventually carried out a multi-million euro renovation.
The official withdrawal from the government prior to German reunification had been Petersberg – a luxury hotel in the mountains southeast of the West German capital, Bonn. The restoration of Berlin as a capital, however, meant that a retreat closer to home was needed. So in 2004, just a year before Merkel came to power, the government made a deal to rent Schloss Meseberg for 20 years at a token price of 1 euro.
Meseberg was never meant to come with all the luxury features often enjoyed by other world leaders: There is no swimming pool, no golf course, and no tennis court.
Although this was the kind of simplicity that Merkel seems to enjoy, she did not use Meseberg as her own personal refuge, preferring instead to recharge at her country home in the Uckermark, a region of the state of Brandenburg where he grew up.
However, Merkel was keen to prevent foreign leaders from interpreting the existence of the even modest Schloss as a symbol of Germany’s growing geopolitical ambitions. To that end, government officials were encouraged not to refer to the place as a castle, but rather as a Gästehaus, Die Welt reported at the time.
From 2015 to 2018, the Schloss was used only eight days a year on average, and that includes two annual public events: an open house and a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, according to the government’s own accounting.
The lack of use reflects, to some extent, Germany’s continued reluctance to project global power. And while it remains to be seen whether Germany’s next chancellor makes more use of the venue, what has received the most attention in Germany is a much more mundane issue: the amount of taxpayer money spent to maintain it.
It costs 5 million euros per year to operate the withdrawal, According to the government. From 2015 to 2018, policing alone cost € 15.4 million.
An organization called the German Taxpayers Federation, which seeks to monitor government overspending, included the Schloss in his so-called “black book” of public waste. “If the federal government wants to continue operating the castle, it should develop a concept of how it can be used more frequently in the future,” the association said.
However, there is a constituency group that has been particularly happy with the status quo. Locals in Meseberg say their town has benefited greatly from local infrastructure improvements, as well as the new work that came with the castle’s designation as the chancellor’s retirement.
“Apparently overnight the town moved from the Middle Ages to modern times,” Bert Groche, who runs the local hotel, said recently.
Outside of town, however, there is noticeably less enthusiasm.
“Meseberg is more of an enchanted castle”, said Benjamin Strasser, MP for the Free Democratic Party. “A boarding house,” he added, “only makes sense if you use it.”