The economic crisis is like a fairytale come true for Germany's romantic castles, baroque palaces and historic town squares because the government is spending millions of euros on sprucing them up, not just to protect the country's heritage but also to boost the construction sector.
Three separate programs totalling more than €320 million ($452 million) have been announced this year -- a tiny fraction of what it costs to bail out an ailing bank these days -- in the biggest program of investment in historic monuments in decades.
The latest cash injection was announced on Tuesday when the federal government and the states of Berlin and Brandenburg pledged €155 million for the Foundation of Prussian Palaces and Gardens for the period through 2017. The money will go towards projects in and around the capital such as refurbishing the roof and facades of Berlin's Schloss Charlottenburg palace as well as repairs to the Neues Palais-- the 18th century baroque palace in Potsdam's world-famous Sanssouci royal park.
"This money was exceptionally necessary, this is not just about cosmetic restoration but about essential repairs to the structure of these buildings," Ulrich Henze, the spokesman for the foundation, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We're delighted that the funding is being made available."
It's a joy being shared by castle lords and town mayors across Germany who have been scrambling to claim funds from two other government programs. Some €150 million is being made available for the country's 33 UNESCO World Heritage sites such as the historic town center of Quedlinburg and the castles of the Rhine, and a further €20 million is coming from the government's second economic stimulus package launched this year.
While only the €20 million program is directly linked to the economic crisis, it is striking that the government is stumping up hundreds of millions of euros at a time when the country is suffering its biggest downturn since the 1930s.
"We had thought the stimulus money would go into autobahns and things like that, so we were surprised and overjoyed that people thought about our historic monuments," Gerhard Wagner, secretary general of the German Castles Association, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It means we're now able to tackle projects that we otherwise wouldn't have gotten to for another 20 years."
"The basic problem with protecting old monuments is that you never know when something's going to fall down, it's a matter of faith. And because our financial resources are always meager, we can only ever do the bare minimum," said Wagner.
The owners of castles along the 65-kilometer stretch of the Middle Rhine Valley designated as a World Heritage site have applied for a total of €14 million in government funds.
Marksburg Castle, the only hill-top castle on the Rhine never to have been destroyed in its more than 800-year history has been awarded €700,000 for roof repairs and improvements to an access road.
Scaffolding will now be going up on castle walls all the way from Koblenz to Bingen, an area made famous by the legendary rock of the Lorelei -- news that is likely to disappoint tourists and shutterbugs.