Cash for Castles in Germany

A little further west, tucked in a glorious wooded valley close to the Moselle River, stands Burg Eltz, one of Germany's most iconic castles, which has been owned by the Eltz dynasty for the last 800 years and attracts some 250,000 visitors a year. It is receiving more than €2 million to retile roofs and to fit iron anchors to secure a 40-meter tower which is at risk of collapse.

Karl Graf von und zu Eltz, the 33rd Count of Eltz, said this year it was the biggest refurbishment since the beginning of the last century.

Visitor Numbers Up

Burg Eltz can only be visited in a guided tour and despite the recession, guest numbers have increased in 2009, although it's not just Germans accounting for the increase. Large numbers of Belgians, Dutch and even British tourists are defying the recession and flocking to the castle to marvel at its original medieval halls, suits of armor and tapestries.

Tourism is up at many historic monuments across Germany -- Marksburg castle expects 145,000 visitors in 2009, up from 142,000 last year, and Rheinstein, another privately owned castle that guards the Rhine near the town of Bingen, is confident it will crack 30,000 this year, up from 2008.

With all the building contracts being awarded, it's getting increasingly hard to recruit local contractors skilled in restoring medieval buildings, castle owners say. Medieval mortar requires a special type of plaster to make it weather proof, for example.

Rheinstein looks set to be one of the few Rhine castles unspoiled by scaffolding in the years to come because it has already undergone €2 million worth of refurbishment over the last decade, with government help.

"One has to keep begging and applying for public funds because there are so many historical buildings in this region," Rheinstein's owner Markus Hecher, whose father, an opera singer, bought the castle in the 1970s, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Owning a castle may sound like a dream come true but it's also a constant challenge, said Hecher. "A few years ago our cesspits collapsed and we had to fix them right away because we're not attached to the public sewage system. That came out of the blue and cost €24,000. And because we get all our water from wells in the forest, we have to keep maintaining the four kilometers of pipes leading there. Blocked filters sometimes shut off our supply."

The economic crisis isn't all good news though -- even though visitor numbers were up, guests are spending less on food in the castle café and aren't buying as many expensive souvenirs such as €70 swords, Hecher said.

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