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Schloss Caspersbroich - Reconstruction and Conversion

Translation into English by Claus Gorges

from a painting
by F.A. de Leuw

What happens with an old castle or any other historical wall, if it is protected by law as a National Monument, but nobody really cares about it? The same ending, as happens with any other neglected building. It collapses or, it is torn down to make space for something new, unless a creative idealist can find a way to save it.

This easily could have happened also to Schloss Caspersrbroich - a 600/700 years old charming "Ritter-Sitz" or Place of Knights, which is hidden in a romantic valley in Solingen-Ohligs near Duesseldorf and Cologne. That this ancient gem didn't disappear from the earth is due to the creativity of a young Duesseldorf actor and real estate broker. He transformed these historic walls into exclusive and modern apartments. He did this in 1964, a time when "co-owned" apartments had not yet come to dominate the German real estate market and were considered by many as somewhat "exotic".

How it all happened, what kind of fascinating people he met on his way, and what enormous obstacles he had to overcome, is told by Claus Gorges, the initiator of this unusual project. He calls it "The Story of democratization of a precious National Monument". It is obvious that he describes not only his adventure to save Schloss Caspersbroich but also an important part of his own personal development. Today he lives as an American citizen in Big Sur, California. [Postscript: Claus Gorges died in 2007.]

-   Decision in May 1963
-   "Why don't you play broker?"
-   Castle owner without own capital
-   The idea: Freehold flats
-   Difficulties ...
-   Restoration successful
-   The scandalous barn

Schloss Caspersbroich

History of the "democratization" of a precious National Monument
by Claus Gorges

In all modesty I can say that I know each corner of Schloss Caspersbroich most intimately, because I was the one who bought it 1964. The Solingen Company Kronprinz owned it that time, and it was in very neglected and run-down condition.

Claus Gorges
Castle owner and author
Claus Gorges
© 1991 Ed Holcomb

Kronprinz had purchased the castle around 1960 together with surrounding lands from Baron Boris von Wolf. He had inherited the property from an elderly lady who was considered a little peculiar and was called affectionately the "jecke Grit".

Kronprinz was mainly interested in the acreage as an extension of its own industrial complex, but Baron von Wolf had insisted he would sell the estates only together with the castle. The castle had been declared a National Monument and was as such protected by law. He took this obligation very seriously and wanted to make sure that it would be properly treasured.

Of course the responsible gentlemen at Kronprinz didn't know what to do with this historical gem and wanted to get rid of it as soon as they were "forced" to own it. It had been unsuccessfully on the market for 4 years. Everyone who saw it was threatened by the enormous cost to restore the building. The roofs had not been cleaned for some time and the rain ran unhindered over the clogged gutters and had been damaging the beautiful facades. One or two winters more and the castle would have collapsed into a ruin, with no reasonable way to repair it.

Decision in May 1963.

May 22, 1963 should become a day of fate - not only for me.

It was a beautiful sunny morning when I stood for the first time on the Caspersbroicher Weg (path) looking at the castle behind the lake and all surrounded by the park, which had gone wild. The atmosphere was like a romantic movie of Jean Cocteau. I had as the French say a "coup de foudre" and fell instantly in love with this 600 years old lady. That her make-up had suffered a bit during this long time didn't disturb me. I felt very strongly without the smallest doubt: here I want to live.

Schloss Caspersbroich
View over the lake
onto Schloss Caspersbroich

"Why don't you play broker?"

I was 25 and had, since I was 15, played an Actor taking small parts in large productions and large parts in small productions. After I had finished a three year business and a two year actors training I managed to get the main part in a TV production with the ARD (German TV station). I also did some radio plays with the WDR (one of the major German radio stations). Beside that were small stuff at the Duesseldorf Schauspielhaus and some large stuff at the Duesseldorf Kammerspiele. And... I didn't like the theater milieu. While really great actors are naturally marvelously humble people, the more modest talented seemed to present themselves like vain peacocks doing their cartwheels. That was not to my taste.

So, when a young Duesseldorf architect, from whom I rented my first own apartment, asked me: you an actor? Why don't you play brokers and make some real money? Find me tenants for my 10 commercial spaces and for my 48 apartments and you will make 70 or 80,000 Deutsch Mark. I couldn't believe what I heard. Naturally I had not the slightest idea what a real estate broker does. But the chance to make so much money was simply too sexy to be ignored.

In the same night I decided to accept this part and had my business stationary printed the very next morning. From now on it was: Hi, here is my card: Claus Gorges Real Estate. I don't know, how it is today in Germany, but in 1958 you didn't need much more than your own decision: Now I am a broker. Maybe there were other obstacles, but I was not aware of them. With the innocence of a Candide I jumped right into the fast flowing river of the real estate industry.

The young architect had not totally selflessly focused on my talent as an agent. I didn't know that he was more than desperate. His building stood on the Immermannstrasse, only a few steps away from the Schadowstrasse, one of the busiest commercial areas in Duesseldorf. While there shops made millions in revenues, the Immermannstrasse was not yet like today "Tokyo Allee" but what we call in Germany "Tote Hose" or "dead pants", meaning zero foot traffic. Naturally, without it no business could exist. I didn't find him a single tenant for his shops, but in no time 25 tenants for his apartments. My commission was also not 80,000 DM but "only" 16,000 (in todays value maybe 50 or 60,000 Euro). But being a broker, what a delicious role. I was in heaven.

Castle owner without own capital.

So, when I stood on this sunny fateful day at the castle gate, I had five years experience as a real estate "pro" and was ready to take full responsibility for my first own project. I had no debts but then no capital either. How could I manage to buy under these circumstances this vast estate with castle, farm and romantic park? It would cost millions to restore all this. Day and night I had but one thought: here is where I want to live. But how could I do that without capital?

Riding club with hotel, restaurant and golf course was my first idea. Banks numbers 1 to 10 each asked me: how old are the buildings? 1918? Nope. 1818? Nope. 1718? Nope. 1618? Nope. 1518? Nope. Thank you very much, goodbye and auf Wiedersehen. The 14th or 15th banker asked me, "why don't you make co-op apartments?" Co-op apartments? I had brokered rental apartments, one family homes and some building lots. But I had never heard of co-op apartments. Today, such ignorance is hardly conceivable, but 1964 the idea of co-ownership was literally unknown. It had not yet been accepted as an alternative to the single one family home with the white picket fence.

I learned everything I could find about co-ownership and got very excited about the idea. I would "democratize" the estate by creating small elegant apartments. I could pay with the sales money for the restoration. That was my proposed solution. It was simple and easy to undererstand.

When I finally found my 16th bank, a local bank in Haan, my vision was so clear that the fire of my enthusiasm convinced the directors. They agreed to finance the entire purchase price of DM 110,000 for the estate.

After 9 month of fighting for the financing I, at long last, had money to buy, only to learn from Kronprinz that they had lost their confidence in me. They no longer believed that I would ever "get my act together" and had already given their agreement to sell to another buyer.

I felt my world had collapsed, but, as I would experience even more in later years, a higher force seemed to protect and help me. A Kronprinz associate, who was responsible for the sales and knew how much energy I had invested getting my financing, connected me with the senior company lawyer. He was "old school" and a very fine gentleman. When I told him my long story, he only said "The castle is yours". A few days later I met with the members of the Kronprinz board in a conference hall half the size of the Vatican and we signed the sales contract.

Naturally I went immediately back to Caspersbroich. I remember the first time I walked through the gate as the "owner" and thought: why aren't you cheering, why aren't you screaming with joy to the trees, the bushes, the walls, "you are all mine"? I felt, instead, burned out after the 9 months-long struggle. I was just very tired and ready for a vacation. But there was only little time for relaxation and I rushed back into the Ittertal to begin with the marketing of my idea.

Until this time in my life I never had much money, but always enough to have fun. Now, suddenly I became aware, that I owed a bank the gigantic sum of 110,000 DM (in todays money maybe 500 or 600,000). The interest taximeter was ticking inexorably. Each hour was costing more. From this moment, and for the next 25 years I learned what it is to have money concerns.

Schloss Caspersbroich
Ex castle owner
Claus Gorges at the gate
32 years later

The idea: Freehold flats

In 1963 to 1964 I was the first in Germany to actually restore an old castle by reorganizing it into individual condominiums. Together with an architect from Paris we were also the first in Europe. But he was clever and sold the rooms in his castle, near Orlean, "as is" in an un-restored condition. He took his profit and left his buyers to their fate. Since my personal motivation was to live under the 600 years old beams of the roof, I promised my buyers to transform the old walls into elegant homes. They would have all the comforts they were used to in new buildings: central heating, new electrical installations, modern bathrooms and kitchens and all the other amenities of current life.

I jumped right into my advertising campaign. In my first ad my headline proclaimed Louis XIV would not buy anything at Schloss Caspersbroich. What in heaven should the Sun King do with an apartment in the size of his mistress' powder room? However, if you, the reader, like myself, would be happy in a cosy two or three bedroom apartment with modern bathroom, kitchen, central heating, then I promise you more comfort than 50 servants could have ever provided for their king. You will also co-own 2.5 acres of a most exquisite and beautiful park. Why don't you come and see for yourself?

During the first weekend a curious crowd of 30 families picnicked on the grounds. My later wife and I guided two groups at a time through the cold and humid rooms, carefully trying to avoid audio and visual contacts. Many shivered. Some were scared of ghosts. Nobody believed that I would ever get these damp walls dry and warm. Luckily, at this point I didn't know yet, that it would take me 260 meetings over a period of 3 years, until I finally had sold my 6 apartments. Since the market for my product didn't yet exist, the sale success came solely thanks to perseverance.

The Knight in the park
seemed to keep his protecting hand
over the project.

Naturally, at that time, I didn't have the faintest notion of what I was getting into. I had to set fixed prices for buyers while I alone would be responsible for the entire repair and remodeling costs. Fortunately I had at least one important ally, the lady in charge of the protection of National Monuments. She had loved the castle since her childhood and was happy to find in me a "madman" who would save it. Since Schloss Caspersbroich did not rank culture-historically among the most precious ones, she gave me freedom and allowed, amongst other things, the insertion of 65 windows in my roof dwelling so that light and sun could flow in.

Being the new owner, I introduced myself to the former owner, Baron Boris von Wolf. He and his charming wife Eva were fascinated by my concept to restore the castle and to transform it into individual apartments with a number of co-owners. Before I had even begun the changes, they frequently visited me. Sometimes, with an uncle, Count Zubow, who had taught history at the Sorbonne, the famous university in Paris, shortly after the Russian Revolution. He had spent many holidays at Caspersbroich.

I remember how he hung himself on my arm and took with me through the entire castle. He was already over 80 years old, but with his charm and wit he was still a brilliant figure. Where will you put the bathrooms? How will you separate these areas as independent apartments? How will the heating system work? He was interested in every detail.

Schloss Caspersbroich
The restored
Schloss Caspersbroich

Difficulties ...

But, the difficulties were enormous. At first there was the nine-month search through 16 different banks until I could finally just buy the castle. Next there were the meetings with 260 different parties to sell 6 apartments and to have enough money to cover some of my building expenses. The repair and remodel costs would finally become a cool million and be 110 % over my very amateurish budget. In today's money that would be between 5 and 6 million DM.

The most difficult part of the restoration was how I could isolate each unit sound-wise from the others. In the oldest sections with thick natural stonewalls, I installed over 400 cubic meters (almost 5,000 cubic feet) of new concrete floors - with excellent results. But the largest part of the castle was built with a relatively light framework, and could not support heavy concrete floors. Here I conceived of building new walls within the existing walls. I installed new horizontal beams and filled the space by hand with sand, because I had learned that sound can only be deafened by weight. Before my new neighbors moved in a sound specialist from the WDR radio station in Cologne tested the results and luckily the values were better than those of modern buildings.

The entrance hall of the castle looked then exactly as pictured in this ancient drawing. The middle part of the old spiral staircase is especially worth mentioning, because it is shaped (two floors high) from a single tree. The lowest part, maybe 10-15 cm, had been destroyed by moisture. I asked a carpenter to carefully, a centimeter at a time, to remove only what had to be replaced. Unfortunately I did not stay and watch him. He sawed several slices of about two meters, before I discovered the disaster. A sculptor from the Duesseldorf Art Academy received a fortune from me to repair this mistake.

Schloss Caspersbroich

The entrance hall.
© Stadtarchiv Solingen

Restoration successful.

Over time, I turned one unit after another over to their new owners. Looking back it seems like a miracle and I don't know how it happened, that not one single buyer had a single complaint. And God knows, they were wonderful people... but they watched every detail with keen and critical eyes, to make sure that they really got for their money what I had promised them in our contracts. However, not one single complaint.

When everything was finished, the press came to do stories on the castle. Numerous newspapers and magazines praised my idea as a "model". The transformation and democratizing of a historical monument into co-owned apartments became a tax shelter and has been copied many times, thus helping to save a large number of castles and other national monuments in Germany and all over Europe.

My apartment under the 600 years old roof  

The former owners were enthusiastic, when they visited the restored castle. Also the famous movie   actress Lil Dagover, mother of Baronin Eva von Wolf, who had spent many summers at Caspersbroich, visited me. She was now over 80 years old, and still a slim and elegant lady with a beautiful angel's face and sparkling eyes. She could not believe that I had succeeded in transforming the molded and smelly ancient walls into elegant and warm apartments. While sipping tea, she told us fascinating stories about her stage and movie career, which lasted more than 60 years.

My apartment


Later some prominent people chose the charming castle as their residence and others came to visit it. The well-known banker, Alfred Herrhausen was my tenant from 1975 to 1984. He lived in the little Kutscherhaus. I still recall the tragic day in November 1989, when he was assassinated by terrorists. His friend, Helmut Kohl - at that time not yet Bundes Chancellor - had often visited him at Schloss Caspersbroich.

At this point I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to my buyers and co-owners. Without their confidence in me the restoration would have remained only a vision.


The Kutscherhaus.
This is where Alfred Herrhausen lived
from 1975-84.

The scandalous barn.

The transformation of the old barn is story, which in retrospect sounds quite amusing, but was at the time dead-serious. If you research the archives of the Solinger Tageblatt, you will find in the years 1972-1974 long reports of the greatest building scandal ever in Solingen.

What had happened? After the castle had been successfully saved, I was naturally interested in restoring the other buildings, a barn and an architecturally beautiful half-timbered carriage building from the 18th century and transforming them also into modern apartments. However, in order to get the building permit for the barn, the "building department" required me to destroy the carriage building. From my perspective, both then and now, an absolutely idiotic condition, which I never understood. I tore it down with tears in my eyes. This must have unconsciously influenced some of my later actions.

The building permit for the remodeling of the barn had been for approximately 850 square meters or some 9,000 square feet. During the construction I became aware, that my floor plans were not acceptable architecture. Without even thinking once of the building department, my engineer, who acted also as my architect, and I changed whatever could be changed. Here there would be another roof garden, there we would add another floor. In the end the square footage had been increased by almost 50 % to over 13,000 square feet. The result was absolutely exquisite floor plans. I had four elegant duplex apartments on the ground floor and two penthouses above.

Schloss Caspersbroich
The barn - before ...
... and after.

When the raw construction was finished, a clerk (or better a jerk) from the building department showed up, with the originally permitted plans. At first he must have thought he was on the wrong construction site. Then he turned green, yellow, red, threw himself in anger into a water-puddle on the ground. He "red tagged" my building. Oh, oh. Now I was really in trouble. At that time the interest rates for construction loans were over 14 % and I had already invested over half a million DM.

I went to California were I participated, at the Esalen Institute, in many awareness expanding workshops. I had become clear about several things and returned with new motivation. From then on everything went smoothly. I got help from the petition commission of the Duesseldorf government. These very cultivated ladies and gentlemen tried to talk sense to the emotionally overcharged members of the Solinger building commission. They told them that it was total lunacy to force me into bankruptcy, because they had no legal right to deny me the building permit for my changes.

What I never understood was: after I had saved the castle from becoming a ruin, why did some of these so called honorable Solinger citizens try to use me as a scapegoat to express their anger. Some had whispered, "Let the whole thing go down the drain".


Penthouse in the restored barn: lower level of my gallery with my own I-Ching Mirror Art (1984-1991)

My atelier in the right penthouse

I have asked myself often, why these people acted with such animosity? I must have unconsciously triggered a sensitive point. Many might have dreamed of themselves, one day building without a permit, maybe a garage. But, here was somebody who had dared to increase an existing permit by 400 square meters. That must have simply gone beyond their imagination and crashed their tolerance level.

On the morning when we met at the Duesseldorf Administrative Court the judge appeared dressed in elegant blue. I felt that I was in good hands. After 5 minutes he declared that the City of Solingen was obliged to give me the building permit immediately. His reasons were that the apartments were indeed far better designed than the ones originally permitted. Additionally he found that, the barn was so remote that the public interest was not involved. Solingen was even required to pay the court costs.

I was overjoyed; at last, 4 years of interruptions I could finally finish my exquisite apartments. Also here, as it was with the castle, I had been helped by a Higher Force to escape from bankruptcy.

Left penthouse of the restored barn: entrance into the I-Ching Art Gallery ...
... with my own I-Ching Mirror Art

May 22, 1963, was not only a day of fate for me, but also for Schloss Caspersbroich. The condition of buildings on the entire estate is better today than it has been during its 600 or 700 years old history. If some lunatic doesn't start another war and destroys the castle by bombs or fire, countless generations will be able to admire the beauty of the "old lady" in centuries to come.

But my story would not be complete without mentioning the following. The same May 22, 1963, which was one of the most important and exciting days of my life, was also one of the saddest in the life of a beautiful young lady. She had been married for only six weeks and her beloved husband passed away in her arms. Nine months later, shortly before I was able to buy Caspersbroich, our destiny brought us together. A year later Lona and I were married.

Our son, Constantin, was born in 1966 and for 10 years we were very happy living under the 600 years old beams of the roof of Schloss Caspersbroich. She could not eliminate my worries during the restoration, but her help was immeasurable. And for that I thank her and will always be grateful.


Constantin in 1984.
He has his office as an interior designer
in Palm Beach, Florida, USA.

© 2005 Claus Gorges, Big Sur, California, USA
Claus Gorges provided all images to this text to be published on this website.
He owns the copyright, if not something else is indicated.

The "old Lady", as Claus Gorges calls Schloss Caspersbroich, has not only gotten a superficial make up, but was lovingly restored from the foundations up to the roof. He lived his "German Dream" from 1966 to 1980 in the castle and from 1984 until 1991 in the barn. He then moved to California where he enjoys his "American Dream" as an artist.

Presently (2005) he is developing at his property in Big Sur the first prototype of his new art form, which he has named Solar Jewelry. "My Solar Castle Chateau I-Ching will provide more hot water and clean electricity than the owners can use. The surplus energy can be sold as it is generated. Solar Art will help to pay for itself." Claus Gorges is presently as enthusiastic as ever. He is working on presenting his Solar Jewelry to Governor Schwarzenegger.

"Solar Jewelry is the most exciting avant-garde art form of the 21st Century. I plan to present it to our Governor as a low cost deluxe housing alternative, simply designed and made of concrete, steel, and straw with high tech solar elements. Solar Jewelry has the potential to revolutionize our energy supply and to become California's number 1 export. Time will show if the Higher Force, which helped me so many times during the restoration of Schloss Caspersbroich, will continue to hold its protecting hand over my newest visions."




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