A Visit to a Ghost Castle Hotel From My Past
When did you last revisit a place where you lived many years ago, to see how it’s changed? For me, a recent trip to the past was shocking and somewhat sad. What was once a luxurious hotel was now a ghost castle.
In the early 1970’s, through a friend of my father’s, I had a chance to work in an exclusive hotel in Germany for seven months as a waiter and front desk receptionist.
The hotel was a spectacular restored castle with beautiful rooms and suites overlooking gardens and forests. The dining rooms were lined with six-foot oil paintings of German royalty from the 1600’s.
The New Hotel Was From 1560
This was Hotel Schloss Arensburg, near the ancient town of Rinteln, west of Hanover in north Germany. The building was from the year 1560. It was in fact the second property on that site. The first had burned down, and an archeological dig revealed that it dated from about 1100.
Complete With Witches’ Ponds
Surrounding the Schloss were forests that featured three ponds, apparently used as witches’ ponds, likely between 1550 and 1650. It was nothing but bad news if you were accused of being a witch – after a “trial”, you’d be tied up and thrown into the pond. If you drowned and couldn’t save yourself, it proved you weren’t a witch. If by some miracle you didn’t drown, that meant the “good water” rejected you because you were in fact a witch and you’d be burned at the stake. It was a horrific lose / lose deal.
During my time there, the hotel put the ponds to a much more civilized use – they raised trout and carp, which were captured in nets in December and kept in big tanks down in the kitchen to be served before Christmas. If the ponds froze over in the winter, they were maintained as skating rinks.
Could We Be Guests In My Old Hotel?
On a recent trip to Holland and Germany, I thought perhaps we could stay at the Schloss Arensburg. What a blast that would be! But, web searches turned up nothing… until I found an article in the Rinteln paper describing the sad current state of the Arensburg. I learned that it hadn’t been a hotel since some time in the mid-1970’s, just after my time there. In fact it had been nothing.
Since then, it had passed through many hands and was at different times to become an office building, a government administration centre and finally a brothel (!!!). In fact, none of the owners had the financing to complete their vision for the project. Just recently, it was sold at auction in Berlin and the new owners are planning to turn it into luxury condominiums. I hope they succeed.
We Tour the Grounds of the Schloss
Well, even if we couldn’t be guests there, I was curious to see it. We stayed in nearby Minden and on one of our drives we parked in front of the gate.
It was locked and there were No Trespassing signs on the property, warning of guard dogs. The Arensburg stood proudly at the top of the hill. After a while, not sensing any canines, we decided to take a chance. We found a gap in the fence, and slipped in.
We walked the grounds. The well-manicured lawns had now deteriorated into wild fields of weeds, shrubs and sprouting trees. The forest was swallowing up the pathways, and vines had a firm grasp of the outside Schloss walls.
The ponds, once neatly edged with stones, were now silted up, rough and muddy. A few more years like this and they too would disappear.
However, the old stone arch over the path between the ponds was still there, much as I had remembered it. Back then I had always wondered when it was first built. Beyond the ponds, we walked along the path through the forest. The locals had used this walkway to get to the next village, and in fact, we saw one person walking through the grounds.
Come In – the Door is Open and There’s No One Home!
We turned back and went around the front of the building. In a minute, we made it up the steps to the front double doors. We peered inside through the sidelights. This empty dusty anteroom was once the marble-floored reception where I had answered the phone and greeted guests.
On a whim, I tried the door. It was open – that was a surprise!
Perhaps someone was working inside. We took a few tentative steps into the lobby. It was quiet. Up three steps and around the corner was the empty space that was once the bar for gemütlich Germans and their guests. Beyond that, the main dining hall, where I had served so many breakfasts and lunches. (I remember convincing the chef that the American breakfast guests would like the ham accompanying their eggs to be fried – unheard of in Germany!)
Soon we realized that indeed, we were alone. A gilt-framed mirror leaning on the wall was a reminder of the room’s glamorous past. How many ladies had touched up their lipstick in the golden reflection? I just read that the mirror has been taken away to be in a local museum. A wonder that it had stayed so long and didn’t end up in someone’s living room.
No Elevators – Take the Turret!
Then we spied the entrance to the turret. It was the only way to continue up to the higher floors with the rooms and suites. The building had no elevator, and I lugged many suitcases up and down those winding stone stairs.
Slowly we pried open the turret door. Ah, there was enough light inside from the small windows.
We went up to the second floor, once the home of the glorious blue salon. It was heartbreaking. The high ceilings had been lowered with new drywall. It looked like the project had stopped half way. No more oil paintings of royalty gazing down on the diners, wedding guests or us.
The dumb waiter to the kitchen was still in the niche at the back of the room. I remember standing in that little cubbyhole, sneaking a slab of venison off a serving platter, left over from a wedding feast. Delicious!
I Would Have Asked For Room 27
Up the turret once again, and we were in the hallways of the guest rooms. Oh, the stories these rooms could tell!
At the end of the hall, I looked for what was once beautiful room 27. It had been the largest suite in the hotel, lit by chandeliers and the soft glow coming in through windows on three sides. The room was elaborately wallpapered, and featured a grand queen-size bed and a seating area with views down into ancient trees and ponds. We always reserved number 27 for special guests, high rollers or couples who wanted to stay in and live on love and room service. But now… nothing.
To the Parapets We Go
Time for one last adventure. Would the trapdoor at the top of the turret let us out onto the roof? Up we went. I gave it a little push, a second push, and it popped open. We clambered up.
Like princes and princesses of old, we took in the view. The rolling hills would once have been their hunting grounds. Today, they’re an orderly arrangement of forests, farms and villages.
In the foreground, between the trees we could see the arches of the Roman-style stone bridges of the autobahn. My grandfather, an architect, had helped build them before WWII. But that’s another intriguing story from the past…
We went back down and took one last tour of the rooms and dining halls. We had explored all of it except the dark kitchen in the basement. It was time to go.
An Historical Outline of Schloss Arensburg
No one seems to have written a complete history of my ghost castle. But, putting together information from a few searches, it seems that since the 1500’s Schloss Arensburg has been:
- Home for the Lords of Arnhem
- Home for the Bishop of Minden
- A grain warehouse
- A vacation home for Prince Georg Wilhelm, his wife Ida and nine children
- A museum warehouse
- A spa
- Offices for the Nazi Imperial Highway Administration during the building of the autobahn before WWII
- A sub-camp of the forced labor camp for Polish prisoners of war in the nearby stone quarry (today an amusement park)
- A hotel again from the 1950’s to the 1970’s
- A potential luxury condominium according to the new owners who bought it at auction for €300,000
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