A schloss is for life - not just Christmas

A German castle may seem a snip at 40p but hidden extras can be horrend ous, writes Steve Crawshaw from Bonn
For some Germans this is going to be a fairy-tale Christmas, with an old castle as a present.

The organisation entrusted with privatisation in east Germany, which has around 60,000 properties to dispose of, has chosen 20 of its choicest for sale and distributed 18,000 glossy catalogues, worldwide. Its English title is "Fairy-Tales", but in Germanits title,"Castles for the Future", is more accurate.

Property prices start at DM1 (40p). but however enchanting and however cheap the guide price, the words "in appalling condition" appear repeatedly.

The particulars of Schloss Wulkow, near the Polish border and available for DM1, note laconically: "It is imperative that reconstruction and repair begin as soon as possible. Otherwise, the building will be lost for ever." Purchase depends on legal guarantees that the building will be suitably restored.

Other highlights include an 18th-century castle with secret passageways; a 13th-century monastery, or a 16th-century manor house with moat.

Many have a chequered history. The catalogue says of a 13th-century castle, that "the use of the entire castle by the People's Army of the GDR resulted in serious interference with the original ground plan".

A manor house in south-east Germany was used in the past 60 years as: a Nazi labour camp for women; a hospital for the Soviet army; a training school for East Germany's Communist youth organisation; and, finally, as stables for a collective farm.

Response to the catalogue has been overwhelming, from those who want to create conference centres, holiday centres, or exclusive hotels. Now it is up to citizens' committees, who have spent several weeks scrutinising bids and would-be purchasers' creden

t ials, to decide which bid is best financially or for the locality. A shortlist will be published on Thursday.

Some properties carry a warning: "Restitution claims by the previous owners are known of." Theoretically, those expropriated under the land reform of 1945-49 cannot be reclaimed under a deal with Moscow at the time of German unity in 1990. Previous owners are still keen to try their luck, not least, because they are entitled to compensation.