Venue for talks is a hilltop castle, shrouded in mist

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The talks about the future of Afghanistan will open tomorrow at a hilltop castle in the myth-laden Rhineland.

The talks about the future of Afghanistan will open tomorrow at a hilltop castle in the myth-laden Rhineland. The late autumn mist that shrouded it yesterday only added to the sense of other-worldly seclusion that has made the Petersberg a favoured venue for foreign dignitaries and peace conferences in the past.

Formerly the official German foreign ministry guest house, the Petersberg is now a luxury hotel, although still owned by the government and regularly requisitioned for official events. The Queen, the Shah of Iran and the late King Hussein of Jordan were just a few of the crowned heads that have enjoyed the Petersberg's hospitality.

One anecdote associated with the Petersberg concerns Leonid Brezhnev, the late Soviet leader, who managed to crash a new Mercedes given to him by the West German government on the long, winding road up to the castle.

It would be hard to imagine anywhere further, in mood, architecture or geography, from the foreign ministry building in Berlin, which had originally been earmarked for the conference. Security and serenity were the main considerations in the last-minute move, according to the Germans.

As security tightened around the approaches to the Petersberg and delegations started to arrive, the Germans gave details of the more unusual preparations required for this week's talks.

The Afghan delegates will have special food cooked for them to comply with Muslim dietary laws and especially early breakfasts so that they do not breach the daylight fast of Ramadan. Alcohol, said the hotel's food and drink director, Peter Nauss, would not figure on the menu, but would be available, "discreetly".

A boat chartered by the German foreign ministry is being moored on the Rhine by the picturesque town of Koenigswinter for press briefings.

The most recent peace conference held at the Petersberg took place 18 months ago and helped to forge the settlement in Kosovo while Nato bombs were still falling on Serbia.

But not all the historical associations of the Petersberg are positive. Neville Chamberlain stayed there in September, 1938, when he was trying to persuade Adolf Hitler not to send troops into Czechoslovakia. This was the precursor to the infamous Munich meeting, from which Mr Chamberlain returned with an agreement that proved worthless. Britain declared war on Germany the following year.