Going cheap - one idyllic Nazi village

THREE million marks (pounds 1.1m) does not seem too much for a lakeside schloss set in parkland, with swimming-pool, gym and nuclear bunkers attached. That is the asking price for the Alt-Rehse estate, a community of 350 people nestling amid Mecklenburg's string of lakes, and yet there do not seem to be any takers.

For the owners, the property is becoming something of a burden. "They are trying to sell up quickly, because this place is too uncomfortable for them," says Wolfgang Kopp, the mayor. Who actually owns the park, the woods and the fields all around is the subject of a long legal dispute, because these estates, like the rest of eastern Germany, were orphaned after the fall of Communism. But first to lay claim on it was the Mecklenburg branch of the national association of doctors. The place had, after all, belonged to them before the Second World War.

The association thought it would rake in hundreds of millions of marks for this Shangri-La, but that was nearly 10 years ago. The gates have remained shut ever since, and the costs are piling up. Most holidaymakers avoid the place like the plague, and the reason appears in the local name for the resort: "Nazi-Dorf" - Nazi village.

The mayor does not understand their revulsion. He is the proud owner of "House Munich", one of 22 half-timbered cottages on the estate lovingly restored by the locals, down to the sign under the eaves: "Built in Year Three" - Year Three of the 1,000-year Reich, that is.

"I don't find it at all embarrassing to live in this house," Mr Kopp says, frowning at the mere suggestion. "What is embarrassing is our attitude to our past."

His idea for Alt-Rehse is to turn it into a theme park, with a foundation guarding the heritage. If only the owners would agree. But the doctors' association, once so eager to reclaim its rights, is terrified of the historical baggage it has inherited. Alt-Rehse is a reminder of a medical past German doctors would rather forget.

The cottages were originally model houses for the peasants tilling the land, with a living-room, bedroom, and separate room for the children. Their dwellers had one task in life: to supply the folks behind the gate with fresh produce.

But at the behest of Martin Bormann, and therefore on the direct orders of the Fuhrer, the manor was converted into a retraining campus for the medical profession. Alt-Rehse was the Fuhrerschule for German doctors, an assembly line producing leaders. There was a special emphasis on certain skills, as the opening speeches made plain. "With his effort, the doctor supports the National-Socialist endeavour for racial purity," declared Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy. In his discourse, the chief surgeon, a Dr Peltret, called attention to the similarities between Judaism and tuberculosis: "Almost everyone harbours the tuberculosis bacillus, almost all nations harbour Jews. Tuberculosis tends to affect weaker, rather than stronger persons. The Jewish infection befalls only racially weak people."

This epidemic was to become Alt-Rehse's main concern, with subjects such as "racial hygiene" and euthanasia on the curriculum. In 1935 this was advanced stuff: it was seven years before the Wannsee conference which decreed the Final Solution. About 22,000 students went through Alt-Rehse: some went on to conduct human experiments at concentration camps, and appeared in the dock at the "Doctors' Trial" in Nuremberg.

After the war, the Soviet occupation forces moved in, then the facilities were turned over to a children's village. A few years later, the children were turfed out to make way for the East German army. That is when the bunkers were constructed, and a discreet veil drawn over the past.

When East Germany ceased to exist, nobody moved in. Six guards have taken turns to man the gates ever since, their wages paid out of the public purse. The doctors' association, having fought to assert its ownership, has halved the asking price in search of a quick sale. "I have the impression that they want to be rid of Alt-Rehse and the past," says Mr Kopp.