The Art of Restoration

Castle Kummerow in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Written by Annika Kiehn, January 2020

Since castle Kummerow lost it’s purpose as a family home, it had been fulfilling various roles: That of a restaurant, of a holiday camp, of a post office, a kindergarten and many more. After the German reunification, it shared the same fate as many other manors, when it was abandoned as a public place. National ownership was quickly given up in order to shift the costs of maintaing the buildings to private owners. It seemed, nobody could handle this baroque lady appropiately. Then came Torsten Kunert. As a real estate agent he was familiar with the demands of a national listed building. Not only did he restore most of her original charm, he equiped her with the most prestigious contemporary photographic artworks you can find on the market. A former GDR kid himself, he had no odd feelings preserving the layers of communist times, which now adds up to the eclectic flair. In doing so, he established a unique place of beauty and miracles.

Mosse Banner Buetti Schloss Kummerow©Thomas_Wesely
Schloss Kummerow ©Thomas_Wesely

Art in manors is mostly given in the presence of opulent antic furniture or decorative elements such as a handshaped iron staircase, for instance, stucco ceilings or parquet floors. To turn a ruin into a vivid house again is a most sensitive process of transition. When you find a place so worn down, it offers a huge range of possibilities of defining its new charm. The question that arises is: How much of the given historic charm can remain? It is a challenge and a delight to define that thoroughly. Castle Kummerow, set next to lake Kummerow, in the midst of a picturesque hilly landscape called Mecklenburger Schweiz is one of the most prestigious photomuseums of Germany. It is also one of the most remarkable memorial places of the torn past manors in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern have undergone.

When I first entered the house in May 2016 for a preopening seminar on manorial heritage, I was immediately caught by the sensivitve and authentic approach to restore the beauty of the house. You can tell that there was quite an effort been made to envision the result. Kummerow is an outstanding example of how the art of restoration can highlight the proportions of an old building. Built between 1725 and 1730 after the paragon of castle Versailles, it has kept most of it’s original grace. If you intend to enter the castle you are immediately caught in a very free-spirited restoration concept, which characterizes the building like a red thread. A yellow plastic sign warns: “This is building is under construction”. While the lower part of the front door is “nicely” restored, the upper layer of it’s original ragged patina is still kept, as a way of saying: Look, this is part of my story, too! I haven’t only seen nice days, you know!

I truely appreciate the humor that lingers in it, which I think is very Eastern-German like, as most former GDR-citizen like to not take themselves too seriously. Torsten Kunerst daughter Aileen, who manages the place, smiles. “Very often guests take a quick look around and say: Oh we come back when it is finished! And when I tell them, that IT IS actually finished, they get even more confused. And then comes the moment of silence and I can sense how the visitors are trying to get adjusted to this rather unconvential concept of restoration. There are  very controversial opinions on how it should have been done.“

Her father Thorsten Kunert, art lover and real estate agent/dealer bought the castle in 2011. It counts as one of the most significant manor buildings in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.  “He said, that if he had come a year later, it would have been likely that the house might have just fallen apart by then”, she recalls. He was looking for a place which would serve as an exhibition site for his private collection of contemporary photographic artwork.

Aileen Kunert is not getting tired of explaining the concept of restoration, which follows a supposedly random mix of historic details and a modern replacement. This place gives me a certain comfort I find hard to explain – in that you should follow the rules to a certain extent and then make your own turn to find your true self. This is exactly what is mirrored in castle Kummerow. „He sort of wanted to honour the layers of time, which have shaped the house. Especially the Zeitgeist of the German Democratic Republic, which had no appreciation for anything noble, was important to be kept. The multifunctional purposes it has undergone might have caused the destruction of some of the former aristocratic glory”, she says.

But they nevertheless saved the existence of this place after the former nobility residence of the Maltzahn-Family was abandoned,“ she explains. Ever since the Soviet army occupied the place at the end of the Second World War, the house underwent many roles: as a refugee camp, as a quarantine for the wounded, as a restaurant, as a holiday camp, as a school, as a post office.

A hybrid himself, due to his past as a former Berlin GDR-citizen, Torsten Kunert intended to highlight the various faces of interieur. The appeal of a Lenin-Slogan, for instance, is up to the observer. „To my father they are authentic”, his daughter says. “And therefore they were most true to him, that’s why he cherished them.“

Preserving fragments can be seen as a reflection of his own history. For Torsten Kunert it is more than just nostalgic fondness to keep up with these traces of past. GDR-times versus manor house tradition – Kunert dares a unique approach to show the impacts of politics in this rural region, which has lost its former function and is now about to blossom in touristic terms.

„I like the contrast of baroque architecture, which is plastered with GDR-propaganda quotes and images. Some guests might dislike them, arguing, that they are inappropriate for such an elegant house”, Aileen tells me. „And there’s the clue to it: The broken parts of the house become exhibition pieces themselves, so they perfectly complete the fusion of the historic interiour and the modern photographs. My dad used to say: I want nothing fake in this house! Fake for him means to restore the original substance so you could not tell at first glance if it is old or new. But here, you can immediately see where the glory is gone forever. In that the house becomes a true storyteller of the past – with every phase of it!”

The visitor will find him- or herself standing in the remarkable stairwell, looking at a propaganda-quote of Walter Ulbricht, one of the most important politicans of the GDR, which says: „Denken ist die erste Bürgerpflicht!“ – „Thinking is the most precious civic duty!“.

But this is just the kind of provocative sphere, which gives the place it’s function as a center of art. It is not innocent, it is not just beautiful, it is also disturbing, it can shaken you up – but that’s exactly what art is there for: to not just enlighten, but to get your brain in motion.

You will find the old ceilings being cut in the middle and being extended by a rather plain version, you will find new doors in their bare wooden condition next to original ones, which have been restored but kept the old painting, new window handles on old frames. And please, take your time to admire the remarkable historic parquet. I counted more or less 15 different types so take a look down if you are just that kind of a wooden-floor-lover like I am.

Last but not least, there are these marvelous photographs which perfectly fit into these large rooms – taken by the likes of Andreas Gursky, Martin Schoeller, Helmut Newton or Marina Abramovic or Will McBride as well as some famous GDR-artists. Thorsten Kunert liked to be edgy, combining beauty with awkwardness. A theme which he extends in his collection. Aileen pauses for a moment: „That’s what life is all about, isn’t it? It’s about the cracks, which shape us.“

concerts, guided historic tour and more

There is a fine range of musicians who play at castle Kummerow during summer season. To hear about the past of castle Kummerow you can enjoy a guided tour (please arrange an appointment before your visit, as spontanous tours cannot be guaranteed). Afterwards you are welcome to enjoy the exhibition of the museum in your own modus.

Schloss Kummerow 
Am Schloss 10
17139 Kummerow

Schloss Kummerow Seeseite Domusimages

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