There are few places that have left us with a deep sorrow after we’ve visited them – but the Gut Gentzrode (also known as Herrenhaus Gentzrode) possibly tops our list. We’ve first heard of Gentzrode almost 10 years ago, and the images we saw were majestic. Ever since then we vowed to visit it, knowing that time was not our friend. This year (2020) we finally seized the moment and travelled out to the Gutshaus Gentzrode – only to find it almost completely destroyed, and its future doesn’t look much better.
Neuruppin and the Gentz Family
The village of Ruppin officially earned its city rights on the 9th of March 1256, though the area in and around Ruppin had been inhabited since the Mesolithic area. Over the years since gaining its city rights, Neuruppin (or just Ruppin as it was known back then) grew to become one of the largest norther German cities and by 1688 it became one of Brandenburg’s first Garrison cities. Its population drastically increased with the garrison, with over 40% of the population being military personnel.
Karl Friedrich Schinkel (born 13 March 1781, died 9 October 1841)was one of Germanys most prolific Architects and left a tremendous legacy both in the region of Brandenburg and Berlin (The Neue Wache, Altes Museum, the Konzerthaus, the Alexander Nevsky chapel in the Peterhof Palace, and the second iteration of the Berliner Dom).
Theodor Fontane (born 30 December 1819, died 20 September 1898) on the other hand is regarded to be Germanys most important 19th century realist authors, well known for quite a few books – but in particular (at least in the Berlin-Brandenburg region) for the five-volume travelogue „Ramblings through Brandenburg“.
Neuruppin was also the birthplace of Johann Christian Gentz (born 26 July 1794, died 4 October 1867) – the son of a local weaver/draper. Johann Gentz married in 1820, and soon after bought a small mercer’s shop and transformed it into a bank and exchange business – the Bank- und Handelshaus J. C. Gentz. Later on, Gentz’s business also included a very profitable peat business.
Gentz and his wife had 5 children (a daughter and four sons) – his first son being Karl Wilhelm Gentz – a well-known painter who specialized in oriental depictions after having traveled extensively though Egypt, Palestine and Morocco.
His fourth son was Alexander Gentz (14 April 1825, died 3 July 1888), who followed in his father’s footsteps and was educated in a trade school in Magdeburg. After completing his education, he traveled through England, and France as well as Algiers to further his cultural education as well as enhance his linguistic and trade skills.
His travels through Algiers left a lifelong impression and love for the so called “oriental” culture. The Gentz Family and the Fontane family were neighbours in Neuruppin, and both Alexander and Theodor grew up together and had a life long friendship.
After returning from his travels, Alexander Gentz began working in his father’s business, and eventually took over the family business by 1855. In 1858, Alexander Gentz and his father began buying up plots of land around Neuruppin with the intention of establishing a family estate – the Gut Gentzrode (sometimes also referred to as the Gutshaus Gentzrode).
By 1861, the Gentz Family had established an impressive arboretum, a sprawling park, and a granary with an attached tower house (the Kornspeicher Gentzrode). The Kornspeicher was designed by the architect Carl Wilhelm von Diebitsch, who was an acquaintance of Alexander’s brother Wilhelm whom he had met studying the Alhambra in Spain.
Von Diebitsch was a well-known in Egypt after having been invited by Isma’il Pasha the Khedive (viceroy) of Egypt and Sudan. One of his most well-known works is the Gezirah Palace (now part of the Marriot Hotel) in Cairo.
Theodor Fontane was a frequent guest of the Gentz Family, and Alexander Gentz can be considered a one of the most influential patrons of Fontanes who not only financially and (socially) assisted him but also traveled with Fontane and supplied him with texts for Fontanes first travel book „Die Grafschaft Ruppin“.
It’s also through Fontane’s work that we have a a somewhat accurate description of what the tower looked like during the time of the Gentz Family:
“The tower-like extension, with a large tower, received a large room on the ground floor and room of the same size on the 1st floor, which is then followed by several separate small lodging rooms on the 2nd floor”
Fontane described the interiors as follows:
“It’s a dark green round hall, painted with gold stars on top. … Even the room on the first floor was richly decorated with carpets, antlers and tiger skins, with birds of prey and wild boar heads, mostly homemade prey. … At the top, however, an outside corridor ran around the tower, from which one had an excellent view of near and far. “
The upper room was Alexander Gentz’s study, while the room on the ground floor served as a reception room for the frequent visitors, especially in the summer months
In the mid 1870’s Alexander Gentz had hired Martin Gropius (the great-uncle of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus) and Heino Schmieden (Alexander Gentz had expensive – but terrific taste in Architects) to design him a suitable Manor House – the Herrenhaus Gentzrode – and what they came up with was a fantastic brick building in the Moorish Revival style.
The Gutshaus Gentzrode was built between 1876 and 1877 and was just a few meters down the road from the Kornspeicher. Sadly, I couldn’t find any historical descriptions of the interior, but I doubt they were any less ornate than the tower.
The Herrenhaus Gentzrode and its new owners
Unfortunately, all the wealth and splendor of the Gentz Family wouldn’t last much longer. The German-Franco War of 1871, flooded the Germany economy with capital (aka French War reparations) leading to an overheating of the stock market while at the same time the country decided to begin the process of silver demonetisation.
The unfortunate series of events culminated with the “Panic of 1873” which triggered a 6 year long global financial crisis. The Bank- und Handelshaus J. C. Gentz suffered catastrophic financial loses causing them to declare bankruptcy on the 4th of June 1880.
Some sources attribute the costly building process of the Gutshaus Gentzrode to the Gentz Family’s bankruptcy. While the costly project probably didn’t help their financial situation, it was more likely that the loss of their income from the peat business was more detrimental to their financial status as the majority of industries had switched to the more efficient and cheaper coal.
Alexander Gentz was briefly jailed 1883 due to a vindictive show trial in Neuruppin which made him personally responsible for the bankruptcy of his business. Despite selling all of his assets including the Gut Gentzrode, he couldn’t square out his loses. The German Reichsgericht came to his aid in 1884 and freed him, nullifying the courts verdict. Gentz had had enough though and moved up north to Stralsund where he bought a Fish Cannery. He died in Stralsund on the 3rd of July, 1888.
The Gut Gentzrode was taken over in 1881 by Albert Ebell and the Chief Bailiff Troll – two of Gentz’s creditors who had no interest in living in Gentzrode and essentially just sold off its assets and then the land itself after only 10 months. The next prominent owner of the Gut Gentzrode was the machine manufacturer A. Wernicke – who was a large technical supplier for Sugar Factories.
It is said that Wernicke wanted to plant sugar beets in Gentzrode, but the quality of the soil was so poor that he gave up on the venture after 5 years and swapped the Gut Gentzrode with Paul Höpffner for the Gut Konooko in Posen (now Poznan) in 1887.
After only owning Gut Gentzrode for year Paul Höpffner sold off Gentzrode to the former Consul of Bremen in Argentina, a Mr. F.W. Nardenholz. Mr. Nardenholz wanted to spend the rest of his days living in Gentzrode, just like Alexander Gentz would have wanted – rather than selling it off for a profit.
The Wehrmacht takes over
Despite Nardenholz’s promise, the Gut Gentzrode ended up having multiple owners until the widow of the Berlin based banker Rätzsch, acquired the property in 1924. It seems like there is a curse hanging over Gentzrode, as by 1934, the city of Neuruppin forced her to sell off the property (to the city) which in turn handed it over to the Wehrmacht. The Wehrmacht built Barracks for the 6th Panzerregiment a few kilometers south of the Gut Gentzrode in 1936, and then proceeded to use the area as a munitions storage and firing range.
The Soviets and Gentzrode
As with the majority of all former Wehrmacht installations, the Soviets rolled in in 1945 and took over the Barracks. Gentzrode became “home” for the 112th Guards Rocket Brigade of the 2nd Guards Tank Army. While the headquarters of the 2nd Guards Tank Army was located in Fürstenberg, the Headquarters of the Rocketbrigade were located directly in Gentzrode.
Over the years the Soviets built up their own infrastructure – new houses, a cinema, a kindergarten etc. – to accommodate its roughly 5000 strong population. With the fall of the iron curtain and German reunification, the Western Group of Forces – as the Soviet Occupation Army was known by then – got their marching orders and packed up their belongings to head back home to the Urals in 1991.
While the Soviet Military was not known for leaving anything useable behind, they handed over the Gut Gentzrode in remarkably good condition, and even the linden tree boulevards had survived. Sadly, when the Gut Gentzrode came into the ownership of the German State – the German State did nothing. They sat on the property letting it rot and fall into disrepair
The “new” New Owners of Gut Gentzrode
A businessman from Werder by the name of Hans-Werner Angendohr bought the Gut Gentzrode in the year 2000 and planned on turning the property (with the help of some former Prussian Royalty) into a hotel – some even say a Golf Hotel.
The plan wasn’t that well thought out as Neuruppin and the surrounding area was already flush with hotels – so they gave up on that idea. Angendohr torn down the bulk of the Soviet buildings, as well as some of the older historical buildings that were in desolate condition in 2010, and planned on turning the Gutshaus Gentzrode into an event location as well as a holiday camp.
Those plans were apparently just as unfeasible as the hotel idea, as Angendohr sold the property off to two Turkish investors in 2010. They planned on restoring the buildings to their former glamour, but the business men essentially vanished for the next 6 years after purchasing the place, leaving Gentzrode to itself again.
The drama around Gentzrode continued for years, with a new architects and planners showing up and presenting grand design plans, only to scrap the projects a few months later.
While at least 10 of the original buildings (from the late 1860’s) still existed in more or less good condition in 1996, only 4 of the buildings survived until 2020. A political drama unfolded with locals and local politicians demanding that something be done to save the Gut Gentzrode.
It is worth pointing out that Gentzrode had been a listed monument since at least 1995, meaning that its owners were legally obliged to ensure its upkeep – but neither the owners nor the Denkmalschutzbehörde bothered to do anything over the years. If reports are to be believed, the local monument protection authority refused to issue any fines or regulatory measures against the Turkish owners, or force them to ensure the structural integrity of the buildings as the property was “too far out”.
Gentzrode and the Denkmalschutz
While I won’t go too much into detail about the ins and outs of the Denkmalschutz (the German Monument Protection), I do briefly want to clear up some recent rumors about the status of the Gut Gentzrode. Back in April 2020, it was reported that Gentzrode would lose its status as a protected monument, and would be removed from the list of heritage listed buildings. This caused massive outrage – but it was partially due to inaccurate reporting.
Once a building is entered on the heritage list, it (and its status) cannot be removed from said list unless the building ceases to exist or it has lost its characteristics which put it on the list in the first place. And this obviously isn’t the case with the Gut Gentzrode. According to the latest reports (from April 2020), the brick buildings are(were) still considered to be in a salvageable state.
Gut Gentzrode Today (November 2020)
A lot has happened since the turmoil of April 2020. The Gut Gentzrode is still considered to be a listed heritage monument, and the local politicians have become slightly more active in terms of saving what’s left of the historic buildings.
Both the Gutshaus Gentzrode and the Kornspeicher have been boarded up since July / August and a large fence has since been erected around both buildings in an attempt to stop the vandalism. It was stated that the owners wanted to patch the roof to stop the water from leaking in, but when we visited in September there was no sign of this yet.
Both the Gutshaus Gentzrode and parts of the Kornspeicher (at least what we could look into) are in terrible shape. The photos show the damage quite clearly, and we highly doubt that there is much salvageable material left inside. Both the floor and the ceiling have collapsed in certain areas, and venturing through the building is highly discouraged.
There are still a few tremendously hideous Soviet era buildings scattered around, but they’ve been completely gutted and converted into local (illegal) dump sites.
In September 2020, over 150 people, including the mayor of Neuruppin and one of the descendants of the Gentz Family traveled out to the abandoned manor house to meet up with the main contractor of the Turkish owners to discuss the future of the Gut Gentzrode. Aside from some warm words, not much of substance was said.
A Panel discussion was held on the 23rd of September, with members of the public, the mayor, local politicians, a member of the building department and the contractor of the Turkish owners. If you speak German and are interested – someone was kind enough to upload the whole thing to YouTube (beware, its 1 hour and 28 minutes long).
From my understanding – all parties involved are very determined to save the Gut Gentzrode, but how and what the exact plans for the whole property will be are still unclear. It’s also a question if it’s not too late at this point.
On the 18th November, 2020 – a fire “broke out” in the top of the tower of the Kornspeicher. Local builders who were in the area to reinforce the fences and window paneling noticed in the early morning and called the fire service.
They quickly extinguished the flames and saved the building from any further substantial damage. The Police assumes that someone intentionally set fire to the building as there are no electrical outlets which could have caused the fire, nor were there any thunderstorms. These news don’t bode well for the future. When there’s one fire, more usually follow.
Gut Gentzrode Address
If you have a car, the area is quite easily accessible. Cobbled roads essentially lead right up to both the Herrenhaus Gentzrode and the Kornspeicher. Gentzrode is a popular spot with locals and urbexers a like – we spotted entire families with small children and multiple photographers wandering around when we were there. If you’re in the area or have this place on one of your lists, go and visit it. Who knows how long it’s going to be standing.