In love with Manor Life
Uwe Eichler speaks about his life as manager of moat castle Quilow
words and photos by Annika Kiehn, March 2022
Escape to the countryside, start anew—that was the major plan of teacher Dirk Legall and his partner, the actor Uwe Eichler in 2014. After a fateful call with the Foundation Stiftung Denkmalschutz Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, those two were facing the adventure of their lives: the non-profit organization was looking for someone to oversee the process of rebuilding the moated castle Quilow, located in the middle of nowhere.
When they visited the castle themselves for the first time, it was in a miserable condition, having been abandoned 30 years ago. However, it was the perfect challenge for them. And knowing they would get professional help from the Foundation, they said, “YES! Let’s do it.“
The transition of the manor is extraordinary.
Six years later, everyone involved is proud to have managed the most nerve-wracking period of their lives. Due to 90 percent funding from the European Union as well as the ministry of economy of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, the castle now functions as a public house: for culture and tourism, for locals and vacationers, for artistic and commercial projects, for amateurs and professionals, for young and old. “The plan is to be never finished; the project should always be able to evolve,“ says Uwe Eichler.
The transition of the manor is extraordinary. It sparkles with a new, fresh layer of white painting, but the ghosts of the past are still visible upstairs in the museum section: old wooden beams, bare walls with either 16th-century paintings or GDR-era wallpaper. The café downstairs is a highlight: urban flair at its best. Four years ago, this room was dark, dusty, and only to be entered with great caution. However, these days, you’ll find a modern interior within historic bricks, a rare jewel within this region. Uwe Eichler discusses overcoming history and modern bureaucracy, as well as being a space pioneer despite never wanting to be one.
“I now understand the matter of rebuilding and now have a more skilled eye for historic houses. Due to the restoration process, I have learned quite a bit about what it takes to maintain such an old building. As we discovered, you need to be humble, especially if you want to live in one.” Uwe Eichler
Uwe, the café and manor are all stunning. How are you two doing now that the restoration process is complete?
We are doing pretty well. The coronavirus pandemic hit us hard, just like every other public place. However, we still had guests visiting; some of them now come on a regular basis, which is nice. We also managed to attract local people to find work here or come as tourists. In spring 2020, we were just about to decorate the café when everything closed down. So we had to choose the interior by only looking at it on the internet, which was a bit of a challenge. We managed, though, and the big original fireplace adds to the charm of this room. It was saved by a woman from the village, and she returned it to us. So, we are grateful to have such a unique and authentic piece of history back in the castle. We had a small official opening in August 2020, but things evolve slowly, so we are keen to develop some kind of routine.
We have been renovating this beauty for the past six years
Do you feel that you are now finished?
Not at all. What is finished, anyway. We have been renovating this beauty for the past six years, and 57 building companies were involved. My hair has turned grey over the course of this period due to the masses of bureaucracy we had to handle; it was crazy. We have turned the upper floor into a museum section to tell a bit of the history of the house, the attic into a spacious room for seminars, and the downstairs into a café. But now I am pondering what kind of guests we should look out for, and how to reach out to them is my task for the upcoming season.
What was it like to leave Berlin and move to the countryside in order to become a space pioneer?
Great. We’ve chosen this path, so it’s fine. We longed for peace and solitude. Dirk grew up in a village, so he is used to this lifestyle. I adapted quickly. Whenever I need to be in Berlin, I am also happy to leave as quickly as possible. We made a deal with the Foundation to assist with the restoration process, and afterward, we would have a unique place to make money with. But to be honest, I don’t see myself as a space pioneer. It is simply our duty to care for the place, as it has been for the past eight years. It did not cross my mind that we would evolve something big. But it’s fun.
Isn’t there also a risk that the plan might not work out?
True, though. The project could be just as good, but it won’t work if the circumstances don’t match your intention. If you don’t feel it, it’s hopeless. However, there are great people around us in the village. More than 80 percent of them all own a dog, making it easy to catch up while going for a walk. We constantly have people around us at a frequency that tops our time in Berlin. Of course, everyone who worked on the building, our friends who visit regularly and stay for a couple of days, and our guests.
What did you learn about old houses?
I now understand the matter of rebuilding and now have a more skilled eye for historic houses. Due to the restoration process, I have learned quite a bit about what it takes to maintain such an old building. As we discovered, you need to be humble, especially if you want to live in one. We went years without running water in our kitchen, heated solely by our ovens, and lacked heating in the bathroom for a very long time. That was okay; we got used to it. It is a constant battle between us and the house; it really never ends with you turning yourself upside down to meet the needs of the house.
Do you miss anything?
To be honest, I wish there was a subway. I always need a car to run errands, which requires a lot of planning.
And in terms of culinary delights, do you miss living in the capital?
We are doing quite okay. Our motto is “LESS IS MORE.“ In our café/bistro we offer two kinds of meals, one of which is veggie, which we think is sufficient. We are very eager to find a local manufacturer, which is not as easy as I had expected. Our former mayor breeds cows, and he shares the meat with us. Our neighbors at Manor Zinzow are successful breeders of water buffalo and sheep, and they also produce liquor, just to name a few. However, we are constantly looking out for more. How we can develop a consistent economic circle is a question that should be on the agenda of politicians in order to make this region prosper.
Has there ever been a moment when the two of you thought, “Okay, that’s it, we quit?“
No, never. It was never the manor that made us suffer. It was partly due to the circumstances that were challenging. For example, when we started the café, we did not have enough staff to manage the many guests, which was a bit overwhelming. The restoration process was taking its toll on us, as well. There was a phase when we had to pause in order to sort it out again. But in the end, it saved us from making serious mistakes. Even this stressful phase was necessary for the whole project to be successful. Sometimes, things seemed pretty dark, but we always managed to cope with them. Whatever we do here, we always cling to one principle: we make no debts. We simply take care of it for a while in its long history.
Moatled Castle Quilow
Opening hours and activities at moat castle Quilow mostly from Friday till Sunday.
Exhibition anecdotes in the upper floor: four sisters and one death case, a gay cavalry captain, who finally finds a home at the moat castle. What people changed the manorial life at Quilow? In many anecdotes visitors get to know the legends, who shaped the place.
Entrance is free, but donations are welcome. For groups there are guided tours possible.
The café offers homemade cake, snacks and soups of the day. You may rent the location for events or conferences. There are also basic accommodation in the building next to the castle. A special: take a walk to river Penn and take the little ferry over to the village Stolpe with a historic restaurant.
Find out more on their website
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