Herrenhaus Vogelsang in Germany
As told to Annika Kiehn, February 2020
Trees growing inside. Nasty house sponge, a fungi, destroying the timber. And masses of rainwater, which kept entering. This was exactly what Robert Uhde saw, when he first visited the neogothic ruin Herrenhaus Vogelsang. He says: “It was five past twelve o’clock.” He bought the place in 2010.
Meanwhile, Uhde proudly recalls his manor up to 98 percent waterproof. These days, the house, which he runs with his wife Isabel, serves as a spectacular stage for Victorian Art Festivals, Horse shows and weddings. At Vogelsang they prefer it mundane, though.
It fascinates it’s visitors with it’s authentic shabby charme.
It is very likely to meet Robert Uhde dressed up in an thick leather coat or even wearing a corset, under head shaved, bold ring on his finger. His wife is a true copy of a glamorous gothic lady, wearing a corset, too. Fine leather boots, tights, and a kinky victorian dress. And when they are in company of their pot-bellied pig Lola you start to guess that something might be very different there. The manor, built in the 1840s, is far away from being fully restored, instead it fascinates it’s visitors with it’s authentic shabby charme. Normally national heritage authorities like fast restorations. In this case, one is rather tempted to think: Would it not be nice to keep it like it is?
Robert, how did you happen to become a manor house-owner?
I’ve always had a thing for old houses. I am a former GDR-citizen, I grew up in Rostock at the Baltic Sea and right after the Wall fell, I bought a run-down tannery and restored it. When I was studying medicine in Berlin at that time but I kept coming home regularly to Mecklenburg in order to search for old houses for a reason I wasn’t fully aware of. At the same time I established my communication-agency, with which I developed a concept of the long night of science in Rostock. And suddenly it hit me to develop a similar concept for manorhouses. I thought: Wow, so many old houses in the middle of nowhere. We need people to see them! It wasn’t on my mind back then to own such a house myself, but I guess I already grew an underlying desire.
We want to offer horse-tourism.
Approximately more than 2000 manor houses exist in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Why did you choose a ruin instead of a rather solid building?
I remember that when I saw Vogelsang the first time, I did not like it. It was completely wrecked and get inside, I had to be escorted by the facility manager. It turned me off back then. Now I understand that it was a good thing. He took care of the place and tried to hold back strangers. This spared the house from those evil minds, which might have taken out the original wooden floors or other historic interior. In the end it was a good mixture of several benfits, which made me want to buy Vogelsang: Firstly, we are in good company of manorhouse owners, who live nearby and who were already experienced in the field of country-house-tourism.
Secondly, the vast land and the paddocks attracted us, too. We want to offer horse-tourism, since we have a great stable here. And above all there was my mums’ personal refugee story. She found shelter in Teterow, a small town close by, which gave me some emotional comfort in this region.
What was the darkest moment you’ve experienced so far with this house?
I initially bought this house with another woman, who, shortly after we bought it and after I had just spend 300 000 Euro in first renovations, suddenly changed her mind. She was in a crisis and told me, that she would leave me and I could do whatever I wanted with the house. But things became complicated, as she was co-owner and I had to get her out of the land register. In the end I had to buy the house from her for a much higher price than the original one because due to the restorations that had been done already, the house was way more worth. So I had to share half of the price I would have gotten, if I had put it on the market officially – and then I was broke.
(sighs with a smile) A lot of relationships fall apart during such a demanding restoration project. Those old houses demand the attention of a human child, they absorb a lot of energy. It is very likely that one surrenders, especially, if you need to live on a construction site during the time of the renovation. It can totally knock you out.
Have you ever thought on surrendering?
We have had to face very random problems, some minor, some major ones, but no matter how dark things seemed at times, I have never come to start thinking: I hate this house, I wish it was gone.
Isabel and me we are the maids of this estate and of course it appears to be a burden here and there. After three or four really intense years of hard work, we have finally come to the point were we have gotten paid back for all the effort and the fun part kicked in. We are mainly booked out during the summer season.
Where do you see the potential of manorhouses for all of us these days?
I am convinced that manors still bear the possibility of becoming the living room of a village. It is the acknowledgement of the history of those houses and the renaissance of country life. We are experiencing a very remarkable era.
Manor houses are called “Gutshäuser” in German. The „Haus“, house, belonged to the „Gut“, the agricultural land surrounding it. But 30 years ago the manors in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern were politically separated from the lands,which means, that it was no longer connected to the source of income which was traditionally agriculture. When the “Gut” is gone, what sort of “Haus” is left then?
Nowadays, modern people own them and run them with various kinds of concepts – most turned them into a hotel, some started to turn them into a cultural center, some turned them into a fancy monastery. The way people make use of them sort of mirrors our current Zeitgeist, I think. The need for community sense, for a closer relationship with nature, which many of us have lost, for a more mindful living. Manors reflect our demands on they way we want to live, which is more in harmony with our everyday modus.
A location for events and weddings!
How do you imagine your life without your manor?
I never thought oft hat. I am sure it would be very boring, definitely less inspiring.
How has this adventure changed your perspective on life?
I have come to be less dreamy, I am more of a realist now. This place does not mean holiday for me, there is always something to get done – be it moaning the lawn, feeding the animals, chopping wood, or just clean up. But we cherish the encounter with various people and their ideas, we are happy to be part ofdifferent projects. In such moments I am content and calm and I feel pride and joy about what we have already achieved.
Trying to establish a manor ruin is like searching for the Northern Pole – for a very long time there was no light at the end of the tunnel, it was kind of no man’s land and it still is in a way – but in a good way, though.
Do you think that you will ever be finished restoring the house?
I rather hope that the following generation will keep on going. I am the type of person who has a vision and when I am done realzinng it, I will start the next project. I like to pass things on when they are done. So I am very happy to declare: My manor will never be finished and I am glad about it, because I have no desire to give it away.
Festival of Nordic Manors
Every year, at the end of June more than 80 houses in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern open up their doors for visitors – you are welcome to exlore the individuality of manorial heritage in this region of Germany – be it a monastry, a hotel, a private adventure or a museum. Get a taste of the spirit of the past and the future likewise, talking to the owners, listening old stories and new adventures.
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