Set against the scenic backdrop of the Wetterstein mountain range is the luxurious Schloss Elmau hotel – the setting for the two-day 41st G7 Summit beginning today. But this is not just any old venue: the Schloss Elmau is steeped in German history.
The story began in 1914, when Protestant theologian and philosopher Johannes Müller ordered the construction of a castle that would serve as a meeting place for his followers. Müller wanted to create a space that would allow his followers to explore “personal and communal living”. The castle—completed two years after construction started—would host several prominent politicians and cultural figures of the Weimar Republic. Müller believed his followers could achieve a new level of asceticism and leave self-centredness behind by immersing themselves in nature and classical music. He was not a wealthy man, but convinced Elsa, Countess of Waldersee, to finance his plans in Elmau.
Music played an important role in the castle&’s history and its legendary chamber concerts continue to attract high-profile performers to this day. Back then, guests would come together in the concert hall to celebrate the importance of community. But the build-up to WWII would abruptly end that filial spirit.
Müller, having heard the Nazi slogan Das Ich ist Nichts; das Volk ist alles (“You are nothing; your people are everything”), believed their philosophy was closely aligned to his owned and hailed their seizure of power as a “rebirth of the German people”. He praised Hitler as “the receiving organ of the government of God”. Despite his support for Nazism, Müller was a critic of their policies towards the Jews. He avoided the requisition of the castle by renting it out to the army for use as a home for soldiers returning from the front. But his ambivalent views made him a target for both the Nazi propaganda machine and the reparations process that began after the war.
When the war ended, the US Army confiscated Schloss Elmau and converted it to a military hospital for a short while. Elmau was then given to the Bavarian government for administration and served as a convalescent home for tuberculosis patients. Müller died in 1949 at the age of 84 and a year earlier he had openly admitted to having been wrong about Nazism.
In the early 50s, Elmau was returned to the Müller family. Under the direction of his children Bernhard Müller-Elmau (see picture) and Sieglinde Mesirca, Schloss Elmau was reopened in the Christmas of 1951, as a hotel with 60 rooms.
Concerts, balls and gatherings in the parlour (Kaminstüberl) – life at Elmau began again as if it had never stopped. The only difference was that guests’ ideology was no longer a consideration. By and by, visitors returned.
The hotel, on the other hand, was not doing well. The aging charm did not draw guests, and banks were reluctant to provide loans for renovation. Enter Müller&’s grandson, Dieter Müller-Elmau.
Dietmar Müller-Elmau was born in a hotel room and grew up in the castle. In search of a warmer climate, he travelled to the US and studied Computer Science. Upon his return to Germany, Muller-Elmau used his new skills to develop a computerised hotel booking system, which he named Fidelio. The programme was sold for 55 million Deutsche marks and it was characterised by the fact that the software could conform to the unique circumstances of a particular hotel. That programme is used in hotels all over the world even now. At the behest of his father, Muller-Elmau invested the money earned from the sale towards refurbishing the hotel.
When Schloss Elmau caught fire in the summer of 2005, Muller-Elmau viewed the destruction of three wings as a chance to begin again. He set about converting the hotel into a dedicated retreat with world class spa facilities. Guests were initially sceptical. To cite German business magazine, Manager Magazin, “Dietmar, you must do everything but just do not change a thing”.
At present, Schloss Elmau is a luxury retreat that has won numerous awards and a member of Leading Hotels of the World. Before Angela Merkel&’s election, she visited the hotel as a guest speaker and promised to the owners they would spend more time together some day. Merkel has kept her word. As Chancellor, she has brought the world&’s leaders to their doorstep for the G7 Summit.