Buy a $26 Million Jewel of a Mansion Nestled Among German Palaces
Built just outside of Berlin in 1923, the villa sat squarely in the demarcation zone.
During the sliver of time between world wars, when Germany wasn’t suffering from hyperinflation or teetering on the knife’s edge of civil war, a flour tycoon named Kurt Kampffmeyer built a 15,000-square-foot villa on a lake in Potsdam, about 12 miles southwest of Berlin.
The house was a mishmash of styles—part baroque, part neoclassical—and overlooked an area comprising (former) imperial landholdings. The Jagdschloss Glienicke, a hunting lodge originally built for Friedrich Wilhelm, Elector of Brandenburg, is across the water from the villa, as is the Babelsberg Palace, built for Emperor Wilhelm I. Yet another palace, the Schloss Cecilienhof, a mock-Tudor palace that was completed a year before the overthrow of the monarchy in 1917, is in walking distance. The whole network of parks and palaces in Potsdam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While certainly not on a kingly scale, the Villa Kampffmeyer was, even at the time, an ornate example of ebullient bourgeois taste. There’s a dramatic entrance surrounded by boxwood hedges and adorned with a monumental portico, a double-height entry room with an oak-paneled staircase, ornate fireplaces, and elaborate plaster work in virtually every room. “He had grand ambitions,” said Sebastian Varga von Kibed, a former investment banker and the house’s current owner. “It’s got grand reception rooms, very tasteful gilding, and silks— really, it’s a sort of statement piece.”
The Wrong Side of History
While the Kampffmeyer family has flourished since the villa was constructed— their company has since been rebranded as GoodMills Deutschland and has more than 670 employees across Europe, according to the company website—the house wasn’t so lucky.
“Then came the war,” said von Kibed. After the Nazis surrendered, and the French, British, and American sectors of occupied Berlin were cordoned off by the Berlin wall in 1961, the villa had the bad fortune of being on the East German side: “The Berlin wall ran, quite literally, through the gardens of the house,” said von Kibed. “The villa was on the east side, and the wrong side of history.”
Given the house’s proximity to the demarcation line, it’s somewhat surprising that it wasn’t demolished in the effort to keep the area around the wall clear and easier to monitor. (Its proximity to the Glienicke Bridge, the so-called “Bridge of Spies” on which prisoner exchanges took place, probably had something to do with it.)
Regardless, during the Cold War the house underwent what von Kibed called “a slumber period” when it, like everything, was owned by the German Democratic Republic. The walls were plastered over, the rooms subdivided, and the windows boarded up, all in an effort to “de-emphasize the grand bourgeois aspect of it,” von Kibed said, but the essence of the house remained totally untouched. “They just put up these fake walls,” he said. “But they didn’t actually destroy anything.”
After the wall came down in 1989, the house went through a succession of owners. By the time von Kibed bought the house in 2012, it had been heavily renovated. “A German investor put huge sums of money to redo the infrastructure,” he said. “Roof, electricity, water, etc.”
Von Kibed, who is based in London, purchased the villa primarily as an investment. After completing a second renovation of the home—this time, to restore the house’s decoration and initial aesthetic—he put it on the market for 28 million euros ($31.4 million). The price has since dropped to 23 million euros.
Prospective buyers will find a grand house with a library, salon, formal dining room, and music room on the main floor, and a master suite, private study, multiple guest rooms, and a “panorama room” on the second floor, The basement is currently configured as a staff apartment; there are five bedrooms and eight bathrooms in total. Outside, von Kibed has restored the house’s two acres of gardens.
“When I purchased the house, one of Kurt Kampffmeyer’s youngest daughters got in touch with us,” von Kibed said. “She said ‘I haven’t been back to the house since 1939, could I see it again?”
So, 75 years after leaving the villa, a Kampffmeyer returned. “It was so adorable,” he said. “She would say: ‘Oh, this is where the Christmas tree was. She even drew for us how the garden was arranged, and showed us where all of the furniture went.”
The end result, von Kibed said, is a piece of history. “What you really see,” he said. “Is a cohabitation between the history of two, or really three different Germanys.”