It was a long journey from Cape Town, South Africa that brought us to the small village of Sipplingen on the shores of Lake Constance in Germany to find our house, our forever home. First as singles, then as a couple and later as a family we traveled the world, and then we moved halfway around the world. But there was never a place where we thought this is where we want to stay for longer, for ever… until we found Sipplingen.
It took another 10 years before we found her... she had been waiting for us and we had been looking for her. She was not pretty anymore, but she radiated a relaxing, self-confident calm and our connection with her was immediate. Of course, she was already quite old when we first met - 420 years to be exact. Looking beyond the craggy walls and peeling paint, we found a strong structure and could imagine her once stately and imposing presence. Once inside, we could see the care with which she had been constructed - even a well in the cellar from which water could be drawn into the kitchen directly above. The old stable was still there with cribs for the animals to feed. In some places the original walls and woodwork were still visible, adding to the feeling that this was something special...
From the beginning, we never felt that we would really own her - it was more a feeling of a partnership: we would make her attractive again, and she would provide a home for us, our children and our grandchildren. We decided to call her "Klosterhof1595" - After all, she was a farmhouse built in 1595 that had belonged to the famous monastery of Salem.
However, finding and naming her was the easy part ... as we were to discover. What do you do with a house that is not really a house... similar to a monastery with cell like rooms for the celibate farmers that worked the vineyards and made wine. The house was without heating, sanitation and cold running water only added more than a century later. Compounding this, the farmhouse was declared a heritage with exceptional cultural significance in 1992. This meant the structure on the inside and outside could not be changed without obtaining approval from the relevant authorities. Every little change has to be approved to make sure that the building and its character is preserved. With pride we would show our friends our new home and they would just silently stare at us, shaking their heads as if sympathizing with our delusions ... but we had a vision and we just knew it would turn out like we dreamed, although sometimes the dreams turned into nightmares, keeping us awake at night!
Together with an architect and tax consultant we developed a design and business plan to turn the farmhouse into three holiday apartments in the main building and a loft apartment for us in the almost 9 meter high hipped roof. It took several months and attempts to design a plan that could work for the house. In this time we were in close consultation with the 'Denkmalamt' to make sure that they approved of our plans. Sometimes our plans had to change... or revisited. It was a work in progress. There were so many things to be considered, re-planned... waiting for approval was sometimes very stress full. Like the time they found bat poop in the upper part of the roof. As the particular bat is a protective species on the red list in Germany, the poop had to be tested to find out if the bat were still living in the house. If yes our plans for that part of the roof would come to an end. Luckily for us, the poop was very old and it was determined that the bat was long gone and we could go on with our plans. Over a period of eighteen months our house was transformed. And the result was even better than our dreams.
The euphoria of creating a special home was quickly followed by the anxiety of making the holiday apartments a success. We put our hearts and soles into the interior design and modernization of the apartments, but we also wanted to show our guests the history of the house, that made it so special to us. So, as we discovered timbered walls and original paintings dating back to the 16th & 19th centuries, hidden behind prefab walls from the 1950's, we decided to have them opened up and restored. We just hoped that our guests would love it too. The apartments were equipped and furnished the way we always believed a holiday apartment should be - modern and minimalistic. With great expectations we scrutinized each new review... (we still do!), delighted and relieved with each positive feedback we received. We also received some very useful tips from guests, helping us complete the apartments for future guests to enjoy. From the reviews we could tell that our guests felt welcomed and left revitalized after there time with us - exactly what we had set out to achieve.
To our great surprise and delight, we were informed that our house has been selected for the 2018 Denkmalschutzpreis Baden-Württemberg - Prize for Preservation of Cultural Heritage - and we would receive the prize and a plaque from the Minister of Cultural Affairs of Baden-Württemberg at a ceremony in April 2019 in Ulm. A very proud achievement for us.
In the blogs to follow we, Marina & Gerhard will tell you more about our house, about the small little village, Sipplingen that stole our hearts and the beautiful Lake Constance and surroundings, the villages and towns worth visiting. We will explore interesting and less known things to do and see in the area and we will also give tips on how to make the most of your holiday on Lake Constance. We hope to see you soon!