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Found a Project - Almost

February 20, 2005

(written March 6)


Dear Families and Friends,


A dream house. What, exactly, is a dream house? For us, it may be a new version of our apartment in Kiev. We had watched a 100-year-old apartment transform into a wonderful blend of old and new. We enjoyed working with creative and hardworking professionals during the process. In the three years since we left, we've never given up looking for a similar opportunity.

We have known we must move for several months now. Marianne's base is closing and my job can really be better done from our company office in Erlangen, near Nuremberg, rather than my current base here in the Frankfurt area. Earlier this year, we started taking weekends to visit towns mid-way between Erlangen and the various bases where Marianne MIGHT work.

The easiest candidate would be Bamberg, a charming small city in north-central Bavaria. There are several towns that are an easy commute distance from both work locations. Next easiest would be a series of bases, a couple north of Erlangen, a pair east, one south, and one southwest. None but Bamberg would be easy, but all would be possible, with a 60 to 75 minute commute split two ways.

On one of these explorations, in the village of Pommersfelden, Marianne spotted a derelict home, with a small "zu verkaufen" (for sale) sign in the front window. It looked perfect: run down (= low price?), smallish(= cheaper to fix), a barn (=garage), and a huge Chateau across the street (= nice neighbors?). The next day, Marianne called the listed phone number and made an appointment the very next day to check it out. She was hooked.

Over the next two months, we have visited several times, always balancing the uncertainty in Marianne's job with the fascinating prospect of transforming a home older than the US into our European base. We needed several pieces to come together: Marianne's job at Bamberg or one of the other bases commuting distance from Pommersfelden; cost of repair and restoration within our means; total investment within range of local housing prices (in case we'd need to sell); understanding if foreigners can legally buy property; etc.

We became regulars at the Chateau (it's a hotel). We hired an architect to give us ideas, most importantly, real ideas on the remodel price. A few days ago, he gave us his report. It would be very expensive. Discouragingly expensive. But, sleeping on it, dreaming a bit more, and it became feasible - if our architect's estimate was credible.

Yesterday, we met with him and, for better or worse, his estimate seemed reasonable. We could not hope for much less but could be comfortable not worrying about too much more than he had told us. So, with some stretching, the project was barely possible. It would take until the end of 2005, but we had already resigned to a few months in temporary housing, so a few months more would not disturb us. We even visited a craftsman who could recreate an historically-accurate terrazzo floor. We were hooked.

Until dinner. Back in Pommersfelden, we decided to have dinner at the Dorn Gasthaus, just outside the Chateau gate. It was a delightful meal, with good food and attentive service. Of course, we were the only customers on this cold, winter evening, but we were feeling even better about Pommersfelden as a new home town.

A couple weeks earlier, we had gotten some interesting background information on the town from the owners of the town's other restaurant so, as almost an afterthought, we mentioned to Frau Dorn that we were interested in the old house. Of course they knew about it and said "that will be expensive". We mumbled agreement. Then Herr Dorn said "Why not buy my house?" and he mentioned a price lower than our derelict's. He said it was just a bit older than "our" old house but it was recently rebuilt "like new". We arranged to see it the next day but the biggest impact was already obvious: we should not pour money into an old house if it's neighbor is selling for one-third of our total costs.

When we showed up this morning, we needed to wait a few minutes for Herr Dorn to serve his local customers their 10:00 am beers. We drank coffee and I tried to decipher a local German newspaper. There, on the front page, was a story about the closing of the Bamberg base and the other two bases within striking distance. Oops. We left to examine Herr Dorn's house, now knowing it would not be possible. The schools remaining in Marianne's future were all too far away from Pommersfelden.

We were pretty down on the drive home. No new project. No new-old home. No easy job commute. Perhaps, no new job for Marianne. Philosophically, we reminded ourselves that it is better to dream and wake up than never dream at all. Of course something else might show up, but right now, it's discouraging.

The pictures below describe our dream, one that evaporated in the last 24 hours.

This was the day we first stopped. The small for sale sign is in the ground floor, right-hand window: small, but enough to catch our attention. Across the street was the wall of Weissenstein Schloss (Chateau).

Yesterday, we looked over the wall at "our home". The two-story house is about 1200 square feet (120 m2) with a 180 square foot extension on the back. The extension is new, meaning late 1800's. The house was built in 1763.

The Pommersfelden Schloss or Chateau is only about 50 years older than "our" house, but much grander. Nowadays, it belongs to the government and there are 60 or 70 hotel rooms built in one of the out buildings. (http://www.schlosshotel-pommersfelden.de/index.html)

Pommersfelden itself is a small village, but filled with homes and buildings dating from the 18th Century.


And, here we go into "our house", escorted by Herr Werner, the current owner. His son served as the English interpreter, although Marianne's German was certainly adequate for what we needed to communicate.
On the left is the living room and on the right is the main hall from the front door to the stairs leading upstairs. There is work to be done. Later, our architect came up with sketches showing a widened entrance, and opened living room, and an even larger tile fireplace.
The clothes washing facilities were original. That's as in 250-year-old original. A fire would be built under a pot of water and, after cooking, clothes would be wrung out into a stone sink that drained through the wall.

Inside, this was the only running water. The other common plumbing fixture was in the closet at the other end of this room. Strictly speaking, it was not a "water closet".
The modern addition in the back was to become our kitchen. There was 100+ years of wear and tear to account for, plus the basics of water, electricity, new walls, doors, floors, etc. Most of the first level floors were layed directly on dirt.
Along side, we had a barn and a pig sty. These would be challenges to our imagination but that's what we were looking forward to.

Finally, out back was our own farm land, about a third of an acre (1400 square meters). I had no idea what we would do with this. Apple trees? Potatoes? Not grass!

But, in the end, it was all just a dream.

I wonder what will happen now.

John and Marianne


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