Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The New York Sun: N.Y. Man May Sell Childhood Home - Dracula's Castle

N.Y. Man May Sell Childhood Home - Dracula's Castle
By DAVID LOMBINOStaff Reporter of the SunJanuary 9, 2007

A Westchester County man who is a descendant of the royal family of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Dominic von Habsburg, could soon sell Dracula's Castle — the 13th-century palace where he grew up before the property was seized by communists — to the local Romanian government for more than $78 million.

Sitting on a rocky hilltop in Transylvania, Bran Castle, widely known as Dracula's Castle, was built as a fortress by Teutonic knights in 1212. In the late 15th century, it was home to a prince known as Vlad the Impaler of Walachia, the inspiration for Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, "Dracula."
In April, Romania's Ministry of Culture said it would return the castle to the descendents of its previous owners, who include Mr. von Habsburg and his two sisters, Elisabeth Sandhofer and Maria-Magdalena Holzhausen, who live in Austria.

The local Brasov County Council in central Romania is now in talks with a foreign bank on a 10-year loan for that amount to buy back the castle, according to Bloomberg News. The government said the investment would be a unique opportunity to boost tourism to Transylvania.

Mr. von Habsburg, who is an industrial engineer, fled the communist takeover of his homeland in 1947, when he was 10 years old. Despite the possibility of an impending windfall, Mr. von Habsburg said in a telephone interview yesterday that the decision to sell his childhood home and a symbol of his family was a difficult one. In 1920, the inhabitants of the nearby town, Brasov, gave the castle to Queen Maria, Mr. von Habsburg's grandmother.

"I'm still sentimentally attached. To separate yourself from something like that is pretty difficult," Mr. von Habsburg said.

Mr. von Habsburg said a final deal could still take a "long time," and he is considering other options, like developing the property himself and converting part of the grounds into a corporate convention center or retreat. The castle is now a popular tourist attraction and home to a museum, and Mr. von Habsburg said it would remain open to the public.

After about 60 years of living in exile from his homeland, and a long and costly legal battle to reclaim his family's property, Mr. von Habsburg said the prospect of earning millions of dollars would provide little emotional relief.

"You have to keep in mind, you can't turn back the time," he said. "When they expropriated the property, they kicked us out of the country. They didn't just take a building away, they took a whole way of life away. To bring that back is virtually impossible."

Mr. von Habsburg settled in America eight years ago after living in Switzerland, Argentina, Italy, and elsewhere. He had never returned to Romania until May, when he visited Bran Castle for about a week, just after the Romanian government decided to return the property.
"It gave me goose bumps. It was like I was finally coming home," Mr. von Habsburg said.
"Since I left in 1948, everywhere I wandered — and I wandered all over the world — basically, I was looking for Romania," he said. "It was like finding peace and relief. I wish my mother could have seen it."



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