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Summit at Schloss Elmau

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel has reserved Schloss Elmau, an enchanted location in Germany’s deep south, for the G7 summit in June.

© Schloss Elmau - G7 Meeting

For the last 100 years Schloss Elmau has sat enthroned over 1,000 metres above sea level in the Upper Bavarian municipality of Krün. The high valley contains rich green pastures and fairy-tale forests and is surrounded by imposing peaks like the monumental Wetterstein mountain. With its protected alpine flora and mountain fauna, the area is a paradise for nature lovers, hikers and mountain climbers. Some 80,000 visitors come to the valley every year and include not only winter sports enthusiasts, but also an often well-to-do clientele seeking a discreet and exclusive oasis of peace as well as multiple relaxations with Turkish baths, tai chi, yoga and other seasonal wellness highlights at the “Luxury Spa & Cultural Hideaway” of Schloss Elmau. In addition to this, the five-star hotel offers cultural inspiration. Musicians such as Gidon Kremer and Martha Argerich can be experienced close up and personal at refined concert evenings at Schloss Elmau. As well as international classical music stars and literary figures, politicians often also take to the stage here, always in small gatherings. In 2005, for example, they included Angela Merkel before she was elected Federal Chancellor.

In the early summer of 2015, however, the elegant retreat and the surrounding Elmau alpine valley nature reserve will be “transformed” into a roughly four square kilometre high-security zone. After all, the very highest state visitors are expected – from Canada, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. After Germany assumed the presidency of the G7 in mid-2014, the country will host the G7 summit – for the sixth time – on 7 and 8 June 2015. With its choice of Schloss Elmau as the meeting place for the heads of state and government, Germany is offering a positively idyllic setting for the gathering. Nevertheless, participants’ attention will be focusing on urgent global problems and questions of international foreign, security and development policy.

Instead of the beaches and wide-open spaces of the Baltic Sea that formed the backdrop for the 2007 G8 summit in the North German sea resort of Heiligendamm, the “Big Seven” of the world economy will be coming to an enclave in the southernmost corner of Germany that is already well-protected by nature. Apart from the hiking paths, there is only one small toll road into the tranquil valley. Nevertheless, this reception for some of the world’s leading politicians and their large staffs is a special challenge, above all for the Bavarian State Government, which has been mainly responsible for preparing the mega-event with the relevant federal ministries since the beginning of 2014. In 1975, at the very first summit meeting, which was initiated by France and Germany, the group of then six leading economic nations also met in a palace: the splendid 14th-century Château de Rambouillet near Paris where Louis XVI and Napoleon once held court in a far from frugal fashion. Until it was opened to visitors in 2009, it had been the summer residence of French presidents for over 100 years. It is said that the idea for regular exchanges of views at the very highest level came to President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt while sitting at a cosy open fire in Rambouillet.

If you delve into the history of Schloss Elmau, you will not find Bavarian aristocrats with an enthusiasm for architecture, but a far from rich, yet very vocal Protestant theologian and philosopher by the name of Johannes Müller. Financed by his patron, Countess Elsa Waldersee, née Haniel, between 1914 and 1916 Müller had a palace-like mansion built at the Elmau Hermitage, at the very site of the inn where Ludwig II – yes, the builder of Neuschwanstein Castle – liked to spend the night before being driven to his “King’s House on Schachen” 800 metres higher. For preacher Müller and his then rapidly increasing number of followers the mansion was intended to serve as a retreat for German spirituality and offer space for devout communal life. Alongside compulsory dance evenings, the chamber music tradition was established at that time that still continues today. The fact that Müller immediately glorified the National Socialists in his writings eventually meant he had to undergo denazification after the Second World War. As a result, Schloss Elmau was confiscated by the US Army. After the Free State of Bavaria used the building as a rest home from 1947, at the beginning of the 1950s it was returned to the descendants of the builder, who had died in 1949, and they then ran it as a hotel. Concert performances were enthusiastically revived – for example, with Anglo-German Music Days, for which even Benjamin Britten and his favourite tenor Peter Pears appeared at Schloss Elmau.

A breath of fresh air swept through the old building in 1997, when Dietmar Müller-Elmau, the cosmopolitan grandson of the hotel’s builder, took charge of the business. Sparing neither expense nor determination, he refurbished the house and grounds to the very highest standards, setting up several spas and restaurants as well as libraries and boutiques. He livened up the cultural programme with world music, modern literature and political forums on topical subjects. Since then his establishment has been honoured with a steadily growing number of awards from international hotel associations.

As at earlier summits, the organisers are expecting around 5,000 journalists from all over the world, and a press centre will be set up for them at the Olympic Ice Sports Centre in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Numerous face-lifting measures and infrastructure improvements have meanwhile made considerable progress in the region.

Alpenwelt Karwendel, the marketing association that promotes the municipalities of Krün, Mittenwald and Wallgau, naturally hopes the summit will give tourism a lasting boost. Many kilometres of cable still remain to be laid in the rural district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the robust digital broadband network that is essential for a mammoth event on the scale of a G7 summit. Before the onset of winter, work was completed on the helicopter landing pad where in June Shinzo Abe will arrive from Tokyo, David Cameron from London, Stephen Harper from Ottawa, François Hollande from Paris, Angela Merkel from Berlin, Barack Obama from Washington and Matteo Renzi from Rome – although certainly not in alphabetical order. Without much fuss a hikers’ car park was asphalted over for this purpose despite strong protests from nature conservationists, which were then allayed with a promise of renaturation. A simple and pragmatic solution. ▪