Saturday, August 22, 2015

Luxarazzi 101: Château de Betzdorf

Château de Betzdorf (also known as Schloss Betzdorf, Betzdorf Castle, or Schlass Betzder, depending on your preferred language) is a property used for many years as a home by members of the Grand Ducal Family. It is most notably the birthplace and childhood home of Grand Duke Henri and his siblings.  The château is named for the town of Betzdorf, located about 23 kilometers (about 14 miles) outside Luxembourg City.
Photo: SES
The present château initially had no link to the Grand Ducal Family. Although the property had held various castles and homes on the premises since the Middle Ages, the present home was built between 1911 and 1919 for René Müller Laval, an engineer from Esch-sur-Alzette. Designed in a neo-baroque style by German architect Paul Schultze-Naumberg, the château featured a small chapel, a forecourt, outbuildings, stables and garages on its 80-acre grounds. The home was also equipped with the most modern conveniences of the time: central heating, telephone lines, and running water. Construction on the house took far longer than expected, as work was continually interrupted due to World War I.

But Müller Laval had bit off more than he could chew, so to speak. By the mid-1920s, the costs associated with the upkeep of the castle were more than he could handle and he began renting the property to wealthy Belgians to use as a vacation home. The Great Depression meant that fewer people were traveling for pleasure, and by the mid-1930s, the château stood empty for lack of available tenants.

Following Müller Laval’s death, his brother Edmond, a Luxembourgish industrialist, donated the château to the Red Cross to serve as a vacation property and retreat for its staff.  During World War II, the German military seized Château de Betzdorf. The Nazis opened a housekeeping school there, sparing the property from extensive damage.

Photo: SES
After World War II, the property passed to Luxembourg government, who first used it as a reformatory for young prostitutes (!) and then considered turning the home and its grounds into a women’s prison. However, at the time of the engagement of then-Hereditary Grand Duke Jean to Joséphine-Charlotte of Belgium, it was realized that the couple needed a home of their own. Several royal properties were still in various states of repair due to damage from the war. As Betzdorf was one of the few suitable, inhabitable residential buildings available, it was chosen as the couple's new home.  Renovations began on the property shortly after Jean and Joséphine-Charlotte's wedding.

In the time between Müller Laval’s ownership and acquisition by the state, the grounds had shrunk to about 35 acres.  However, Betzdorf was still quite grand, and a rose garden and golf course were added to make the home more appealing. Shortly after Jean and Joséphine-Charlotte settled in, Luxembourg City also presented the couple with a sculpture of a deer to place on the grounds of the château. Auguste Tremont, a prominent Luxembourgish artist known for his animal statues, designed the sculpture. Tremont’s sculptures can still be found outside the Cathédrale Notre-Dame and the Luxembourg Town Hall.

In the gardens of Betzdorf with
French president René Coty
Less than a year after the Jean and Josephine-Charlotte moved to Betzdorf, their first child was born there. Following Marie-Astrid's birth in February 1954, her four siblings were also born at the chateau: Henri in 1955, Margaretha and Jean in 1957, and Guillaume in 1963.

Jean, Joséphine-Charlotte, and their children moved out of Betzdorf in November 1964, following Jean’s accession to the grand ducal throne. Soon after, the property began a new life as a nursing home which it remained for nearly 20 years, until March 1982.  For nine days in July 1982, the castle was the temporary home to 1,200 boy scouts celebrating the 75th anniversary of the scouting movement.

The château stood empty for the next four years. In 1986, the property was bought from the Luxembourg government by SES Astra SA, a satellite communication services company.  After extensive renovations, it became SES's headquarters which is remains to this day.  

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