Dr Loretta Würtenberger – tall and clad in a flowing black summer dress – greets me with a casual coronavirus-style elbow-bump on the grounds of her new home, Schlossgut Schwante: an 18th-century baroque castle she bought with her husband Daniel Tümpel last year. Both well-established in the art market, the couple have transformed the castle grounds into a sculpture park featuring works by German and international artists, such as Tony Cragg, Maria Loboda, Dan Graham, Hans Arp, and Carsten Nicolai.
It’s a bold, perhaps even radical, new attraction for this sleepy part of the Brandenburg region, around 25km north-west of Berlin, and an ideal post-lockdown cultural destination. Alongside the sculpture park, the couple have created a restaurant with a rustic, intimate interior, a large patio with an outdoor kitchen and a quaint wagon selling artisanal ice-cream. A farm shop sells handmade crockery, art books, cookbooks and local produce perfect for on-site picnics. An events programme includes open-air film screenings, outdoor yoga classes, concerts and lectures.
“If someone had told me 18 months ago that I would be doing all this, and having this conversation with you right now, I would have said they were crazy,” says Loretta as she leads me through the restaurant and into the park. “We bought it from a friend, with no real intention of creating a sculpture park. But we wanted to maintain the house as the centre of a dynamic entity rather than a scenic backdrop. Since there’s no big agriculture here any more, and we are not farmers, art was the answer.”
The baroque main building, which now serves as a private home for the couple and their four children, is said to have been designed by fabulously named Georg Wenceslas von Knobelsdorff, one of Frederick the Great’s favoured architects. It was constructed in the early 1740s for the von Redern family, generations of whom lived here until the 1880s. The vicissitudes of 20th-century Germany saw it used as a hospital and a DDR kindergarten.
The garden is the estate’s pièce de résistance, though. Originally designed in the English style popular at the time, it now combines landscaped and wilded sections dotted with fruit trees (cherries, plums, apples), as well as pendulous willows, proud (and fragrant) linden trees – and more than 20 international artworks placed up trees, in ponds, and semi-hidden within thickets.
It’s a fun way to enjoy art, and some pieces are additionally interactive, such as Dan Graham’s 2018 Play Pen for Play Pals, which combines stainless steel, glass and a two-way mirror to allow the viewer to merge, ghost-like, with the surroundings, and Carsten Nicolai’s cast-iron sound installation Echo, which mimics a meditation temple, encouraging visitors to thump their chests and listen for the reverberation from different places.
A stainless steel corkscrew-style sculpture in a field turns out to be a 2012 work by Tony Cragg, whose own sculpture park near Wuppertal is perhaps the only similar project to this one in Germany. A small field of aluminium flowers that shimmy and chime with the wind and rain is by Berlin-based Japanese artist Toshihiko Mitsuya, who comes each week to clip the grass and plant new flowers. A much-darker note is struck by Polish artist Monika Sosnowska’s Stairs 2019, a crumpled black staircase that lies in the grass like a malevolent bug.
But overall the park is a welcoming and graceful place, embellished with strategically placed Sissinghurst benches (with graceful arched backs), hammocks strung between trees, and a circular hedged area with a small pond and several day beds.
“It’s about creating a space where art has no barrier,” says Loretta. “It’s not a white cube. It’s something where nature and art merges and families can come and enjoy.” Since opening, the site has drawn hundreds of visitors, including many families, a positive surprise for the owners, especially during these difficult times. On the way out, I spy another artwork rising from the lake – a neon sign by Martin Creed that reads Everything Is Going To Be Alright. Under normal circumstances it might seem a little trite, but as the world continues to grapple with a pandemic, it feels strangely comforting.
• The Sculpture and Nature exhibition runs until 31 October. Admission €12, open Fri- Sun 11am-6pm. Guided tours Saturdayw at 2pm, schlossgut-schwante.de