Schloss Elmau

An unusual community in the Alps

The Schloss

In 1984 I spent 7 months working at this Bavarian "castle" (hotel) near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Many years have passed, but I'm still in touch with dozens of other people who worked there at the time, now scattered throughout the world. Most of us have some special memories of it (and one of the main points of this page is to enable us to contact each other), but for those who have yet to discover Elmau here is a brief introduction… You can find more information on the official Schloß Elmau homepage.


Schloss Elmau lies in a nature reserve at the foot of the Wetterstein mountains, between Garmisch (famous for skiing) and Mittenwald (famous for violins). You can walk to either of these (including via the spectacular Partnachklamm gorge), or climb past Schachen (a mountain "castle" built by mad King Ludwig, which looks like an ordinary farmhouse on the outside and was only used on his birthday) to the Meilerhuette (on the border between Austria and Freistaat Bayern: the signs don't mention Germany!). There are many lakes nearby, some suitable for wind-surfing and similar sports, others peaceful refuges far from the tourist trails.
Address: Schloß Elmau, Post Klais, D-82493 Germany (tel: +49 8823 925)


Schloss Elmau was founded by the philosopher Johannes Müller (19/4/1864 – 4/1/1949) [picture / German Wikipedia article], whose family still run the establishment. He had become quite well known for his novel teachings on Christian philosophy, and in 1902 a friend bought for him a castle near Schweinfurt called Schloss Mainberg to serve as a community for nurturing spiritual and physical health. Through his "Gruene Blätter" magazine (published from 1897 to 1940) he asked for Helferinnen to serve — or rather "help" — with the domestic chores, and the project kicked off at Easter 1903. Later the community outgrew Schloss Mainberg and Frau Elsa von Michael (Countess Waldersee) offered to fund a new site. A friend recommended Elmau, building started in 1912, and despite the hardships of the war it was completed and opened in Easter 1916. The main Schloss building was severely damaged by fire in August 2005, but reconstruction soon began, aiming to create an even more luxurious hotel… if somewhat lacking in its original idealism. The new motto says it all: "Nie war Schloss Elmau exklusiver als jetzt" (never before was it quite so exclusive) — so much for the 'inclusive' utopian origins!

Ideals and reality

Johannes Müller's philosophy appears to lie somewhere between Christianity and Zen. He was best known for his interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount as being not a description of worlds to come but an exhortation on how to live in the present. He was most emphatic that people could not know the Divine by striving to know it intellectually, but should experience it directly, and he also considered creativity to be of great importance. This is why guests at the hotel can even now enjoy frequent concerts by world-famous musicians and a wide range of artistic activities. Dancing is also seen as very important with opportunities to dance Quadrilles etc. every day, and some of them are described as forms of prayer. It has to be said however that increasingly, guests appear to come to Elmau just for the sports opportunities or to soak in the spa.

To be honest, despite the fact that many of the staff at the Schloss are not "Angestellte" (employees) but "Helfer" (helpers) — which means in theory they are treated equally with the guests, but in practice just tends to mean they get paid less — we never learnt much of the philosophy behind Elmau, just a vague impression that "dancing and music will help you to a mystic realization of God", and none of us were really too sure about it. [I gleaned the details above from a brief skim through some books on Elmau ten years later.] Now that I have also become accustomed to staying in hotels as a guest, the "added value" of Elmau is more apparent, although the "added cost" is somewhat extreme.

Here are a few photographs I took around the Schloss, which may give you a feel for the place. Here too is an attempt to create a network of ex-Helfer(in).

When in Japan I stayed at a community called Atarashiki-mura, which might appear to be totally different from Schloss Elmau but actually struck me as quite similar in many ways.

This page produced by Ben Jones. For more information …
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