After the reunification of Germany, the German federal government appealed to the country's major companies and associations to demonstrate their active commitment to the regions that were formerly part of the GDR in the form of future-oriented projects in the conservation, social and cultural area and the preservation of estates and buildings of historical value. In response to this appeal, the umbrella organisation of Germany's Savings Banks Finance Group, the German Savings Banks Association, purchased the Neuhardenberg estate from the von Hardenberg family in 1997 and founded the Stiftung Schloss Neuhardenberg.
The reasons that led to this decision were complex.
Karl August Fürst von Hardenberg, who had been gifted the estate in the Mark Brandenburg "Thanks to the King" as a reward for services rendered, was one of the main initiators of the profound reforms that modernised the Prussian state after Prussia's defeat near Jena and Auerstedt in 1806 and established the essential preconditions for its transformation into a democratic civil society. These historic changes, known as the 'Stein-Hardenberg' reforms after their initiators, ultimately also made the establishment of the community savings banks at the beginning of the 19th century possible. From a cultural history perspective, the complex of buildings and the park were significant because their design was the work of Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Fürst Pückler-Muskau and Peter Joseph Lenné, who turned Neuhardenberg into an architectural gem of national importance that is now a unique example of Prussian classicism due to its completeness.
Thanks to the estate's last aristocratic owner Carl-Hans Graf von Hardenberg, the Schinkel-designed castle also became a centre of resistance against the national-socialist regime. The conspirators who plotted to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944 secretly met here beforehand to plan a new state order for the time after Hitler's death. The assassination attempt failed, and the Nazis seized the estate from the von Hardenberg family; Graf von Hardenberg narrowly escaped execution.
All of these factors are closely associated with the complex of buildings and reflect the Savings Banks Finance Group's understanding of its corporate social responsibility. The management of Neuhardenberg and its content focus as a beacon of culture that is strongly anchored in the region express this commitment of the savings banks to the concept of the common good, rooted in their history. The Savings Banks Finance Group is Germany's largest non-government provider of cultural funding.
The castle and the park were sensitively restored between 1997 and 2001, and new additions whose design closely resembled the classicist original buildings were made to the complex for a restaurant and a hotel, events and exhibitions.
In 2001, the German Savings Banks Association established the Stiftung Schloss Neuhardenberg GmbH foundation, of which it is the sole shareholder; on the one hand in order to create a conference centre, and on the other, with the aim of the development of a programme of high-quality events at Neuhardenberg that would appeal to the people who live in the region, but also to a national and international audience. The Stiftung Schloss Neuhardenberg GmbH is now responsible for the programme of events, the conference business and the overall management of the castle and grounds.
The complex of buildings was officially opened on 8 May 2002; Bundespräsident Johannes Rau attended the opening ceremony. Since then, guests have now been able to enjoy the hospitality of the Hotel Schloss Neuhardenberg and the country inn Brennerei. Every year, the foundation's programme of cultural events has included concerts, readings, theatre performances, panel discussions and exhibitions. Renowned national and international artists, philosophers and prominent members of the political, science and research communities maintain close ties with the foundation. Neuhardenberg Castle gradually became a well-known cultural brand for Brandenburg of national and international importance.
As an event platform, it also reflects the diversity of the Savings Bank Finance Group's commitment to corporate social responsibility, which extends to the support of talented young musicians within the scope of the classical music competition 'Jugend musiziert', for example, and the exhibition of artworks from the collections owned by the savings banks organisations.
Bernd Kauffmann was the Stiftung Schloss Neuhardenberg foundation's general manager from its establishment in 2001 to 2014. He was succeeded by Dr Heike Kramer in 2015.