Siebengebirge Thousands of visitors came to the Drachenfels in Königswinter every weekend during this Corona summer, visiting the castle and its idyllic park. But in view of the rising number of infections, the shareholders pulled the plug on Wednesday.
While the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Minister Presidents were still discussing measures to contain the Corona pandemic on Wednesday afternoon, Schloss Drachenburg gGmbH was already getting down to business: from Thursday, 29 October, Schloss Drachenburg and the park will remain closed to the public until probably 31 December.
"This was not a decision we made lightly,“ says managing director Joachim Odenthal. However, in view of the upcoming All Saints' Day public holiday and the further restrictions imposed by the Corona pandemic, all shareholders agreed that the Siebengebirge, and thus the castle and park are facing a "high-frequency weekend".
Responsibility towards visitors and employees
"And we don't want to generate further visitor traffic here", said Odenthal. "In view of the sharp rise in the number of infections, we cannot be held accountable for any risk, either for our guests or for our employees.“ From a commercial point of view, "the decision naturally hurts," says Odenthal. "But we had a good year in 2019, which helps us a little bit now."
The Königswinter landmark has counted around 140,000 visitors so far this year. Another 10,000 predicted by the end of the year, Odenthal said. For example, a smaller event had been planned to replace the cancelled „Einzigartige Weihnachtszeit", which had attracted thousands of visitors to the mountain on Advent weekends in previous years. "But it is not feasible to hold this event in view of the current situation," said the managing director.
Visitor numbers reached "folk festival level"
In July alone, the castle recorded an increase of 7,000 visitors compared to the previous year. "And that is without counting guided tours and groups," says Odenthal. In the autumn holidays, the number of visitors to the Drachenfels had almost reached "folk festival level". "Staying open would simply not be justifiable in view of the current situation.“
Odenthal and the 22 employees will now make the castle and park winterproof. "As things stand at present, we will open again on 1 January," he says. "If the figures allow for an earlier opening, we will do so." As things stand at present, the Schlossleuchten is also scheduled to take place at the end of January as planned. "Of course, this is also subject to regulations, but at the moment we would like to plan that. And a little optimism can't hurt in these times.“
TV documentary about the Siebengebirge
Oliver Bremm, managing director of Tourismus Siebengebirge GmbH, would also like to some of that optimism. He followed the news situation on Wednesday with great concern, which brought little good news, including new rules for the already battered catering and accommodation businesses. „First, there is one piece of the mosaic then another," says Bremm.
He had just found out that a TV documentary about the destination Siebengebirge would only be broadcast by the station in a shortened form, if at all - without film clips shot in the gastronomy section of the sightseeing destination. "But what is the point of a PR film about the Siebengebirge if our service providers cannot be shown because they are not available to visitors after all", says Bremm. In general, he said: "We must now wait and see what happens next. And then evaluate the situation.“
Drachenfelsbahn runs until 15 November
Klaus Hacker understands perfectly Schloss Drachenburg's concern that large numbers of visitors cannot always be safely channelled from a corona point of view. "However, we have coped very well with the situation," says the board of Bergbahnen im Siebengebirge GmbH about the large numbers of visitors, especially during the autumn holidays.
There were also long queues at the valley station - especially since, according to Hacker, it had been decided to permit a maximum of half passenger occupancy. "Nevertheless, the feedback from the guests was generally positive as well".
He does not see any effects of Schloss Drachenburg's decision on the operation of the railway, especially since 15 November is the regular end of the season anyway. Until 1 January, operations at Drachenfels will be suspended. "Most visitors are more likely to come to the castle to go for a hike in nature. And the ‚Einzigartige Weihnachtszeit‘ had been cancelled a long time ago, so we were prepared for it. Of course, the loss of revenue due to the lockdown was not something the railway could make up for. Rail traffic was suspended for six weeks in spring.“ Hacker: "This must not happen to us again.“
Replacement for „Einzigartige Weihnachtszeit" won’t take place
In 2019 as a whole, Schloss Drachenburg recorded around 278,000 visitors. For 2020, Odenthal expected a maximum of 150,000 guests.
The „Einzigartige Weihnachtszeit" which has taken place regularly on Advent weekends since 2011 and always attracts between 40,000 and 60,000 visitors, was already cancelled in July due to the pandemic. Now no smaller replacement event will take place. In addition, around 1800 guided tours have been cancelled due to the pandemic, as tour operators, companies and associations have cancelled. Information and a virtual tour of the castle can be found at www.schloss-drachenburg.de. The Drachenfelsbahn provides information at www.drachenfelsbahn.de.
Original text: Heike Hamann and Claudia Sülzen
Translation: Mareike Graepel