One day, Wolfram Jäger heard on the radio about the catastrophic condition of Lehndorff Palace. The well-known specialist in the restoration of historic buildings had recently completed a major project for UNESCO in Barcelona and immediately made his way to Masuria. In the spring of 2011, he made a momentous decision – a stroke of luck for the castle, a Herculean task for him.
Wolfram Jäger has just turned seventy. A giant with a goatee, full of drive. We meet at his company headquarters in Radebeul near Dresden.1 
What motivated him to devote all his energy to Lehndorff Palace? The technical challenge? The responsibility of his generation to keep alive the memory of the resistance against Hitler? The trigger was Antje Vollmer's book "Doppelleben" about the fate of Heinrich and Gottliebe Lehndorff.  
From the outside, the manor house in the former village of
deu. Steinort, deu. Groß Steinort

The village of Sztynort is located in the north of the Masurian Lake District on the Jez Peninsula between Jezioro Mamry, Jezioro Dargin and Jezioro Dobskie. Until 1928 the village was called Groß Steinort, then Steinort.

still made an imposing and charming impression, but its days were numbered. The cellars were constantly flooding; for years, water had been seeping in during the fall and freezing in winter, causing damage to the masonry. Vaulted ceilings had collapsed. The northwest tower was falling apart. Chinks of sky were visible through the roof tiles, and there was dry rot in the wood and masonry.
Since 2009, the mansion had been owned by the Polsko-Niemiecka Fundacja Ochrony Zabytków Kultury (PNF). The well-known Polish monument preservationist Andrzej Tomazewski and the founder of the German Foundation for Monument Protection Gottfried Kiesow had succeeded in taking over the manor house from the then owner, the yacht company TIGA, along with a narrow strip of the surrounding land. Both countries had then provided funding for emergency work to be done to safeguard the building.
But then the money dried up, and there was no longer-term perspective for the huge project. Nevertheless, engineer Wolfram Jäger jumped in without hesitation. "Making the impossible possible!" An important motto in his life.
Wolfram Jäger learned early on in life to defy adversity. He comes from a long line of master builders, the renowned Rühle company in Meissen at the time. Born in 1951, Wolfram grew up building. The boy listened in and observed what his father and grandfather were doing, for example during the renovation work on Albrechtsburg Castle. At the same time, he experienced firsthand the hardships of GDR politics, which ultimately culminated in the expropriation of the family business in 1972.
Nevertheless, Wolfram Jäger decided to continue the family tradition: He did an apprenticeship as a bricklayer, studied civil engineering in Dresden, and gained a doctorate in construction mechanics in 1977. In 1980, he attended construction college in
eng. Moscow, deu. Moskau, rus. Москва́

Moscow (Russian Москва́) is the capital of Russia and also the largest city in the country. With about 12.5 million inhabitants, Moscow is the largest city on the European continent.

which had political significance but was "rather antiquated" at the time. But he discovered a large office that designed Olympic sports facilities and went on to design and build bold roof structures using innovative design methods.
In the GDR, going one's own way or embarking on a university career was not possible even for a top student. He was not a member of the SED, did not want to join a combine or work to make up shortages in the construction industry. So he looked for niches, changed jobs several times and finally found a job that suited him in the GDR's construction academy before the fall of the Wall.
Finding his own way
To escape his professional frustration, he took on a project of his own: "Haus Breitig", a listed vintner's house in Radebeul that was on the verge of collapse. In 1983, he was able to buy it from the state, acquire subsidies and take out a modest loan. He had to do it himself and learnt a lot of things that no training had been able to offer him – cutting wood, moving logs with horses, etc. It took him years of work to save the house from decay, with the help of his wife Brigitte, who is also an engineer.  "It was hard. But brought me so much pleasure!" Wolfram Jäger laughs. "A trial run for Steinort, you could say today." In the historic year of 1989, the family was able to move into the vintner's house.
On March 16, 1990, Wolfram Jäger founded an engineering office – initially with some of his colleagues. Laws and standards changed overnight and the competition in the West seemed technically superior. The best prospects were a return to simple structural engineering, which he had already enjoyed during his studies. Structural design was his chance. His vision was to "start small" and be his own boss for once!
The work picked up quickly and so did his self-confidence. A proposal for the archaeological demolition of the ruins of the Frauenkirche in Dresden won him a position on the project in 1992. Even in GDR times, he had dreamed of its reconstruction and hatched ideas. How could a masonry structure like that be rebuilt using old techniques, while meeting today's requirements? Innovative solutions were needed to stay as close as possible to the original.
By the time the church was inaugurated after eleven years of construction, Wolfram Jäger had become a successful man. In 1998 he had returned to academia and took a position as professor at the Technical University in Dresden.
He was attracted by unusual challenges. In Syria, he renovated the knight's tower of the world-famous crusader castle Krak des Chevaliers near Homs. In Iran, he and his team rebuilt the Sistani House – part of the important citadel of Bam, which was destroyed by an earthquake in 2003. In the process, he introduced methods for earthquake-resistant reconstruction of earthen buildings.
Jäger was sixty when he arrived in Steinort in 2011, with the experience of his entire rich professional life behind him. As a volunteer. He wanted to give something of his happiness and good fortune back to the world.
Inventory, archaeological findings, the usual routine. The interior of the east wing, it turned out, had been stripped of any identity during the socialist era. In the west wing, traces of the reconstruction work undertaken under Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop were still visible. Only the baroque core building still had historical flair: the staircase, the spacious rooms and the enormous, wide-spanning, ceiling beams. He was fascinated by the carpentry in the roof truss and the polychrome ceiling paintings.
It was a race against time and progress was constantly hampered by a lack of funding. After approaching them repeatedly, the German Federal Environmental Foundation donated €125,000. In order to receive the funding, however, Wolfram Jäger had to prove that the damage to the palace had been caused as a result of human-made climate change.
Jäger made contact with the local contractor Matthias Hohl, who is originally from Switzerland but has been living in Masuria for some time, and has experience in tunnel construction. Just the right man for the dangerous work in the half-collapsed cellars.
Students and doctoral candidates from the TU Dresden were lured to Steinort by their professor. They helped out, recorded, mapped, and researched. They slept in tents to save costs. Experienced carpenters could not to be found locally, so students from the Munich School of Construction Technology and wandering journeymen from Germany and Switzerland filled the gaps. Not to forget the Matthias Hohl, a Masurian by choice, and his people.
It was an unconventional construction site and a very interesting sight to behold – right in the middle of it was the professor in overalls, lending a hand himself. The emergency stabilization work progressed well. At some point, the builders were able spend the night in the east wing, and an information board was set up for visitors. However, much of the hard-won progress is invisible to the untrained eye.
In ten years, Wolfram Jäger's passion has not been extinguished. But you can sense his impatience. He has never managed such a chronically underfinanced building project. More money is urgently needed, as well as a lobby group.
On the bright side, Steinort Palace has had some members of the Bundestag as allies. Prominent figures such as the star conductor Christian Thielemann, the art historian Kilian Heck and the German Consul General Cornelia Pieper in Gdansk have all opened doors.
The other Steinort enthusiasts – ethnologists, historians, artists, teachers – also need staying power and money to bring the castle back to life. The cultural "trades" manage with much less.
Visions for the future
It is now clear that the heritage listed castle is not suitable as an investment property. A concept for public use was needed, "as well as plans and budgets to generate funds for the operation."
How could the manor house serve to promote German-Polish friendship? How could it help tell the stories of the Lehndorffs' resistance to Hitler and of multicultural Masuria? And in what ways could it be useful to this economically underdeveloped region today?
Many heads came together and there were a lot of different ideas. The engineer at the helm of the huge construction site set the pace. Together with his students, he developed a utilization concept – based on various ideas that were circulating – that found favor with the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media. Since 2019, half a million euros from the federal budget has been flowing into Steinort every year.
It's a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions still needed for construction. Nevertheless, a breakthrough – Steinort finally has a place on the German political agenda.
Interest is growing in the region, including for the preservation of historical monuments in
deu. Allenstein, lat. Holstin, lat. Allenstenium

The city of Olsztyn (population 2022: 168,212) was founded in 1353 as Allensteyn on the Łyna river. Olsztyn is the largest city in Warmia and the capital of the Warmian–Masurian Voivodeship. The city is member of the European Route of Brick Gothic, especially because of its Old Town market sqare and the Castle of Warmian Cathedral Chapter.

The picture shows a city view of Olsztyn /Allenstein on a postcard from before 1945.

One of the projects that has been particularly close to their hearts is the restoration of the Lehndorff family’s funeral chapel (, designed by the famous Berlin architect Friedrich August Stüler. But for a long time, no one took responsibility. In 2015, Wolfram Jäger had wandered through the overgrown cemetery for the first time; the sight of the ruined chapel had shocked him. Birch trees were growing out of the roof, and the vaulted ceiling was on the verge of collapse. The restoration became a tour de force for the engineer and everyone involved.
"It was an unforgettable time" – of disasters but also real elation. "For twelve days," Wolfram Jäger recounts, "I worked on my own at dizzying heights." At one critical moment, a bricklayer was needed but they couldn’t find one locally, so he drove from Radebeul to Sztynort and got started on the job himself. "After all, I had learned bricklaying as a young man." There was hardly any technical equipment on hand, he had to fetch water from the lake. "The sun shone down through the trees. I would close my eyes, breathe out, pause for a moment, then continue building. It was just dreamlike."
Today, he sometimes sits on a log and marvels at the sight of the chapel. "We’ve saved it." The mutual help of German and Polish contributors and the combination of state and private money have made it possible. Saving the necropolis, the count's mausoleum and the former villagers' graves could be a blueprint for the huge Steinort Palace project ahead.
It will take ten more years – that’s the best-case scenario. From the engineer's point of view, it’s a feasible achievement, provided the money is there. By then he would be eighty. Basking in success, as he did with the Frauenkirche! Next summer, tourists will be invited to visit the palace as a "living construction site" to watch the work being done and make donations. As each room is completed, it will be used immediately...
English translation: William Connor