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A German History

Schloss Elmau was built in 1916 by Protestant theologian, philosopher and bestselling author Dr. Johannes Müller (18641949), as a “space for personal freedom and communal life” devoid of any ideology. Construction was made possible with financial assistance from Elsa, Countess of Waldersee; Professor Carlos Sattler, Müller’s brother-in-law, served as architect.

Johannes Müller wanted to offer his guests the possibility to take a vacation from their self and become aware of silence as the true essence of their being by listening or dancing to classical music or gazing at the beauty of the untouched surroundings. Critical of individualism, materialism and capitalism, Müller was also an ardent opponent of both the established church as well as meditation and anthroposophy, which he considered a particularly dangerous attempt of “divinization of human beings by human beings”. For him, Jesus was the “Conqueror of Religions” and “childlike oblivion of the self”, the prerequisite for fulfilling the promise of salvation on earth contained in the Sermon on the Mount.

Thousands of people flocked to his lectures; his books, published by C. H. Beck, enjoyed massive print runs. Among Müller’s greatest admirers of the time were Prince Max von Baden, who considered him as his Guru, Walther Rathenau, Martin Buber and the famous theologians Ernst Troeltsch and Adolf von Harnack. Harnack, who was the founder of Cultural Protestantism and closest advisor to the Kaiser Wilhelm II., is still considered to be the politically and theologically “most influential religious intellectual” of liberal Protestantism dominant in German politics.

In 1933 Johannes Müller transposed, in contradiction to his imperative of abstraction according to which God was in but not of this world his religious ideal of freedom from the “Self” to the totalitarian political ideal of subordinating the “I” under the “We” of a “community of brothers looking after one another”. To the complete surprise especially of his many Jewish guests, Müller thus came to consider Hitler, whom he had ignored until then, to be the leader of a “national revolution of the common good over self-interest” because of the Nazi leader’s declaration Du bist nichts; dein Volk ist alles (“You are nothing; your people are everything”). However, Müller believed this revolution could succeed only with the help of the Jews as the “better Germans” and “the most noble representatives of the intellectual elite.” His public criticism of antisemitism, which he called a “disgrace for Germany,” kept him and his children from joining the party and not to allow the "Hitler Gruß" in Schloss Elmau. Yet because of his appeal to follow Hitler, his criticism of the Nazis’ antisemitism did not result in his immediate detention in Dachau, but only in his publications and speaking tours being limited and finally forbidden. The Staatskanzlei of the Bavarian Government had convinced Goebbels that his paradoxical simultaneous praise of Hitler and Jews actually added moral credibility to his support of Hitler and should therefore be seen as an advantage for the party.

In 1935 the University of Leipzig wanted to strip Johannes Müller of his PhD because of his critique of antisemitism, though this was prevented by an intervention by the famous philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, who was one of his admirers. 

In 1942, to preempt its threatened confiscation by the SS, he leased Schloss Elmau to the Wehrmacht as a “vacation resort for soldiers returning from the front.” In 1943 the office in charge of the concentration camp Sachsenhausen requested his arrest due to his ongoing praise for the Jews, however, probably due to the intervention by former interior minister Wilhelm Frick, who himself had never been to Schloss Elmau, but who had family members which were admirers of Johannes Müller, he was put under house arrest only.

In 1946 the Bavarian state commissioner for persons subject to racist, religious and political persecution, Dr Philipp Auerbach, sued for a denazification case to be brought against Johannes Müller in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the grounds of “glorification of Hitler both orally and in writing”.

The case was found against Müller, based on the claim that his public criticism of the Nazis’ antisemitism had, paradoxically, reinforced the effect of his support for Hitler. But the verdict was seen as controversial, and a call for the immediate expropriation of his property failed—not only because Countess Waldersee refused to sell her share of the property, but also because Müller had been neither a member of the Nazi Party nor been involved in any acts of war. The laws governing liberation from National Socialism and militarism therefore provided no legal grounds for a conviction or punishment.

In 1947 Dr. Auerbach took possession of Schloss Elmau despite not holding title deeds. Until 1951 Schloss Elmau operated as a sanatorium for displaced persons and Holocaust survivors.. Concerts, literary events and Jewish Holidays brought new live and purpose to Schloss Elmau.

In 1951 tragedy befell Dr Auerbach: accused of misappropriation, he was imprisoned and then took his own life. Some years later all charges against him - which were the result of rampant antisemitism in Munich even after the Holocaust - were dismissed and he was rehabilitated in 1954.

Concerned about potential restitution claims arising after a successful appeal of the tribunal’s decision, the Bavarian state government after the death of Dr.Auerbach leased Schloss Elmau in 1951 to the son of Johannes Müller, Bernhard Müller-Elmau, and his sister, Sieglinde Mesirca. Together with Dr. Odoarda Mesirca as the Director of the Hotel, they opened Schloss Elmau in June 1951 with a Chamber Music Festival. As the designated heirs, they became also the owners of Schloss Elmau only after the legal proceedings were closed in 1961.

In 1957 conductor Hans Oppenheim, who had emigrated to London after the Nazis took power, and the legendary Amadeus Quartet founded the Deutsch-Britische Musikwoche (German-British Music Week) which might more accurately be described as a German-Jewish music festival. Classical Music and high culture took center stage and served as a medium for reconciliation between Germans and Jews. Some of the greatest artists of their time such as Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears, Yehudi Menuhin, Emil Giles, George Malcolm, Julian Bream, Alfred Brendel, Friedrich Gulda and Wilhelm Kempff performed regularly in Schloss Elmau and made it a unique and internationally renowned cultural institutionis is  ever since.

In 1997 Dietmar Müller-Elmau, a son of Bernhard and Bep, became proprietor of Schloss Elmau. He had created Fidelio and Opera, the world’s market leaders in hotel software, then sold his company to Micros in the US. He focused on renovating the castle as well as redefining Schloss Elmau as a cosmopolitan “Cultural Hideaway”. He set out to create a space where high art could flourish as the foremost expression of a Jewish-American ideal of individual freedom and creativity.

Since 1998 Schloss Elmau has also become a regular meeting place for scholars from all over the world—thanks also to the cooperation of Professor Christoph Schmidt of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Professor Gabriel Motzkin, Head of the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem; Professor Dan Diner of the Simon Dubnow Institute in Leipzig and Professor Michael Brenner from the chair for Jewish History and Culture at the University of Munich. The Schloss Elmau Symposia on the history and enduring relevance of the ideas of Political Theology have since received extraordinary media coverage and praise.

In 1999 philosopher Peter Sloterdijk gave a speech at the Schloss Elmau Symposium on Political Theology with the title “Beyond Being”, dealing with Emanuel Levinas’ criticism of the lack of ethics in Martin Heidegger’s ontology, entitled “Rules for the Human Park”, later referred to as “the Elmau Speech”. The reactions of Saul Friedländer and Jürgen Habermas led to an unparalleled public debate in the German-language press over several months about the ethical limits of genetic engineering. That resulted int he  establishment of a National Ethics Council by the Social Democrat government under Gerhard Schröder. The first and only public meeting of the Council then took place in Schloss Elmau.

Shortly before, Friedländer chaired the Schloss Elmau Symposium on “Wagner in the Third Reich”, in which -- for the first time -- almost all of the recognised pro- and anti-Wagner experts participated. The symposium was hailed by the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper as an overdue debate on the ideological roots of National Socialism and the politically fateful role of Bayreuth in the Third Reich. The lectures were subsequently published by C. H. Beck as a book with the same title.

Since 2001 Schloss Elmau has regularly hosted a Jewish Tarbut conference under the direction of Dr. Rachel Salamander and Professor Michael Brenner, where leading Jewish intellectuals from all over the world meet with members of the Jewish communities from Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Since 2002 regular Transatlantic Forums have been staged by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of Washington led by Craig Kennedy and the late Dr Ron Asmus and later Dr. Karen Donfried, to bring American together with German and other European politicians. Just three months before her election in September 2005 to the post of Federal Chancellor, Dr Angela Merkel gave a vigorously debated lecture about the relationship between Turkey and the European Union. The late Richard Holbrooke as well as Carl Bildt made use of the GMF events for a series of informal meetings with presidents and politicians from Eastern European nations applying to become members of NATO and the EU.

2005 Most of Schloss Elmau had to be demolished following a major fire and reconstructed by Dietmar Mueller-Elmau as a “Luxury Spa & Cultural Hideaway” and member of Leading Hotels of the World which has since received numerous awards as one of the best resorts in the world. The new Schloss Elmau was inaugurated in June 2007 with a Jewish “Tarbut,” a Transatlantic Forum of the  German Marshall Fund Washington and a Schloss Elmau Symposium on “Islam Through Jewish Eyes, Judaism Through Muslim Eyes.”

In 2015 the Schloss Elmau Retreat was opened in March just in time to host an exceptionally harmonious and politically successful G7 Summit under the presidency of Dr. Angela Merkel witt the heads of state and government from the USA, Canada, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Germany.

Chancelor Merkel had redefined the G7 2015 as a summit of a community of responsibility ("Verantwortungsgemeinschaft") of democratic and wealthy nations, to defend freedom and improve quality of life around the world. For the first time the G7 2015 had made a committed itself to the goal of total decarbonization in the 21st century, which paved the way to the Paris Climate Accord in the same year. Greenpeace had applauded the summit in full page ads in major newspaper with the message "Elmau delivered".

Chancelor Dr. Olaf Scholz of Germany hosted the G7 2022 in Schloss Elmau, the first time ever a hotel had been chosen to host the G7 Summits twice.


1998 - 100 Years of Zionism – 50 Years of Israel

1998 - The Leviathan – Jewish Modernity as a Political Theology

1998 - Globalization Without Migration?

1999 - Ethics of Memory?

1999 - Europe’s Borders and the Oriental Question?

1999 - The Attitude of the German Resistance to the Persecution of the Jews

1999 –Richard Wagner in the Third Reich

1999 - Beyond Being? Emmanuel Levinas vs. Martin Heidegger

1999 - Ethical Limits of Gene-Technology?

2000 - The Intellectual Foundations of the Berlin Republic

2000 - Idealization of the 20th of July?

2000 - Humanism After Nietzsche?

2000 - Political Theology of Love – Negative Theology vs. Catholic Philosophy

2000 - The Lesser Evil? Comparing Genocide Practices in Nazism and Communism

2000 - Global America? The Cultural Impact of Globalization.

2000 - Protestantization of Islam?

2001 - The End of Globalization?

2001 - Jews as Cosmopolitans?

2001 - Anti-Americanism in the West?

2002 - Islamic Modernity as a Political Theology?

2002 - The Ethics of Memory

2002 - Saudi Arabia the Problem – Iraq the Solution? Civilisatory Imperialism – America vs. Europe in a New World Order?

2002 - The Political Relevance of Cultural Protestant Religious Culture?

2003 - The Globalization of Holocaust Memory?

2003 - Comparing Immigration Regimes and Multiculturalism in Germany and Israel

2003 - Diaspora in Antiquity? Diaspora Today?

2003 - Transatlantic Forum of the German Marshall Fund

2003 - Rebuilding the West in the Greater Middle East?

2003 - West German Historians and the Holocaust

2004 - Europe Beyond East and West?

2004 - Transatlantic Forum of the German Marshall Fund

2004 - Rethinking 1000 years of German­Jewish Cultural History

2005 - Transatlantic Forum of the German Marshall Fund

2005 - Amerika, du hast es besser? / America, You Have It Better?

2007 - Transatlantic Forum of the German Marshall Fund

2007 - Islam Through Jewish Eyes, Judaism Through Muslim Eyes

2008 - Jews and Muslims in Christian Europe

2009 - For God’s Sake. Religion and Politics in America and Europe

2011 - Anti-Semitism in the Discourse of the 68ers?

2012 - Geopolitical Challenges for the Transatlantic Alliance

2012 - The Economics of Good and Evil

2013 - Horizons of Secularism at the Dawn of the 21st Century
2014 - Putinism: Russia and Its Future with the West

2015 - G7 Summit

2015 -
2021    Munich Security Conference Strategy Retreat

2022 - G7 Summit



Timothy Garton Ash (Oxford), Steven Aschheim (Jerusalem), Ronald D. Asmus (†), David Bankier (Yad Vashem), Yehuda Bauer (Yad Vashem), Ulrich Beck (Munich), Nicolas Berg (Leipzig), Udo Bermbach (Hamburg), Dieter Borchmeyer (Munich), Rémi Brague (Paris), Michael Brenner (Munich), Ian Buruma (New York), Gerard Delanty (London), Dan Diner (Jerusalem), Helmut Dubiel (†), Roland Eckert (Tübingen), John Efron (Berkeley), Rachel Elior (Jerusalem), Joachim Fest (†), Jens Malte Fischer (Munich), Norbert Frei (Jena), Saul Friedländer (Los Angeles), Bronislaw Geremek (†),Volker Gerhardt (Berlin), Sander Gilman (Chicago), Friedrich­Wilhelm Graf (Munich), Erich Gruen (Berkeley), Jürgen Habermas (Starnberg), Harald Haury (Munich), Susannah Heschel (Dartmouth), Moshe Idel (Jerusalem), Harold James (Princeton), Georg Kamphausen (Bayreuth), Gilles Kepel (Paris), David Clay Large (Berkeley), Walter Laqueur (Washington), Martin Malia (†), Avishai Margalit (Jerusalem), Jean-Luc Marion (Paris), Paul Mendes­Flohr (Jerusalem), Hassan Mneimneh (GMF), Jerzy Müller (Washington), Jürgen Moltmann (Tübingen), Hans Mommsen (†), Kogila Moodley (Vancouver), Gabriel Motzkin (Van Leer Jerusalem Institute), Herfried Münkler (Berlin), David N. Myers (Los Angeles), Martha Nussbaum (Chicago), Christian Nottmeier, Anson Rabinbach (Princeton), Tariq Ramadan (Oxford), Amnon Raz­Krakotzkin (Beer Sheva), Rüdiger Safranski (Berlin and Badenweiler), Rachel Salamander (Literaturhandlung, Munich), Christoph Schmidt (Jerusalem), Tomáš Sedláček (Czech Republic), Reinhard Schulze (Bern), Dietrich Schwanitz (†), Richard Sennett (Chicago), Emmanuel Sivan (Jerusalem), Anne­Marie Slaughter (Princeton), Peter Sloterdijk (Karlsruhe), Natan Sznaider (Tel Aviv), Charles Taylor (Toronto), Gianni Vattimo (Turin), Yfaat Weiss (Jerusalem), Christian Wiese (Frankfurt), Yirmiyahu Yovel (Jerusalem), Shimshon Zelniker (Van Leer Jerusalem Institute), Hartmut Zelinsky (Munich).


Richard Wagner im Dritten Reich.
Ein Schloss Elmau-Symposion
Saul Friedländer and Jörn Rüsen, eds. Munich, 2000.

Jüdische Geschichtsschreibung heute. Themen, Positionen, Kontroversen.
Ein Schloss Elmau Symposion
. Michael Brenner and David N. Myers, eds. Munich, 2002.

Globales America?
Die kulturellen Folgen der Globalisierung
Ulrich Beck, Natan Sznaider and Rainer Winter, eds. Bielefeld, 2003.

The Lesser Evil?
Moral Approaches to Genocide Practices
Gabriel Motzkin and Helmut Dubiel, eds. London / New York, 2004.

Cultural Borrowings and Ethnic Appropriations in Antiquity.
Erich S. Gruen, ed. Stuttgart, 2005.

Europe and Asia Beyond East and West.
Gerard Delanty, ed. London, 2006.