The idyllic lake setting less than 40 kilometres north of Berlin, along with its grand, historic buildings, should make Bogensee a valuable property, but the fact that Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels held court here casts a long shadow.

"We can't sell it," says Birgit Moehring, the head of the real estate agency that manages the property portfolio of the city of Berlin.

Berlin has tried to sell the estate for years, but changed its mind after the third attempt fell through last year.

The problem is the Goebbels villa, built shortly before World War II at the centre of the estate covering some 16.8 hectares.

Roberto Mueller, who looks after the crumbling buildings and has worked at the site since 1984, has at times wanted to quit his job in despair.

"You ask yourself: what's the point? Why put in all the work and passion, when everything is decaying all around you?" says the 61-year-old caretaker, recalling the post-war days when the site was home to East Germany's FDJ youth organization.

The lecture halls - built in the early 1950s in the Stalinist "Zuckerbaecker" style of monumental buildings with classical adornment - were a showcase project for the young communist country.

During its glory years the site hosted around 500 students a year from all over the world, but the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 brought an end to the FDJ, and since 2000 the buildings have stood empty.

The pale yellow paint is now peeling and the plaster crumbling from the walls as the elements take their toll on the unheated buildings. Roofs and balconies no longer keep the rain out, the parquet floors are ruined and the walls are showing signs of mould.

Mueller continues to do his best, but he knows he is fighting a losing battle. "I'm the Don Quixote of Bogensee," he says as he hacks back the undergrowth. "If I had a wish, a whole lot of people would move in here quickly and revive the estate."

In the 1990s, the buildings were occupied by a German social work and youth organization, which used them to provide skills training for socially disadvantaged young people.

There was also a conference centre with accommodation and restaurants, but this all closed down at the end of 1999 when it was clear that the maintenance and renovation costs could not be covered.

Bogensee's modern history begins in 1936, when Berlin gave a lodge built of wood on the site to Goebbels on the occasion of his 39th birthday. He had earlier been appointed Gauleiter - politics chief - of the German capital.

The Nazi propaganda chief used it as his love nest for entertaining the actresses he came into contact with, but he soon found it inadequate to his needs.

The villa was built with funds provided by the UFA film studios and others, with 30 guest rooms, 40 service rooms, garages and a cinema. Three picture windows, which are still there, opened up the view onto the lake.

Berlin is now worried that neo-Nazis could acquire the estate through an agent to create a shrine to the Third Reich. "Our problem is that we would be able to stipulate its use for at most 10 years after sale," Moehring says.

Under East Germany's communist government, Goebbels' wood-panelled living room served as a bar, and the guest rooms, with their own bathrooms, were let out to paying customers.

There were even telephones in the rooms - a rarity in those days. The Stasi, the East German state police, was also present, maintaining a listening post in a cellar with a direct line to the Interior Ministry.

Now the aim is a long-term leasing arrangement for the villa, which is a protected building, but something has to be done soon or the buildings will no longer be worth saving.

Mueller casts his mind back to better days. "There were youngsters from all over the world, from African and Arab countries, and later from the West, from Scandinavia and even from West Germany," he recalls.

The caretaker points to the high standard of the technical equipment, which was well above that available to most East Germans of the day.

In 1981 the lecture hall, with its translation facilities, was used as the press centre when the West German chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, met East German party chief Erich Honecker.

"I don't like to go in there any more, because the damage is beyond repair," Mueller says. "It hurts."

Vandalism is a major problem, as the estate is not fenced. Windows have been smashed and all that can be carried off has been, even rare plants like Japanese azaleas.

Moehring acknowledges the problem. She hopes that an arrangement can be struck with a future tenant to split the renovation costs with the city.

"Personally, I would prefer to tear the Goebbels villa down. Not every protected building has to be kept," Moehring says.

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