Villa owner rejects memorial to Churchill
It played a small but historic role in shaping the fate of 20th-century Europe. But the idyllic lakeside villa used by Winston Churchill during the Potsdam conference is now at the centre of a row after its German owner refused to put up a plaque.
Next week Mary Soames, Churchill's 83-year-old daughter, will return to Berlin for the first time since July 1945, when the victorious allies represented by Churchill, Josef Stalin and Harry Truman met to determine the boundaries of Europe after the second world war. The Churchill Society had wanted to erect a plaque on the salmon-pink house, the Villa Urbig, which overlooks the Griebnitzsee, one of Potsdam's most tranquil lakes. There are already memorials to the former leaders of the USSR and the United States, Stalin and Truman, who stayed in neighbouring villas.
But the Germany property developer who owns the villa is refusing to allow a memorial to Churchill to be erected in the garden. "It's very nice that Churchill stayed here for a few days, but this is now private property," Theodor Semmelhaack, who bought the villa last year, told the Guardian. He added: "I intend to use the villa as my private residence. I'm having it renovated at the moment."
Until yesterday, Mr Semmelhaack had refused to allow Mrs Soames to visit the villa and had threatened to take legal action against the Churchill Society. He has since backed down. Mr Semmelhaack said yesterday that Mrs Soames could have a look round the house if she wanted to, but added that he would be out of town. "It's empty at the moment. But I can get someone from my office to let her in," he said.
"It looks as if Mary will simply have to hold up the plaque to her father," said Nigel Dunkley of the Churchill Society. "We are negotiating with the German authorities to put it in the pavement." He added: "We arranged the trip because there is nothing to denote the fact that Churchill stayed here. We wanted to put this right."