Feudal. Another word might not come to mind when you drive up the avenue in Holstein Switzerland and see all the green meadows and the beautifully decorated houses. There’s a thermal spa here, a two-star restaurant there, there’s also a helipad and a two-kilometer-long private beach. If you want to see it, you first have to pass through a gate, address: Schlossallee 1. It opens after registration, then the showpiece of the complex comes into view: the white castle in which Jan Henric Buettner sits and says: “With me It often escalates.”
Buettner, 59 years old, caused quite a stir 20 years ago when he and his business partner Andreas von Blottnitz sued Bertelsmann Verlag: They had helped set up AOL Europe in the mid-1990s and were pioneers of the Internet. When Bertelsmann sold AOL Europe, the entrepreneurs wanted what they believed to be their promised share. “I didn’t want to be taken for a ride,” Buettner says today. The lawsuit in a US court resulted in 80 million euros, which turned him from a rich man into a very rich man. He was just 38 years old then. The motivation to work disappeared for a while, but as you can see here: he then found something to make a name for himself again.
The best example is the luxury resort, which was the venue for the G-7 summit in 2022, and is currently gaining a bit of fame in the chess world. While Jan Henric Buettner talks about his life, Magnus Carlsen, the best chess player in the world, sits on the wall. And also Ding Liren, the current world champion, Vincent Keymer, the greatest German talent in his sport, and five other elite players who want to determine the winner in a new game format here on the Baltic Sea. It’s as if Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Erling Haaland and Jamal Musiala were working on a sports revolution. Buettner managed to bring all the greats into his house. “When I do something, I do it right,” he says.
The fresh 80 million also gave him something to think about
The lawsuit against Bertelsmann would have ruined him if he had lost, says Buettner, and the legal fees would have been immense. The line is sometimes so thin. Instead, he watched his money grow from his new home in California. He used to be a manager at Axel Springer, then he became an entrepreneur and finally worked as a venture capitalist in the USA. But the fresh 80 million also gave him something to think about. It no longer mattered to him whether he went to work or whether the money in the bank increased on its own. “Why should I even get out of bed to do something? That was a life crisis for me,” he says. And then, as happened so often in his life, he looked for a new challenge. It was 9,000 kilometers away in Schleswig-Holstein. And it was very dilapidated.
In 2005, the old castle in Weißenhaus was for sale; he was able to have it for seven million euros, including 75 hectares of land and other buildings. It was an entire estate; in the middle of the 17th century it served as the residence of the Counts of Platen-Hallermund. As a child, the Hamburg native spent time here in a nearby holiday home. And because he was bored of always doing the same thing, Buettner entered the hotel industry. He doesn’t want to call himself a hotelier, but there is a managing director here. But Buettner had a say in every detail here.
After all the years he spent dealing with the Internet and numbers, he wanted to get hands-on with something. “Every time I drive in here, I know exactly where my money is,” he says. In the thermal baths with their new Japanese onsen pool, for example, or in the old orangery, the amphitheater or the rose garden. Room prices start at 460 euros per night and go into the thousands. He originally wanted to sell the facility to a large hotel chain, but they all turned him down and laughed their asses off, he says. “They didn’t see my vision. Anyone who saw the video of me standing here in the mud in 2009 and saying, there’s a spa coming here and so on, thought: What was he smoking?” Buettner has so far invested 135 million euros in the complex with its 60 residential units. In the town of Oldenburg in Holstein, a few kilometers away, he also bought “almost half a street” in 2012, with 36 apartments for his own employees. This helps when there is a shortage of skilled workers.
The VIP package includes a dinner with the chess professionals, Buettner is already dreaming further: of Taylor Swift
And now this happened Chess. It’s not that Buettner has always been a big enthusiast of brain teasers; it was only a year ago that he started working more intensively with the board again for the first time after elementary school. And the more he thought about how great a chess tournament on his property would be, the more he thought: “If we’re going to do something here, it has to be the latest hot shit.” Possibly also a lesson from his time as an entrepreneur: “I have financed hundreds of venture capital companies and always had teams sitting with me. I told them: If you do this to get rich, then you will fail. If you… “If you do something cool, you’ll probably get rich.” Well, he’s been rich for a long time.
But it was also simply a good time; industry king Magnus Carlsen had been struggling with the classic game mode as it is played at the World Cup for a long time. That’s why something different should be created: The “Fischer Random” variant is played, in which the basic line-up is determined by drawing lots, and in the knockout phase the game is then played with a long time for consideration. A format that promises more excitement because there is no classic, rehearsed opening. Buettner also came up with a new name because the old one sounded too awkward: freestyle chess. Of course, he has already had the rights to it protected.
A camera team broadcasts the whole thing for the streaming platform Twitch, with its own moderators. Seven chess fans rented a room in Weissenhaus specifically for the event and paid an additional 560 euros per person per day for the VIP ticket, which, among other things, allowed them to have dinner with the best chess players in the world. It doesn’t get any more exclusive than this. The event cost Buettner 1.5 million euros. He hopes that freestyle chess will become a tournament series.
Of course, there are already plans for the time after the chess rush. The latest project in his complex is an “Artist Village” in the upper part of the castle. There would be space for twelve musicians, with a view of the three million euro recording studio with a thatched roof. In April they want to offer the music ensemble on the market, but Buettner is not concerned with capacity utilization, but rather with big names. “If I could carve it, I would get Taylor Swift here to record something,” he says. Dreaming must be pretty fun when you’re wealthy.