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Aug 27, 2012

A Day at Burg Satzvey with Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnitch, Part II. The Interview

Tracie Mayer and I wanted to find out more about the fascinating woman who reduced the attendees of the AIWCC Annual General Meeting to tears with her stories about the foundation she started to help troubled and abused children. After the countess showed us her home (see Part I), we had a chance to ask her some questions.

TM: Was there a certain event that triggered your founding the Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnich Stiftung in 2008? 

JGBvG: Yes. A couple years after I moved into the castle, I noticed a group of kids sitting around the campfire after all the tourists had left the jousting festival. They didn’t look like they had taken part in the festival because the people who stayed overnight stayed in medieval costume all the time. So I sat down and joined them.

I found out that these are children from one of the homes in Cologne. The adults called my husband to see if they could stay overnight and sleep in their tents. My husband replied that they could stay for the weekend for free as long as they’d be willing to help clean up the grounds. 

The next year they came again and slowly came to have more responsibility [helping out]. So my husband and I became interested in these children and we began raising money for them for Christmas presents and going to visit them. We built a relationship with these kids, ranging in age from 3-12.

We convinced a music company to invest in a children’s home. I kept writing them but we never heard back. Well, at Christmas we went back to visit the children, and my husband said, “It looks like you got a new Volkswagen van, where did you get that?” It turned out the music company had sent them 78,000 DM. With 48,000 of that money they bought the van.

We asked the directors of the home, where the rest of the money went. They weren’t very open about it, so we said we would bring the newspapers out here if they didn’t tell us. They told us they would never let us again set foot on the premises. Next Christmas we had to pass Christmas gifts through the fence. 

Soon after this two of the pedagogues decided to open their own organization in Brühl, und I immediately joined forces to help and managed to raise much money over the following years.  During one golf tournament I raised €77,000 in one evening. And a bank topped it to  €100,000 by Christmas. We opened two new homes and that’s when Mr. Schumacher, the head of the Schumaneck Organization proposed, “You can’t keep helping us to open a new home every year, it is so hard to find adequate personnel.. Why don’t you start your own foundation?” And that’s when I did it.

TM: Can you describe a typical day in the running of the charity?

JGBvG: I really don’t have a typical day. I try to figure out what and where money is needed and make plans. For example, I raised €33,000 for the complete group of 54 kids to have a summer vacation camping trip this year. I raise money for dolphin therapy, for furniture, for school excursions, for toys and clothes, for glasses and hearing aids. We brainstorm and then we just do. And of course I spend time with the kids. I feel very close to the children in Brühl, but I also know that there are so many children in Germany who are in dire need of basics, such as food, a clean home and some t.l.c.

TM: What has been your biggest triumph?

JGBvG: The biggest triumph would definitely be that golf tournament. But also writing books and motivating people to help me. Basically just doing things I never dreamed possible. 

TM: What's your favorite thing about castle life? Your least favorite thing?

JGBvG: My favorite thing is a summer evening when I can sit on the terrace and enjoy the roses when there aren’t too many people here because there are always so many people here. And the trees. I love to look at the favorite room in the castle is my office because I can sit there with a wonderful view overlooking the tops of the trees. My least favorite thing is the stairs, the heating, the leaking roof...

TM: Do you have a hard time reconciling your American identity with that of your Austrian one? 

JGBvG: No. I’m definitely American.

TM: Who is your greatest source of inspiration?

JGBvG: You know, I sometimes think of Gandhi as he walked around India in a loincloth. The people who are great are the ones who are quiet, not the arrogant ones wanting to brag about their money.

Our interview had come to an end with this inspirational woman, but we each had one last question which turned out to be the same question: 

TM: Where do you get all your energy from?

JGBvG: Sometimes I feel like I’m running on low batteries. I know that I definitely push myself too much. But I get energized when people find out about my books; and I have found that my energy level is affected by the kind of feedback I get out of my day. I try to go to the gym four mornings a week. The day comes to a close around dinnertime and then I turn off the phone.

As Tracie sums it up so succinctly: at which point the countess is no doubt thinking and making plans for tomorrow.