The German-American Wilhelmina Busch-Woods shaped the village of Bernried on Lake Starnberg like hardly any other citizen. The capricious heiress of the American brewery Anheuser-Busch impressed the people of Bernried not only with her imposing height of more than 1.80 meters and her eye-catching hats, which she always wore when she drove in her carriage from her residence at Höhenried Castle along the lake shore drove to the tea house. As an extremely experienced businesswoman and large landowner, she shaped and still shapes the appearance of the village.
When she fell in love with the village of Bernried during a hunting trip at the age of 16, she gradually acquired the Höhenried estate and the huge area of the Bernrieder Park from 1914 onwards. According to Robert Zucker, Managing Director of the Höhenried Clinic, she owned more than 50 percent of the land area in the community until her death in 1952. As the “heirs” to these lands, the Höhenried Clinic and the Friends of Bernrieder Park are organizing a commemoration on the 70th anniversary of her death this Wednesday. The meeting point at 6 p.m. is the newly renovated gravesite of Wilhelmina Busch-Woods and her third husband Sam Woods as well as their favorite dog Peggy on the extensive clinic grounds. Afterwards, around 7 p.m., there will be a celebration in the fireplace room of the castle. Visitors can learn a lot of interesting facts about “The last Queen of Bavaria”, as she was called by her American compatriots.
The shore area in Bernried remained free of any buildings – you won’t find that anywhere else on Lake Starnberg
Following the American model, Busch-Woods had decreed that Bernrieder Park should be open to the public after her death. Since then, maintenance has been secured by the Bernrieder Park Foundation. As a result, the millionaire heiress made a significant contribution to the fact that the shore area of Bernried remained free of development – this is not the case in any other community on Lake Starnberg. Höhenried Castle and the area there were sold by Busch-Wood’s heirs in 1955 to the Landesversicherungsanstalt Oberbayern (LVA). Managing Director Zucker takes the maintenance of the “heritage” seriously and has campaigned for years for the restoration of the monumental sarcophagi made of white marble. According to Zucker, the planning was time-consuming and complicated. Because the area belongs to the clinic, but the graves belong to Sam Woods’ community of heirs. The clinic was basically open to a renovation, but did not want to participate financially. A total of 60,000 euros had to be invested so that the monument-protected grave complex with a view of the lake now shines in new splendor.
To this day, there is no clear picture of the glamorous citizen of Bernried Busch-Woods, who was married three times. “There, fiction mixes with perception,” says Zucker. Although she left a rich legacy to the citizens of Bernried, according to the managing director, contemporary witnesses also describe her as a dismissive personality who only adorned herself with her kindness. She is also said to have collaborated with the National Socialists so that she could get a building permit for her castle. Shortly before the Second World War in 1937, she built the Höhenried Castle – the last new castle to be built in Bavaria – and furnished it with the most expensive antiques. Her first husband August Scharrer (1880-1932), a Württemberg reserve officer and hop dealer, is said to have sympathized with the National Socialists; However, he did not have a party book. In 1906 he married Wilhelmina Busch, the thirteenth child of the Anheuser-Busch family. With his wife’s money, he managed to rise to the highest financial circles in the Bavarian capital.
The Busch-Scharrer couple enjoyed great social prestige. It had been the owner of the Bernried estate on Lake Starnberg since 1914. The couple separated shortly after their silver wedding anniversary in 1931. Wilhelmina then married twice more: first to the physician Carl Borchardt and finally to the US Consul General Sam Woods.
Nothing is known about the political attitude of the dazzling millionaire herself. According to Zucker, Adolf Hitler was not exactly sympathetic to the German-American. He is said to have said that Busch-Woods, who towered over Hitler and had put on weight with age, looked like a ball. But he needed her anyway. For the widening of the street to the then newly built “Haus der Kunst” in Munich, an estate belonging to the brewery heiress was needed. Business-savvy as she was, she not only got a good price for her Munich property: she also got assurances that she would be allowed to erect a replacement building in the landscape conservation area in Höhenried. This is how her “dream castle” was built between 1937 and 1939 with its own boathouse for her 21 meter long private yacht. She had exotic trees planted in the park and terraced ponds created, which today belong to the Buchheim Museum area. Not least in order to avoid partial expropriation as a large landowner after the war, she brought the approximately 80-hectare Bernrieder Park into a foundation.
Also her opulent parties, which she regularly organized at the castle and to which she later invited high-ranking politicians such as Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, Federal President Theodor Heuss or the initiator of the Marshall Plan, the US five-star general and Secretary of Defense George Marshall , are remembered to this day. Her last husband, Consul General Sam Woods, who was allegedly the American spy chief for Europe during the Second World War, certainly played a major part in this. But according to Zucker, this has not been proven. Nothing is known about the exact cause of the millionaire’s death either, and so Busch-Wood’s life remained contradictory after her death. “There is much more to stories than what is comprehensible,” says Zucker.