Culture In Depth Society, 20/08/2017

The Last Owner’s Great-granddaughter Visits Sharivka Palace

Sibylle Strack-Zimmermann from Bavaria, the great-great granddaughter of Leopold Koenig, the owner of the sugar refineries in the Russian Empire, made her dream come true. On August 1, she visited Sharivka in Kharkiv region, an estate of her famous ancestor, which is a well-known palace and park ensemble in Sloboda Ukraine.

The building changed hands several times. In the first half of the 1800s, the landowner Olkhovskyi downsized his estate to go in line with fashionable European trends. At the same time, he took care of the preservation of the pristine beauty of nature, successfully fitting it into the local landscape. In 1860, Olkhovskyi lost his estate in a card game to the new owners, the Hebershtein brothers from Germany.

In 1881, Sharivka castle was acquired by the famous sugar tycoon Leopold Koenig, who was born and lived in St. Petersburg. Koenig invited the best craftsmen and gardeners to improve his residence. They built some buildings in Neo-Gothic style for servants, garages for cars, a large pheasant garden, and even a private power plant.

In 1925, the Soviets placed a tuberculosis sanatorium for miners in the palace, and it operated as such until 2008. Finally, after six years of neglect, in 2014 a new owner, “Omriyanaya Krajina” charitable foundation appeared at Sharivka estate. On the initiative of an activist Oleksiy Tolkachov, the palace and park complex was leased. The lease is supposed to turn it into a center of culture and arts.

Sibylle came with her husband Hans and several friends from Germany and Ukraine. Markus Wasmeier, a well-known skier, world champion and twice winner of  Olympics, who now owns an open-air ethnoscience park in Bavaria, was among them. On their way to Sharivka, they visited Poltava, Lubny Transfiguration Monastery and Kharkiv. Sybille and friends also stopped by Trostyanets, where the church, which construction was financed by Koenig, several facilities, the remains of “sugar empire” and one of the other Leopold’s estates are located. Grateful town residents installed a monument to the prominent philanthropist. Sybille’s group was delighted with the Ukrainian Baroque temples, Ukrainian Art Nouveau building of Poltava museum of local lore, old streets and squares of Kharkiv, national cuisine and Ukrainian hospitality. 

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“My beloved grandma Martha, a granddaughter of Leopold Koenig, told me a lot about him, how he built libraries, schools, churches for his employees, about our beautiful estates in Sloboda Ukraine, in St. Petersburg and Pavlovsk. In 1916, the family temporarily left for Germany, and because of events in the fall of 1917, they never returned, because the Bolsheviks confiscated everything. Today a big family of Koenig resides on the shore of the picturesque Constance lake in Bavaria. I was the first of them to visit the estates of our ancestors. Next year I will invite them also to Ukraine,” said Sibylle Strack-Zimmerman.

The heiress noted it was an exceptional visit full of unexpected events. She never thought there were still so many things connected with the name of her great-great grandfather Leopold Koenig, and that some of his work still had an impact on the area; in particular, all the reforesting around Sharivka and in Trostyanets. Sybille was very touched. She told about her journey to mother, sisters, nieces, and cousins, who were quite thrilled. They are planning to come to Ukraine next September.

Report and photo: Victoria Sklyarova