History of the Foundation

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Burg Wartenstein
Burg Wartenstein Castle served as the Wenner-Gren Foundation's European Conference Center from 1958 to 1980

The idea for a permanent conference center came at a time when the Foundation was expanding its activities to focus on international communication.  Paul Fejos, Director of Research, envisioned a center of modest size, for small groups to meet during the summer months and discuss cutting-edge research through the common language of anthropology. 

Both Fejos and Axel Wenner-Gren were drawn to Europe as a location, and as romantics both liked the idea of a castle.  In addition to a dramatic site, Wenner-Gren wanted a property with a “scenic background conducive for meditation and quiet thinking,” a place of dignity and history. Initial inquiries failed to materialize, but during a trip to Europe in the summer of 1956, Paul and Lita Fejos (later Osmundsen) happened upon a site in Austria they believed would be ideal.

Burg Wartenstein castle sat on the hills of the eastern Alps, about 90 minutes south of Vienna. It was owned by Prince Liechtenstein, who used it as a hunting lodge until Nazi troops moved into Austria.  The massive building, with its two towers, made an immediate impression on the visiting couple.  In a 1979 interview, Lita Osmundsen recalled:

"We were fortunate enough through a very serendipitous incident to find Wartenstein. We drove up to it, found it was for sale, and informed Wenner-Gren, who was interested anyway in obtaining the center. It seemed to have the right proportions, the right location, everything – and it was in an area that was still very cheap because the Russians had just left…The insides were very sparse. There were no electrical lines because the Russians