This article was originally published by the Halifax Examiner on November 19, 2021.
Nova Scotia has long been a popular place for settlers, but in the last century it also became a popular place for non-residents — including many well-heeled Americans and Europeans — to purchase properties.
For decades, scholars and successive governments have debated the issue of non-resident land ownership in a province with relatively little Crown land, and waterfronts being carved up into private properties that reduce public access to Nova Scotia shorelines.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a real estate boom in Nova Scotia, including most rural counties, as people from urban centres, elsewhere in Canada, and abroad looked for ways to escape crowded areas.
A few months into the pandemic, the German magazine, Der Spiegel, broke the story that some right-wing conspiracy theorists were marketing Cape Breton to like-minded German-speaking Europeans, which added yet another dimension to longstanding questions about non-resident land ownership in Nova Scotia.
This three-part series follows up on the 2020 coverage of this issue, and looks into some of the complex questions it raises, even as the province prepares to change the property tax rate for non-resident owners. The first of the three articles updates the story of conspiracy-minded German speakers promoting Cape Breton as a refuge.
The new subdivision is called Beaver Lodge Estates, and at this point, it’s little more than a gravel road carved into the scrubby woodlands near Cleveland in Richmond County, Cape Breton, about a 15-minute drive east from Port Hawkesbury.
The 57 lots in the Beaver Lodge Estates — where no beaver lodge is visible, by the way — are very basic. And that’s being generous.
Some are still marked only by signs bearing lot numbers affixed to trees. Some are small clearings with no septic system or water supply, accessed by a driveway branching off the two-kilometre-long gravel road that has been driven through the wooded landscape.
So far, just four of the lots have homes on them, and only two of those are occupied.
The land development company behind the venture, Golden Lake Estates, says it is selling off the lots in phases.
“After the first and second phase of Beaver Lodge Estates were so well received, we were able to continue this development with the third phase and thus 16 more properties,” says the blurb on the website of Golden Lake Estates, the new name for the company that emerged after an “amalgamation” of Cape Breton Real Solutions in September 2020, which attracted negative press coverage in July and August that year.
More on that later, but first a look at who is snapping up Golden Lake Estates properties, and at what price.
The 15 Beaver Lodge Estates lots still for sale as of this writing range from just under one hectare (2.47 acres) for $58,500, to 3.9 hectares (9.6 acres) with a price tag of $189,000. Prices generally range between $15,000 and $25,000 per acre.
Rural and urban real estate prices in Nova Scotia have risen dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, but these rates in a rural subdivision in Cape Breton with no waterfront still seem high.
Just 23 kilometres from Beaver Lodge Estates, Royal Le Page Anchor Reality has listed 100 acres of rich farmland with “many fruit trees,” a brook running through it, and power on the property for $160,000, or $1,600 per acre.
Even that is high compared with the monetary value that the provincial government of former premier Stephen McNeil assigned some of Nova Scotia’s most spectacular waterfront. In 2019, for example, when he was Lands and Forestry minister, Iain Rankin wrote to the legal representative of Beckwith Gilbert, an American multi-millionaire, offering him 705.2 acres of spectacular oceanfront property that the province had listed as Owl’s Head Provincial park — its rare ecosystems and all — for $306 per acre. That offer that still stands, despite loud public outcry.
The relatively high price per acre in the rural Beaver Lodge Estates subdivision with no waterfront seems no deterrent to buyers. Every one of the 27 lots in Phase I has been purchased since sales began in September 2019.
Ten of the 14 lots in Phase II and five of the 16 lots in Phase III have been sold since June 2021. That means they were sold during the pandemic when direct international flights between Germany and Nova Scotia were cancelled, and travel to the province from Europe became extremely complicated.
The direct flights — just six hours between Halifax and Frankfurt — have been a selling point for real estate and property developers marketing land in Cape Breton almost exclusively to German-speaking clients in Europe.
The seasonal direct flights with the charter airline Condor resumed on September 7, 2021.
The most recent sale in Beaver Lodge Estates was on October 1 this year, to a couple whose address is in Hemmoor, Germany.
Every lot sold in Beaver Lodge Estates has been purchased by German-speaking non-residents with addresses in Europe. Most are from Germany, a few from Austria and Switzerland, and one purchaser has an address in France.
The Beaver Lodge subdivision is just one of 12 “Estates” that Cape Breton Real Solutions and now its successor, Golden Lake Estates, have drawn on the map of Cape Breton’s Inverness and Richmond counties, several of them on the shores of the Bras d’Or Lake.
To date, the company and its predecessor have sold 144 lots in these estates.
Cape Breton is for “clear thinkers”
In July 2020, Germany’s respected weekly news magazine Der Spiegel published an article about far-right extremists, conspiracy theorists, and doomsday prophets of German origins who were promoting Cape Breton as a “refuge” for German-speaking Europeans, and selling land to them at inflated prices to establish a colony of like-minded people. The Halifax Examiner followed up with coverage of the story here, here, here and here.
Two of the prominent conspiracy theorists involved are Andreas Popp, who has been described as being among the “who’s who of German conspiracy theorists,” and former German television celebrity, Eva Herman. Both are part of the Wissensmanufaktur (Knowledge Creation) organization in Germany, which a 2020 Transparency International Germany report says brings together “a series of messages and protagonists from the conspiracy theory and right-wing extremist spectrum.”
In their “Plan B, A Systemic Revolution for Real Transformation,” Popp and his Wissensmanufaktur colleague Rico Albrecht refer to the “so-called” German Federal Parliament and give “honourable mention” to Gottfried Feder — Feder has been described as the “principal economic theoretician of the initial phase of German Nazism” who “provided the immediate inspiration for Adolf Hitler’s entry into politics.”
Popp and Herman have hosted online programs about the value of a refuge in Cape Breton, and also hosted several in-person seminars on the island each year. They are pitched to “clear thinkers” — German speakers who could afford the $4,450 cost. At the seminars, Popp and others peddled prophecies about Europe’s imminent collapse, and safe-haven properties in Cape Breton, like the ones at Beaver Lodge Estates.
Herman, who in 2003 was voted Germany’s favourite television presenter, was fired in 2007 after she wrote a book praising family policies and women’s roles in Nazi Germany, and continued to defend those views in public. As the Halifax Examiner reported in July 2020, Herman is a defender of “traditional” family values, has been married four times, and has now linked up with Popp in life and in Wissensmanufaktur.
In 2015, Herman also published on the Wissensmanufaktur website a racist conspiracy theory about the migration crisis eroding Europe’s “Christian culture, belief and tradition.”
Herman doesn’t offer information about her own immigration status, whether she is a permanent resident of Canada, or whether she has applied to become one. Nor is it clear whether she would be granted such status, given her record in Germany, where she was accused of evading 37,600 Euros in 2010 … and fined 5,400 Euros.
Popp says he began to look around for a place to take refuge back in 1996, saying that his aim was to find the “safest place on earth” — somewhere that was sparsely populated, with no risk of volcanoes or earthquakes, and no nearby nuclear power plants and military targets.
Cape Breton, he says in the video, satisfied all these criteria.
Herman then chimes in, saying that another advantage is that there are “cultural commonalities” for Germans coming to Cape Breton, because earlier immigrants were all “Europeans — English, Scottish, Irish, French” and “very many” of those coming now are German-speaking.
And for those “clear-thinkers” from German-speaking countries, Popp says they are seeking a safe haven where they can be around people that “fit with them,” and around whom they can also keep their mother tongue, German, if they so wish.
People in the community, he says, stay closely tied to their homelands in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
The Examiner also reported that in a 2016 paper in the journal German Politics and Society, Patricia Anne Simpson of the University of Nebraska cites sources that suggest the “new face of hate in Germany” can appear in the form of people who live in the countryside and who are well-dressed teachers and fathers.
Simpson notes that in one interview with Michael Vogt, who “cohabits with the extreme right in Germany,” Eva Herman “navigates questions to the general theme of establishing a German-speaking Kolonie, to use the term employed among German-speaking emigrant communities in South America (and elsewhere) from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, on Cape Breton Island.”
First, the fabric of this “community” of free thinkers who live outside the box and take refuge beyond the borders of Germany consists of prosperous Europeans with incredibly good teeth and disposable incomes, motivated by the imminent threat of war in Europe and disdain for the European Union.
In the May 2020 video, Herman speaks of an invasion of her homeland by Arabs, Africans, and Asians, and suggests that for a time, German speakers in Europe may need to become refugees themselves, and seek temporary refuge in Canada, until things are “solved” in Europe.
In an email to the Examiner in August 2020, Popp referred to the flow of refugees from mostly war-torn countries into Germany in 2015 as “illegal migration.”
Disappearing web content
As late as August 2020, the seminars hosted by Popp and Herman were advertised on the Wissensmanufaktur website at this URL, under a German heading that translated as “Experience an unforgettable week in Canada.”
On October 8, 2021, the Halifax Examiner emailed a list of questions to Andreas Popp.  After that email was sent, the section on the “travel seminars” disappeared altogether from the Wissensmanufaktur website.
To date, Popp has not replied to the email.
However, in August 2020, that section of the Wissensmanufaktur website was still alive and well. At that time, it informed readers in German that all 2020 seminars in Cape Breton were fully booked, but did provide information about them, and also promoted the services of Cape Breton Real Solutions:
Just in recent times, Germany became a country of immigration, and that has led many Germans to emigrate from their country. We focus on this situation and analyse it openly during the week. The trustworthy land development company, Cape Breton Real Solutions Inc., with its experienced team under the direction of Jürgen Gindner, has professional infrastructure and logistics that we can use at low cost. In the seminar groups there are always participants who also want to fulfill their dream of owning their own property in Canada.
We are supported by the team at Cape Breton Real Solutions Inc. (a well-known land development company, not a realtor). Anyone interested in land in Canada will receive valuable information on how to acquire and find cheap land in good locations to build a second residence. Many German-speaking communities have been established.
According to the Registry of Joint Stock Companies, a month later, in September 2020, Cape Breton Real Solutions amalgamated with Golden Lake Estates, which is operated by Alexandra and Mehrab Mashaghati.
The Mashaghatis were part of the five-member team running Cape Breton Real Solutions, and they featured in Popp’s 2015 Wissensmanufaktur video praising schools in Cape Breton.
The three others who ran Cape Breton Real Solutions, some who had close ties to Popp and Wissensmanufaktur, disappeared from the list of directors of the company when it “amalgamated” with Golden Lake Estates.
Covering up tracks?
In 2019 before COVID-19 put an end to international flights between Nova Scotia and Germany, the Wissensmanufaktur seminars were held in the Dundee Resort near West Bay in Richmond County. According to Der Spiegel, Wissensmanufaktur seminar-goers reported that just one evening of listening to Popp and Herman talk about the “dramatic decline in values in society” could trigger panic attacks, and even crying fits.
Der Spiegel also reported that employees from Cape Breton Real Solutions handled the logistics of the seminars, driving the pick-ups and motorboats on excursions to properties they were selling, adding:
Seminar participants report that they hardly had a minute of free time during the whole week, for example, the time to look around the island [Cape Breton] on their own. The supervisors from Cape Breton Real Solutions were always on the spot – possibly to make sure, as the guests suspect, that they not contact any competing [real estate] companies.
After Der Spiegel detailed the links between the Wissensmanufaktur seminars and Cape Breton Real Solutions that was selling land to the German-speaking European seminar-goers, Herman and Popp issued a statement denying any links: “For property questions, we cooperate with the land development firm, Cape Breton Real Solutions. We do not take part in sales or sales discussions.”
On August 15, 2020, the couple posted on the Wissensmanufaktur website that they had sued Der Spiegel, but no update on any lawsuit has been made on the website since then.
And now, of course, Cape Breton Real Solutions is no more. All of its properties – like Beaver Lodge Estates and 11 others – are now being promoted by Golden Lake Estates, run by the Mashaghatis.
The Examiner emailed questions to the Mashaghatis, who live in Cape Breton, and they sent answers 14 days later.
Halifax Examiner (HE): Have you noticed a growing interest in Nova Scotia real estate in Germany and other German-speaking countries in Europe? Has the COVID-19 pandemic increased that interest and sales? If so, why do you think that is?
Alexandra and Mehrab Mashaghati (A&MM): We have not seen a marked difference in sales.
HE: Have prices per hectare / acre of unserviced land increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, or just generally in recent years? Lot 49 in Beaver Lodge Estates, for example, which is less than 1 hectare (just over 2 acres) you have listed for $59,250. Would you consider that an average price per ha /acre for rural parcels in a subdivision with no water or sewage system in Cape Breton?
A&MM: We do not discuss our business strategy.
HE: I see quite a few properties for sale in Cape Breton for far less than that, some for just over $1000 per acre or about $2,500 per hectare. Can you comment on that difference in price? Are you gearing your prices for Germans and other Europeans? Is there any concern that this will increase prices to a point that local people cannot afford land in their own province?
A&MM: We do not discuss our business strategy.
HE: All the lots purchased so far in Beaver Lodge Estates (apart from a few that Golden Lake Estates seems to have registered in its own name) appear to be by non-resident German-speakers from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. Do you specifically target German-speakers? If so, why?
A&MM: While our business model initially was focused on the European market, we have since translated our website to English to attract more clients. We respect the privacy of our clients and will not make any comment regarding them.
HE: Some of the lots were purchased during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was not possible to enter Nova Scotia from Germany. Were these buyers purchasing the lots sight-unseen from Europe?
A&MM: We respect the privacy of our clients and will not make any further comment.
HE: What percentage of your sales are to non-residents of Nova Scotia, who are resident in a German-speaking country in Europe?
A&MM: We do not discuss our business model and respect the privacy of our clients.
HE: Are most of your clients people who wish to immigrate to and live permanently in Nova Scotia, or are they looking for a seasonal home? Or perhaps looking for land as an investment for the future?
A&MM: We do not discuss our business model and respect the privacy of our clients.
HE: On your website, the URL label is “refugium in Kanada” … can you elaborate on what you mean by this? Are you suggesting people from Europe require a “refuge” from their homes in German-speaking countries?
A&MM: Cape Breton Island is recognized around the world as a special place where many people wish to visit, move to, and buy land. Our marketing is based on these same principles. [After the Examiner made this inquiry, the URL was renamed and “refugium” replaced by “Ihr Landerschliessungsunternehmen,” meaning “your land development company.”]
HE: It appears from the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks that Cape Breton Real Solutions changed its name to Golden Lake Estates last September, after a series of articles appeared in the German and international media, which alleged that the company was selling to people attending Wissensmanufaktur seminars in Cape Breton, as a refuge from predicted collapse and unrest in Europe. Did the company name change have anything to do with these articles?
A&MM: We purchased Cape Breton Real Solutions in October 2020 and amalgamated it with our company Golden Lake Estates Ltd. This was solely a business decision.
HE: Eyewitnesses report seeing Cape Breton Real Solutions vehicles taking Wissensmanufaktur seminar participants to the Beaver Lodge Estate (for example), in the presence of Eva Herman of Wissensmanufaktur. How do you respond to those reports? What is the connection between Wissensmanufaktur and Golden Lake Estates / you?
A&MM: We cannot comment on any activities relating to Cape Breton Real Solutions prior to us purchasing the business in October 2020. Golden Lake Estates has not organized or participated in any seminars.
HE: Are you the sole owners and operators and beneficiaries of the land sales? Do you as individuals or Golden Lake states have any business relationship with Wissensmanufaktur or Andreas Popp or Eva Herman?
A&MM: As per the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks, we are the sole shareholders and beneficiaries of Golden Lake Estates Ltd. As a private business, we are not prepared to answer questions about who we may or may not do business with.
HE: Are you concerned about the fragmentation of forest, farmland, coastal areas, and the landscape (and thus the effect on wildlife and waterways) that such subdivisions cause?
A&MM: There are strict regulations for subdivisions that we as a Land Development Company have to follow. We work closely with all of the Departments such as Department of Transportation, Department of Environment, Department of Fisheries and Oceans etc. to insure that all of these regulations are met and approved.
HE: If Nova Scotia were to bring in legislation to increase property taxes on non-residents, and to limit the amount of land they could purchase and own in the province, would you endorse or oppose it?
A&MM: We do not make comment on any proposed government legislation. Our company is compliant and follows all provincial and federal laws and regulations.
Using information available on Nova Scotia Property Online for those who purchased properties from Cape Breton Real Solutions before September 2020 in the Beaver Lodge Estates, and from Golden Lake Estates after that, the Halifax Examiner was able to find email addresses in Germany for 12 of the landowners who had bought lots in the new subdivision. (Property Online is the Nova Scotia government website that shows transfers of land ownership.)
The Examiner wanted to know what drew these landowners to Cape Breton, how they had found the land they bought, and if they had ever participated in one of the Wissensmanufaktur seminars organized by Andreas Popp and Eva Herman. So we emailed them these questions in German.
None have replied.
Monitored by Germany’s domestic intelligence
In 2015, Andreas Popp appeared at a congress of a movement in Germany known as “Querdenker” or “thinking outside the box,” which assembles and promotes conspiracy theories from a range of political ideologies.
In April 2021, Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), the country’s domestic intelligence agency, began worldwide monitoring of the Querdenker movement, because it is deemed to delegitimize the state and put the constitution at risk. The German authorities say the movement has links to the far-right Reichsbürger movement that refuses to recognize the German state that developed after the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.
The Examiner contacted Elizaveta Firsova, a research associate at Leibniz University Hannover in Germany, who is working on a project on conspiracy theories, and who has written about the Querdenker movement.
Firsova believes the views that Andreas Popp and Eva Herman promote, including the conspiracy theories they endorse and the whole idea of like-minded Germans seeking a refuge in Canada, are closely aligned with the Querdenker movement.
Firsova tells the Examiner that Querdenkers are quite “fluid,” bringing together an unlikely mix of people from a wide range of belief systems, including the far right, “people who wave the Third Reich flag,” supporters of QAnon about which she has also written, people with “esoteric beliefs, the homeopathic community, and also anti-vaxxers.”
Firsova notes says that on Eva Herman’s channel on Telegram, a global instant messaging platform begun by Russian libertarians, she shares posts about far-right extremists touting conspiracy theories, including videos from the popular singer Xavier Naidoo. One of Naidoo’s videos, which has been taken down by major Internet platforms, shows the blowing up of a COVID-19 vaccination centre.
While Herman still has a devoted following of 180,000 on her Telegram channel, Firsova says the former German television celebrity is no longer as visible as she once was in the German media.
“I think maybe a lot of Germans consider the problem to be solved since she is not our problem anymore, and has moved to Canada,” Firsova adds.
As for what she thinks people in Nova Scotia should know about Popp and Herman, and the like-minded German-speaking Europeans who appear to be rapidly buying up properties in Cape Breton, Firsova replies, “I think that it is always reasonable to watch your neighbours when they have an ideology that led to violence in the past.”
Firsova adds that while Querdenker may not pose any threat of violence, there is always the potential for violence among conspiracy theorists:
We in Germany, and probably also Canada, have things happen that were really motivated by conspiracy-theory mindsets. In Germany, a couple of years ago we had this person who tried to get into a synagogue to shoot Jews, because he was convinced that they are the core of the problem. And he also had a lot of anti-feminist views, which were also pushed to channels similar to Eva Herman’s, because she’s also pushing in the anti-feminist area really, really hard. So these can be a breeding ground for more violent people.
This issue is not new residents
Eyewitnesses to the seminars and other well-informed people in Cape Breton who agreed to speak with the Halifax Examiner, say they have absolutely nothing against new residents who buy land in and move to Nova Scotia. Rather, they welcome them, and have had very positive interactions with people who move into local communities from other provinces and countries.
German immigrants to Nova Scotia are numerous, and generally much lauded and appreciated for their contributions to local communities and economies. Last year’s media reports about the few extremists in Cape Breton “devastated” many German immigrants and people of German extraction who live in Nova Scotia.
However, the residents of Cape Breton who spoke with the Examiner are concerned that the kind of rural development being promoted by Golden Lake Estates should be watched carefully. Some maintain that it is disrupting wildlife habitat and corridors, and worry that this kind of rural subdivision development could be contributing to the silting they’ve been noticing in nearby streams and rivers.
In a recent Guardian column about how capitalism is killing the planet and leading to “our own destruction,” George Monbiot wrote that with the climate crisis threatening the ecosystems we need to survive, second homes are a major problem, as is jetting about to get to them. Wrote Monbiot:
Rich people can persuade themselves they’ve gone green because they recycle, while forgetting that they have a second home (arguably the most extravagant of all their assaults on the living world, as another house has to be built to accommodate the family they’ve displaced).
Local residents also say they also worried that marketing land to Europeans is driving up land prices, making it impossible for young or local people to acquire land in the area, something that will be discussed in Part 3 of this series.
In addition, several residents of Richmond County told the Examiner that they think Nova Scotians should be aware of what is happening in out-of-the-way places in the province, specifically in Cape Breton, where they worry that far-right conspiracy theorists are creating a kind of insular colony for themselves.
One source, who is close to the issue and who has asked for anonymity, says, “They don’t cause problems to Canadians, because they have nothing to do with Canadians or Canada.”
“Most people find them very nice, they have lots of money and they pay their bills,” he says.
But, he adds, “They are attracting people who want to live with the values of Germany from 1933 to 1945.”
He says they have a network, and in his view everyone in Nova Scotia should know that.
Asked why, he replies, “Because it’s a cult.”
 Every person living in Nova Scotia who is not Indigenous is a settler, and all are living on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq People.
 The questions sent to Andreas Popp on October 8, 2021 were:
- When you are promoting Cape Breton as a refuge, are you hoping that those who watch your videos and attend your seminars will take up permanent residency in Nova Scotia?
- There is at least one record of your firm, Two River Consult Inc., selling land to a German couple in 2018. Has Two River Consult sold other pieces of land in Cape Breton?
- In your statement last year after the publication of the Der Spiegel article, you and Eva Herman stated that you “cooperate” with Cape Breton Real Solutions, but that you do not sell land or take part in discussions about land sales. Eye witnesses have reported that the Cape Breton Real Solutions vehicles came to collect Wissensmanufaktur seminar participants to take them directly from the seminar premises to the Cape Breton Real Solutions (now Golden Lake Estates) subdivisions where they were selling land, sometimes in the presence of Eva Herman. Can you please comment on those allegations?
- In recent years, Cape Breton Real Solutions / Gold have sold close to 150 plots of land in subdivisions they have created. Could this be construed as a kind of German-speaking “colony” in the area?
- The prices that German-speaking non-residents are paying for the plots of land are vastly higher than the going rate for land in Nova Scotia, and some are expressing concerns that this can put upward pressure on land prices, putting them out of reach of local people. What would you say to the people expressing those concerns?
- Do you receive any commission on land sales by Cape Breton Real Solutions / Golden Lake Estates?
- Do you have any business connections with Golden Lake Estates, or Alexandra or Mehrab Mashaghati?
- There is a lane named after you in the Canadian Pioneer / CANEC Evanston Estate. How did that come about?
 The following email was sent in German, with details of the property purchased in Beaver Lodge Estates, to 12 of the non-resident landowners with addresses in Germany:
“Would you be willing to share with me some of your experiences and reasons for purchasing this land?
Specifically, my questions are:
- What drew you to Nova Scotia? How did you find out about the land for sale?
- Did you visit the land before you purchased it? If so, how did you locate it and get there?
- What was the main reason you purchased the land?
- Do you hope to settle on the land? Or do you see it as a vacation spot? And investment? Or a kind of refuge from Europe?
- If you hope to settle on the land, have you applied for Canadian residency? Or do you intend to do so?
- If you bought it as a refuge, what is it that appeals to you about Nova Scotia as a refuge?
- The lot you purchased is in a subdivision where other German speakers from Europe have purchased land. Is the fact that you will have German-speaking neighbours part of the appeal of the land you purchased?
- Are you satisfied / happy with your purchase? If so, what do you particularly like about the land?
- Do you think the price of the lot is reasonable? (Did you compare the price per hectare with real estate in other parts of Cape Breton and Nova Scotia, where the price per hectare tends to be much lower?)
- Did you ever attend a Wissensmanufaktur seminar in Cape Breton, or watch any of the videos from Andreas Popp and Eva Herman, who are enthusiastic about living in Cape Breton? If so, did this influence your decision to buy the land?”