Dispute over meditation center in Rheinsberg

City officials for establishment of a "Maharishi University"
Critics worried about city's reputation

Berliner Zeitung, October 20, 1999
By Ulla Krackow

Rheinsberg. The residents of Rheinsberg have already been dreaming of a hermal bath resort for a long time. But the solution which is now becoming possible enrages many inhabitants of the north Brandenburg city: a company called the "Maharishi University for Vedic Science" from Potsdam would like to build a health and convention center. While Rheinsberg Mayor Manfred Richter (SPD) has spoken in favor of construction, the CDU, the Rheinsberg Citizens Alliance (BBR: "Buergerbuendnis Rheinsberg") and Reverend Beatrix Forck are taking action against the plans. They are afraid that the raising of a possible sect center would ruin Rheinsberg's reputation.

Berlin Tax Advisor Horst-Rainer Witt, business manager of the "Maharishi University" had already presented plans in August of last year. They show, among other things, a university for "Vedic science", a hotel, apartment for seniors and about 200 business and living spaces to be built on about 70 acres. Instruction in Transcendental Meditation (TM) is to be given in the university. On September 22 of this year, the Rheinsberg City Assembly approved the concept in a non-public session. The committee was dominated by the SPD and PDS parties. After this session, opponents of the plans ran riot.

Gandow: "complete nonsense"

"I think TM is a dangerous sect," said Rheinsberg minister Beatrix Forck. She invokes the judgment of a Federal Administrative Court in 1989. It says that the "psycho-sect" designation is allowable for TM. The meditation techniques could cause severe psychic illness in individual cases, the court had determined at the time. The minister is backed up by Thomas Gandow, the sect commissioner of the Evangelical Church in Berlin and Brandenburg. He regards the "guru movement" as "complete nonsense." Among other things, it promises, by meditation, world peace and the opportunity to fly.

Beatrix Forck and the chairman of the Rheinsberg Citizens Alliance (BBR), Ruediger-Thorsten Kadatz, are afraid that the reputation of Rheinsberg as a cultural city could be harmed by the presence of the center. As examples, they gave the chamber opera and the Tucholsky Museum. "This character of the city will be affected by the center," said Kadatz. Mayor Manfred Richter (SPD) said, "I have given up the idea that one can talk factually about this theme." He is trying to weigh the extent to which the city could do business with the TM movement. "I would have refused Scientology immediately," he said. He hopes the center will provide work opportunities.

Richter points out the good experiences the cities of Bad Ems and Traben-Trabach (Rheinland-Pfalz) have had with such health centers. The mayors of those cities have only said positive things about the clinics in their cities. "We also had this kind of ruckus in the beginning. Everybody thought that a sect was arriving," said Birk Utermark, First Co-councilman of the city of Bad Ems. "Now famous people like Dieter Thomas Heck come to us for a health holiday." The director of the Bad Ems clinic, Karin Pirc, is one of the proponents in Rheinsberg. She estimates that it will not at all just give instruction in TM

Ruediger-Thorsten Kadatz from the BBR is not swayed from his criticism. He believes a city of 5,000 inhabitants could not withstand a health resort of this size. Along with the woman minister and the CDU, he has invited everyone to a citizen's meeting. Possibly a citizens' petition against the plans will be put together. "At some time it will no longer be called Rheinsberg, the City of Tucholsky, but Rheinsberg, the City of Sects," said Kadatz.

The mayor has also followed suit. He has sent out invitations for a special meeting of the city's representatives about the planned center. And this time it will be open to the public.

Mayor wants to check out the sect center

Berlin Kurier

Rheinsberg - It promises "inner peace" and "harmony within yourself." However, the Transcendental Meditation movement (TM) is bringing agitation and trouble to Rheinsberg with its plans for an Ayurveda Center.

What Mayor Manfred Richter (SPD) had really wanted on the 70 acre city plot was thermal pools. "But there were no investors for that," he regrets. Instead the TM-aligned "Maharishi University for Vedic Science, Inc." offered to build an Ayurveda clinic with a hotel and apartments there for 200 million marks. City parliament decided, in opposition to the vote by the CDU and Citizens Alliance, to review the plans (Kurier reported).

That provoked a storm of protest against the establishment by the movement of Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. "The city representatives must uphold their responsibility to protect the citizens from the dangerous influence of sects," demanded CDU speaker Stephan Goericke. Thomas Gandow, sect commissioner of the Evangelical Church, also reacted, horrified, "Now the sects have a foothold in Brandenburg!"

Now the mayor is leaning into the media storm and has called a special session of the city parliament for October 26. "The decision is now being put to the test, and has to be made retroactive," said Richter. "A discussion about the content of the plans of the investors is no longer so possible." Co-applicant Lothar Pirc wants to calmly wait it out and see if a turning point will arrive. "If they do not want us in Rheinsberg, then we'll stay away." fin

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