The opening of a large modern Scientology center in the German capital Berlin is causing political waves in the city with members of the local Christian Democratic Party calling for the organization to be once again placed under surveillance. But Berlin's interior minister Ehrhart Körting says that the issue should be dealt with openly.
Körting told a local radio station that it had to be made public what kind of ideology was behind Scientology and what awaited potential members. The Social Democratic politician also said a court ruling prevented the Berlin Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which tracks extremist groups, from monitoring the activities of the center.
The city-state Berlin is only state in Germany where the Scientologists are not under surveillance. In 2001 and 2003 judges in the city decided that there was insufficient evidence of any unconstitutional ambitions and banned the state from any further monitoring.
But the state interior minister indicated this could change.
"If new activities gave rise to fresh evidence, then we would look into this and discuss it with the federal authorities," he said.
The CDU and the Free Democrats are calling for a change of the law.
Up to 10,000 guests are expected to attend the official opening of the new center on this coming Saturday. They could even include celebrity members of the organization, such as Hollywood actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta. The Scientologists say they have more than 1,000 members in the city. Other reports put the figure somewhere between 150 and 200.
The modern building in the central district of Charlottenburg includes a church, an information center and a bookshop and replaces much smaller premises in another part of the city.
The Scientologists have confirmed that the building will be their German headquarters. This would be their fourth center in a European capital after Madrid, London and Brussels.
Scientology is viewed with mistrust by many who say the organization pursues commercial interests and makes it difficult for its members to leave. It has been accused of working like a sect by making people psychologically dependent and then exploiting them financially. These accusations have repeatedly been rejected by the group itself, who say they suffer religious persecution.
Scientology was set up by L. Ron Hubbard in 1954 in the United States. The organization's official Web site describes its aims as seeking "only evolution to higher states of being for the individual and for society."
But the German interior ministry is critical of the organization, which has an estimated 30,000 members in the country. The latest report released by the extremist monitoring office said there were indications that Scientology was aiming to achieve "a society without general and egalitarian elections."
The report also said that the writings of the organization's founder contained "passages that defamed the principles of the free democratic order and which called for its abolition in favor of the building of a new civilization."