Frankfurt -- Scientology may have some way to go before it becomes a bestseller in Germany, a country that describes it as an unwelcome cult, but officials said on Thursday demand for its books rose sharply this year.
"There is still negative publicity around but things are improving considerably," said Thomas Goeldenitz, an official at Scientology's publishing wing New Era Publications. "We have had some very good changes which are helping a lot now."
Germany refuses to recognize Scientology as a church, saying it masquerades as a religion to make money, and Scientologists are barred from government jobs in some parts of the country.
In 1997, Germany's domestic intelligence agency placed the organization under surveillance, alleging possible anti-constitutional practices.
The California-based Church of Scientology was founded on the teachings of late American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, and his writing was on prominent display on Tuesday at New Era's stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.
The group -- whose members include actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta -- claims to have sold 160 million copies of Hubbard's works over the past half century in 53 languages.
Goeldenitz said New Era sells more than a million Scientology books a year worldwide.
As the German government stepped up moves against Scientology in the mid 1990s, sales of Hubbard's works such as "Dianetics" fell in Europe's largest economy, but have since recovered, Goeldenitz said.
"In Germany these days we are selling in 12 months 70-80,000 copies. In 1996 it was 35,000 copies," he said. Yet he admitted it was not always easy to get books onto store shelves.
"I've been talking to the big bookstores and you know they are telling me they are just scared to have the books," he said, explaining they did not want to lose customers opposed to Scientology.
In 2000, Microsoft Corp removed a portion of its Windows 2000 software in Germany because the head of the separate firm that designed the tool was a scientologist.
Microsoft Germany said at the time that they were responding to market sensitivities.
Germany's moves have provoked an outcry among supporters in the United States. They say Germany's refusal to recognize Scientology undermines human rights.