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Tenants fight Scientologists

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: 20 May 1995 CIT PAGE: 35


TENANTS in a block of flats in the Berlin district of Neukolln recently
received a nasty letter from lawyers representing their landlord asking
them to remove banners they had hung from their windows and balconies.
While each banner carried a different message, the essence was the same:
the tenants were not going to give in to Scientologists.

According to the tenants, the Scientology Church, the California-based cult
established by the science fiction writer and vitriolic communist-hater
L. Ron Hubbard, is now their landlord; and, as such, it has been waging a
systematic campaign of intimidation and harassment in a bid to get people
to leave their flats which can then be sold for substantial profit.

Neukolln is just one of numerous cases of alleged heavy-handed business
practices by Scientologists in Germany. In Berlin tenants' rights groups
claim there are 30 properties now owned by the cult. The figure is much
higher in Hamburg, where Scientologists are believed to be behind half of
all the conversions of tenement blocks into individual freeholds over
recent years.

As well as being active in the Berlin and Hamburg property markets, the
cult is also known to be involved in information technology, business
consultancy and public relations. The cult is alleged to use apparently
innocuous management consultancy courses aimed at the German Mittelstand
to attract new followers who are then signed up for costly ''Dianetics''
courses aimed at delivering spiritual perfection. (The cult's critics call
this brain-washing.)

Businessmen or companies run by Scientologists are then expected to pass up
to 15 per cent of their turnover to the cult. According to Ursula
Caberta, of the Hamburg city government's Scientology Working Group - set
up to monitor the cult's activities - Germany now accounts for around a
third of the group's official global income of some $300 million.
Concern over the commercial activities of Scientologists in Germany, where
the cult controls an estimated 150 firms, has risen to the point that
business organisations are now warning members from doing business with
companies known to be run by the cult.

German estate agents have expelled members who are Scientologists, while in
banking there is a blacklist of firms with known cult links
In response to its critics, the Scientology Church earlier this year took
out full-page advertisements in American newspapers warning about a
resurgence of Nazism in Germany. These appear to have had little effect.
In February, a Berlin court ruled that Scientology was a commercial, not a
religious, organisation and liable for taxes.

This, coupled with the unwillingness of others to do business with it, may
halt the spread of the cult's commercial activities. Whether it will help
the tenants in Neukolln remains to be seen.

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