Beer Brewing Monks Battle Over Monastery′s Future | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 02.07.2004
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Beer Brewing Monks Battle Over Monastery's Future

A power struggle at a monastery famous for producing beer is getting ugly. The future direction of the cloister is at issue: should the monks continue on a market-oriented path or return to a traditional life?


The future of the Andechs monastery, and its famous beer, is in dispute.

Among beer aficionados for whom the consumption of beer is a near religious-like experience, the Andechs monastery, located in the mountains of Bavaria a half an hour's drive from Munich, is an important pilgrimage sight.

Here, 23 monks oversee the production of seven famous varieties of much-loved beer, all sold under the monastery's Andechs label. Sold around the world, its success has spawned numerous other businesses, including restaurants.

Now a power struggle between two high-ranking members of the order has pitted one monk against the other in a battle over the monastery's future. At the heart of the issue is whether the monks -- and the monastery -- should focus more on a traditional life of quiet reflection and less on profit-driven business ventures.

Brother against brother

Abbot Johannes Eckert, the recently-elected head of the St. Bonifaz monastery in Munich which the Andechs is subordinate to, has a conservative opinion on the matter, while the prior of Andechs, Anselm Bilgri, the business-savvy monk largely credited with the monastery's success, has another. Jürgen Schott, the business manager of Andechs' Culture and Events GmbH, has been caught in the crossfire.

Tensions flared a little over a year ago when Father Eckert was unexpectedly elected to the top position at St. Bonifaz, beating out the older Bilgri, who many thought was next in line. Taken aback, Bilgri retreated for a sabbatical year "to reflect".

But that has not prevented the battle from raging on in his absence. Recently, Schott, Bilgri's confidant and supporter who organizes the monastery's summer culture festival, has been barred from the premises following accusations that he fraudulently misused the monastery's funds to pay for, among other things, a trip to Mallorca.

Monks in Mallorca

Schott has vehemently denied the allegations and submitted an action for an injunction appealing to the regional courts to rule on the lawfulness of the ban and grant him access to the monastery. About the trip to Mallorca, he says it was for business and approved by Bilgri.

On Thursday, the Third Civil Division of the Munich State Court ruled against Schott on a technicality: the monastery-related business venture, Culture and Events GmbH, which Schott led, did not have a rental agreement with the monastery, and, thus, he had no right to continue to work on the grounds. But that, obviously, presents a problem for Schott, since the summer festival which he organizes as head of the division, takes place there.

"I want to leave, Andechs has lost its meaning for me," said Schott after the ruling. "The monastery no longer provides me with inspiration".

But by pushing out the likes of Bilgri and company, Father Eckert is hoping to inspire a generation of monks to return to a more conventional life, one based more on religious reflection and less on the bottom line.

The "battle of the monks", as the German tabloids have dubbed the conflict, could have far reaching implications for fans of Andechs' special brew.

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