Four Cistercian monks from Austria are bringing monastic life back to Neuzelle in the eastern German state of Brandenburg. The town's name comes from the Nova Cella abbey that was founded here in 1268. The building hasn't been used as a monastery for centuries, but the monks hope to restore its role as a spiritual center of Catholicism.
Since the end of the summer in 2017 a four-member advance guard has been living in the Catholic rectory in the small town in the Oder Spree district. They are here to prepare the foundation of a Neuzelle Priory as a subsidiary of Heiligenkreuz Abbey in Austria. Founded 900 years ago, Heiligenkreuz, or Holy Cross, is the oldest continuously occupied Cistercian abbey in the world. Today 100 monks live in it, more than at any other time in recent years. The Austrian monks have been invited to Neuzelle by the Bishop of Görlitz, Wolfgang Ipolt. He wants the Cistercians to test the feasibility of resettling there. There are still many unanswered questions, such as where the monks would live. The grounds of the former abbey, which was secularized 200 years ago and now belongs to a state-run foundation, is currently being used by other parties. What does 21st century monastic life look like? What do the monks expect to find in Neuzelle - and what do the people of Neuzelle think of their mission? Michael Lietz visited the monks' mother house near Vienna and accompanied them as they arrived in Neuzelle.