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Business

Monks Row Over Beer Business

Money and power play a role behind church walls too, aptly illustrated by the power struggle at Andechs Monastery, famous for its beer.

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Andechs Monastery beer: lucrative habits

Even beyond Bavaria's borders, Andechs Monastery, which produces over 80,000 hectoliters (2.1 million gallons) of beer yearly, is well-known for its brew. Father Anselm Bilgri had been in charge of business at the St. Bonifaz Abbey in Munich and Andechs since 1986. He expanded it by selling products from the brewery and monastery, a schnapps distillery, yearly festivals, bars and a chain of restaurants called "Der Andechser."

The good times came to an end in late July, when Andechs Monastery Gastronomy, which marketed the ten Andechser restaurants, declared insolvency. The company just wasn't earning as much as it was spending, the monastery said.

Church profit

But it's not that business and religion don't go together. Abbeys throughout Europe sell the fruits of their labor in their own shops or over the Internet. Some, particularly in northeastern Greece, even rent out rooms -- to men -- for overnight stays and lease land to lumber firms.

Figures concerning church profits, however, are difficult to come by. The Vatican, one of the largest religious financial powers, is notoriously tight-lipped about such business affairs. The Vatican's asset management alone was thought to be valued at €1.4 billion ($1.9 billion) in 1994. The Holy See's earnings stem largely from a printing plant, a publisher, a book store as well as from the selling Vatican coins and stamps. Millions of pilgrims fill the coffers of souvenir and museum shops.

Power struggle

Goldgelber Mond über Kloster Andechs

Andechs Monastery

In Andechs, the brewery has a 42 percent stake in Andechs Monastery Gastronomy, while businessman Rainer Staiger controls 38 percent. Private investors own the remaining shares.

Declaring insolvency was actually part of a power struggle. As a successful manager, Father Bilgri would have been an obvious choice to become the abbot at the St. Bonifaz and Andechs abbeys last summer. Instead Johannes Eckert assuming the position. A row has been underway ever since.

Though Eckert is considered economically open-minded, he apparently viewed his business chief as too powerful. Eckert gradually relieved Bilgri of responsibilities, until he finally quit and left the monastery. Both Bilgri and Staiger have said declaring insolvency was unnecessary. But Eckert has said he wanted to avoid things getting even worse.

Otherwise, its business as usual at Andechs. Father Bilgri also found his way. Still a monk, he's opened a business consultancy.

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