Scientology has always been controversial, but in Germany, it's viewed with more suspicion than in many other places. According to Scientologists, the result has been discrimination against its church and members.
Some say Scientology is a religion, others argue it is a cult
In Germany, there are thought to be some 6,000 adherents of the Church of Scientology, which was created in the 1950s by American science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
The German government considers the group to be a money-making enterprise that preys on vulnerable people, and ten years ago even discussed designating the group as unconstitutional.
Sabine Weber, the president of the Scientology Church in Berlin, said a campaign of misinformation led by government officials and mainstream churches has led to a widespread distrust of the group.
Scientologists celebrated the opening of their new center in Berlin earlier this year
“We are involved here in a kind of religious war,” she said. “It's not a war with weapons like in earlier times, but it's (a war) of opinions and thoughts.”
According to Weber, individual Scientologists are continually “confronted with prejudice”, which makes is difficult for them to lead a normal life in Germany.
This can run from difficulties in organizing meetings, opening a bank account or building business relationships, Weber said.
The relationship between Scientology and Germany hit a low point in the mid-1990s, when according to Weber, bomb threats, broken windows and harassment were common.
Tom Cruise was denied permission to film in a part of Berlin because of his beliefs
During that period, the government put the group under intense surveillance. Scientology hit back by running newspaper ads comparing their treatment to that of Jews under Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Things have calmed down since then, but the group is still under observation. A US State department report released in September noted concerns about the treatment of Scientologists in Germany -- especially after a recent high-profile spat.
A film being produced in Germany starring Tom Cruise about the plot by German officers to kill Hitler was initially refused permission to shoot in a historic location, because Cruise is a well-known Scientologist.
“I was really shocked that, especially in connection with such a movie and especially in Germany, politicians still think someone shouldn’t play such a role or get permission due to religious beliefs,” Weber said.
Just a cover-up?
Scientology critics believe these discrimination arguments are just a smoke screen to cover the group’s strategy of controlling the lives of their members and bleeding them dry financially.
Larry Brennan, who belonged to the Church of Scientology in the United States for 27 years, considers himself to be one of the group's victims. He paid the group more than 283,000 euro ($400,000) to reach the Church's second highest spiritual level.
Ursula Caberta has spoken out strongly for a Scientology ban
During a visit to Berlin to meet with Ursula Caberta, Scientology's leading opponent in Germany, Brennan said he “couldn’t figure out how to get out.”
“My family was in and if I got out, I would have been disconnected from my family,” he said. "Also for a time I was working for a Scientology-run company. If I got out they would have had to fire me.”
Caberta, who heads the Scientology Task Force in the Hamburg state government, recently called for a ban on the group after two children of a high-ranking Scientologist fled their home for fear they would be sent to one of the church’s camps.
According to Caberta, Scientologists are dangerous because they don’t allow “human rights” or “religious freedom”.
“There is only one way: Scientology. And anyone who deviates from that is punished,” she said. “In Germany we are familiar with these kinds of ideologies and perhaps that's why we're more sensitive about them.”
Protesters in front of the Berlin Scientology center hold a sign reading, "Brainwashing, no thanks!"
Some Scientology tenets strike many as odd, such as the group’s campaign against psychiatry, or its belief that the source of much human misery today are the spirits of murdered aliens brought to earth 75 million years ago.
To Berlin Scientology president Sabine Weber, new beliefs and new religious movements should not be met with prejudice.
But former Scientologist Larry Brennan doesn’t believe the German government is against Scientology because it was "different” but rather "because of what the group does".
And according to Brennan, what Scientologists do is destructive and should be exposed.