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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Bavarian Monks Go Golfing?

Air Date: Week of

An order of Benedictine Monks in Andechs, Germany are looking for a change. The Monks are looking to diversify their business profits by turning farmland into a golf course, much to the chagrin of German environmentalists. Michael Lawton reports from the Bavarian village of Andechs.


CURWOOD: Germany is one of the most environmentally active nations. For example, the government requires recycling of just about all packaging. And business there is making big gains in industrial ecology. So it is with a bit of surprise and no small degree of discomfort that some German environmentalists have found themselves locking horns with unusual adversaries: monks in the Roman Catholic Church. Squeezed by finances, a Benedictine monastery in the village of Andechs, south of Munich, wants to convert much of its farm land into a golf course. But some say fairways and greens would wreck the bucolic setting. Michael Lawton prepared our report.

(Church bells ring)

LAWTON: The sacred mountain of Andechs has been a place of pilgrimage since the 10th century. It boasts among its relics pieces of Christ's crown of thorns and the wedding dress of St. Elizabeth of Turingia. The Benedictine monks have only been here since the 15th century, running a large agricultural estate on the land they own roundabout. They also brought with them the tradition of brewing beer, which is still the monastery's main source of income. And it's the monastery's own tavern in which most of Andechs's million and a half visitors a year end up.

(Boisterous people indoors)

LAWTON: Here beer is served in 2-pint glasses and smoked knuckles of pork are eaten at bare scrubbed wooden tables. And most of the people in the tavern don't think much of the monks' idea of turning their farm land into a golf course.

MAN: I think it's isn't a good idea, because this is a traditional place, a religious place. And I'm not of the opinion it's a place which is connected with a golf course.

WOMAN: [Speaks in German]

LAWTON: This lady says everything should stay as it is. Golf courses are the big fashion these days and we just don't need them, she says. We just want the cozy atmosphere and the good Andechs beer. People can go hiking instead.

[A bell rings. An organ plays.]

LAWTON: But the cozy atmosphere and the good Andechs beer, say the monks, won't keep the monastery going. Eight monks live and pray here and another 16 in Munich, where they run a number of social projects. Beer is a declining market and agriculture is losing money. That's why father Anselm, the monastery's cellarer and the man in charge of its business activities wants
the golf course.

ANSELM: [Speaks in German]
TRANSLATOR: The motto of the Benedictine order is to pray and work. In other words, the monks are required to ensure their own maintenance through their labor. If we make a loss on part of our real estate so that we have to subsidize it from elsewhere, it's my job to find another way of making money.

LAWTON: But at what cost? The opponents of the golf course, led by the Green lawyer Wolfgang von Nostitz, choose to explain their objections in a restaurant just outside the monastery gates.

VON NOSTITZ: We expect from religious institutions that their activities are responsible an that they think beyond profit and fancy sport. That they think of employment of healthy food and of the preservation of God's nature. Unfortunately, they are not doing that.

LAWTON: The local environmentalists want to see the land turned over to organic agriculture. They've offered to lease it from the monastery and farm it themselves. But the monks say there's no money to be made that way. Jurgen Schott, the man in charge of the golf course project, says it's an exciting and creative compromise.

SCHOTT: [Speaks in German]
TRANSLATOR: Our plans for the Andechs landscape and golf park are to create a unique concept which will unite ecology and economy as equal partners. The park will be on an area of 460 acres, and will take into account the interests of organic agriculture, nature preservation, and leisure: in this case, golf.

LAWTON: The trick is that the 18-hole golf course will be integrated with organic farm land and nature reserves, so that golfers will have to walk through wheat fields and past natural ponds to get from one hole to the next. Fertilizer and pesticides will only be applied to the greens, which will be separately drained so they have no effect on the rest of the land. But Wolfgang von Nostitz doesn't believe you can separate the greens from everything else. What happens when it shows, he asks. It's an experiment and he's not prepared to take the risk.

(Voices milling around)

VON NOSTITZ. This particular nature around Andechs, which has grown during many hundred years, cannot be the object of an experiment. Because the experiment, once done, the nature as it is now is destroyed. We have seen pictures, how the architect which intends to make this golf course here has done others. It starts with destroying the entire nature, and then start at zero again.

LAWTON: Father Anselm doesn't mind the opposition. He says it's led them to revise their earlier plans so that the current project is one which not even the strictest environmentalists could fault. But the opposition continues and he thinks it's got nothing to do with real concern for the environment.

ANSELM: [Speaks in German]
TRANSLATOR: There's a basic ideological opposition from people who reject the very idea of a golf course without even listening to the arguments. In other countries like Britain, America, every village or town has 2 or 3 golf courses. It's only here that people think golf is an elitist sport. It'll take time but it makes me very happy to know that a monastery's in the vanguard of turning golf into a sport for the people.

(Monks chanting Gregorian Chants)

LAWTON: The liturgies say, may the Lord give his people peace, not golf. A regional planning committee will have to decide on the monastery's project. If it says yes, then Andechs will have the chance to prove that golf and the environment can be made to mix. If not, then the monks will still come up to the church every evening to pray, but they'll have to look for other ways to support their monastery. For Living on Earth, this is Michael Lawton in Andechs.



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