Psychological pressure and sexualized violence in a former monastery?

Dropouts raise serious allegations against a community called “Go & Change”. She sees herself as a victim of defamation. What is going on in Lülsfeld (district of Schweinfurt)?

The former “Maria Schnee” monastery is peacefully located on the outskirts of Lülsfeld. Just as peaceful as the rest of the 826-person community in the Schweinfurt district. Well-kept Franconian country idyll. Time seems to stand still here like the clock above the main portal of the late classicist monastery: shortly after twelve. There are a handful of cars in the parking lot, they no longer have license plates. The gates to the entrance to the monastery are open. Foreclosure looks different. And yet the question arises as to what is happening behind the monastery walls since the Würzburg redemption sisters sold the complex a good three years ago, the last nuns moved out after 129 years and a community called “Go & Change” moved in. A community without an ecclesiastical background, which the Weltanschauung representative of the Diocese of Würzburg classifies as a “psycho group with a high potential for conflict”, but which says of itself that it has “prescribed life for love”.

In the past few months, several women and men have turned to the editorial team: former members of “Go & Change”. There are “psychological terrorism” and “brainwashing” in the community, they report independently. They tell of all-controlling leaders and sexualized violence as “therapy”. Visiting relatives is usually not welcome. Almost all dropouts want to remain anonymous. The dropouts in particular are very scared.

“Go & Change” sees itself as a victim

Humiliated and frustrated, the women and men turned their backs on “Go & Change” at different times. Only now – sometimes more than a year later – can they talk about it, they say. Since they have their life somewhat under control again. They want people to know what they say has happened in the community – so that others don’t have to have their experiences. As a warning. “Go & Change” on the other hand speaks of the fact that one has been the victim of various “defamation attempts” more often. One sees oneself as “target and projection surface of the feeling of injustice” of individuals thrown out, it is said in an email to the editors. With other former members one has “still a good contact”. According to Thomas Heinrichs, Mayor of Lülsfeld, 20 adults and some children of what used to be around 40 people still live in the monastery.

“They integrated very well and help wherever they can.”

Lülsfeld’s ex-mayor Wolfgang Anger

Review: In 2017, the new residents of “Maria Schnee” started a picture book in Lülsfeld. In February, the then mayor Wolfgang Anger announced that the monastery had been sold. Previously, it was offered on a real estate platform on the Internet for 399,000 euros. “Go & Change” does not disclose how the community financed the purchase on request. In March, representatives of the community, whose origin is a shared apartment in Halle an der Saale, will present their plans to the town council. In April the villagers are presented in the Official Journal. The intention is to set up a “research and encounter center” in the monastery, where one can practice “new ways of loving each other”. The aim is to become “part of the village” and “support the residents wherever we can”.

The former monastery complex on the outskirts of Lülsfeld includes several buildings and gardens.
      Photo: Anand Anders

Almost word-for-word today Mayor Anger praises “Go & Change”: “They have integrated very well and help wherever they can.” New Mayor Heinrichs, on whose municipal election list there were two “Go & Change” members, confirmed: “I can not say anything negative, they did not let anything come into debt.” The monastery, wrote “Go & Change” in an “Exposé” to “dear friends”, should become a kind of pilgrimage place for all creative and inspired spirits. To a meeting place where art, science, healing work, meditation, innovation, spirituality and more flow into one another.

A supposed “guru” at the top

The dropouts paint a less positive picture of their life within the monastery walls. After an idealistic start, an intimidating atmosphere of fear developed. A community member – K.K. (Name of the editor known) – is particularly in the focus of the descriptions. He had changed more and more to the “guru” and took the lead.

The women and men describe, among other things, group meetings in the large hall of the monastery, which usually took place in the evening and without prior notice. K.K. selected one person. The personality and characteristics of this person would then be “mirrored” by the others for hours. The focus here is on the “shadows”, ie the properties that would still be in the dark, which you have repressed and have to look at. This view by the group is described by all dropouts as “strongly manipulative”. A woman experienced it as a “violent breakup of personality”. A great deal of pressure had been built up. “Our personality became more unstable, our self was dissolving more and more,” says another affected person.

Sexual practices as therapy

To the outside world, K.K., 38, rar. In the community he acts “from above” and does not stick to what applies to everyone else: vegan food, ecologically oriented life, a structured day. He praises, criticizes, manipulates. He determined who still had to work on his personality. Whoever is degraded – or ascends in the hierarchy like Felix Krolle. The 33-year-old is the face to the outside. Krolle is the managing director of the non-profit entrepreneurial company, which is now registered as a community. It therefore enjoys tax advantages.

Gradually, another aspect comes to light in all discussions with the dropouts: “Sadomaso sex” is also part of a “therapy” by K.K., who, according to dropouts, describes himself as a “healer”. The personality should be cured from its “shadows”. This type of “treatment” takes place in a “sex room” on the upper floor of “Maria Schnee”. The women say that some were injured, a woman even very serious physical wounds. “Go & Change” does not answer the editor’s question about the sex therapies described. That is “our private matter”, says Krolle. The allegation is not being denied.

Why weren’t any reports filed?

The men think that no one has been forced to have sex. A dropout replies that no woman knew exactly what to expect there. If someone did not want to join, “a huge pressure” was immediately built up again. It was assumed that this was to be understood as a refusal to advance its development. Then why did the women put up with “this therapy”? “We all longed to be happy and internally free from shadows,” explains one of those affected. And why didn’t they file a complaint? Shrugging shoulders and a frightened expression on his face. “We want to continue living our lives,” they say, “without stress.” And because it “seems hopeless to us. We are afraid that we will lose what we have now rebuilt – that we will be persecuted.”

Such behavior does not appear to be uncommon. “Experience shows that it is very difficult for dropouts to open themselves up to what they have experienced and to seek help,” says Stefan Nickels from the Munich Police Headquarters. He is the only police officer in Bavaria to deal with such communities. “Often, concern and fear of group persecution also play an important role here.”

He “never noticed anything about violence in the monastery,” says ex-mayor Anger. “I can’t imagine it either.” There is a hierarchy in the monastery, “but if you want to bring 40 people under one roof, you need rules to lead such a group,” he says. And: everyone in the monastery “voluntarily chose this way of life”. His successor Heinrichs says: None of the people who moved out “came to us and complained about ‘Go & Change'”.

What an affected couple tells about “Go & Change”

Ralf B. is the only witness who emerges from complete anonymity – “because I’m not afraid”. The retired correctional officer and his wife, a graphic designer, were initially enthusiastic about “Go & Change” after a so-called get-together weekend for those interested (current participation fee 350 euros). That was in winter 2018. They joined the community and relocated from the Rhineland to Lower Franconia, just a few kilometers from Lülsfeld. At first, however, they did not move to the monastery. They were external members. He was looking for an age-share flat, says the 62-year-old. But he fully supported the community. Financially too.

Ralf B. and his wife were members of the 'Go & Change' community in Lülsfeld (district of Schweinfurt).
Ralf B. and his wife were members of the “Go & Change” community in Lülsfeld (district of Schweinfurt).
      Photo: Thomas Obermeier

Ralf B. is no longer enthusiastic about “Go & Change”. “I am angry!” He talks because he wants “people who go there just as carelessly to be spared what happened to us”. For him, “Go & Change” is a “sect”. Not a community, but a dangerous “community”.

Woman is in therapeutic treatment

The change of heart began after his wife moved into the monastery in April 2019. When the 45-year-old developed psychological problems due to family blows of fate, she looked for “peace and security” within the community. “We take care of your wife,” K.K. and others promised him. She paid around 600 euros per month for board and lodging – according to other dropouts, the usual rate.

Today Ralf B. regrets his trust in “Go & Change”. His wife had not recovered there. On the contrary. “She went through hell,” says Ralf B .; he followed it. He met his wife regularly during their stay. To date, she has not processed the experience within the monastery walls. The 45-year-old is currently undergoing therapeutic treatment.

Are drugs used in the monastery?

Ralf B. tells of sleep deprivation through “process nights” with group sessions and of massive verbal insults against his wife. She had told her husband about a tally list in which alleged misconduct was counted. From her isolation in a special group for “narcissistic women” – as a punitive measure. And financial control of the members.

Drugs are said to have been involved: LSD and ecstasy. “Because they reveal more of themselves,” says Ralf B. The other dropouts confirm this. Ralf B. also observed during a visit that drugs were used deliberately and specifically targeted at individuals.

Ralf B. describes that his wife found the group sessions torture. “Then you’re done,” he says. Sometimes the round lasted all night. Without sleep, everyone would have had to go back to the work in which they were firmly divided: in the kitchen or garden, for washing up, for cooking, for cleaning. Others were able to bring in their manual skills.

The former monastery 'Maria Schnee' dominates the village. Only a few members of the 'Go & Change' community should live in the building complex, said dropouts.
The former monastery “Maria Schnee” dominates the village. Only a few members of the “Go & Change” community should live in the building complex, said dropouts.
      Photo: archive picture

K.K. does not want to speak to the editors

Can all of this really be true? In the middle of the Franconian idyll and only hidden by the monastery walls from the eyes of the Lülsfeld? “Go & Change” does not deal specifically with the allegations with which the editors confront the community in e-mails. When asked questions about the group meetings, the alleged drug use and the status of women in the monastery, Managing Director Krolle answered ambiguously: “Yes, we would never do such things; No, we do much worse; We have not violated any laws and urge our former members to report us if they see it differently. “

Attempts by the editors with the supposed guru “K.K.” to get into conversation are in vain. K.K., Krolle writes, like everyone in the monastery, “be ready to testify in the context of police or judicial interrogations” – if it came to that.

How the diocese’s World View Representative assesses the community

Jürgen Lohmayer, the representative of the Diocese of Würzburg, sees “Go & Change” in the many “social-utopian communities” that have been founded in recent years. Matthias Pöhlmann, Lohmayer’s colleague in the Evangelical Church and sect representative for the whole of Bavaria, urges the group to respond urgently. Both were in Lülsfeld together with six other Bavarian Weltanschauung representatives in March 2019, and got an idea. “Everyone was friendly and polite,” was Lohmayer’s impression. Who the visitors didn’t see was K.K., even though Lohmayer and Pöhlmann had asked about him several times.

Jürgen Lohmayer, the representative of the Diocese of Würzburg.
Jürgen Lohmayer, the representative of the Diocese of Würzburg.
      Photo: Thomas Obermeier

According to Lohmayer, methodological instruments from the field of psychology, such as “integral structural constellations with in-depth analysis”, are used in the community, but are used here without recognized psychotherapeutic qualifications. For him, “Go & Change” is a “psycho group with a high potential for conflict”. He says: “Group dynamic processes, management and power structures, social control, total commitment, separation from the previous social environment” are always a topic in the consultations that he had with dropouts and relatives. “You have to imagine the group dynamic context like this,” explains Lohmayer: “The more I know about a person – especially in sexual and partnership terms – the more power I gain over them, the more controllable they become and the more vulnerable they ultimately become. “

Not everyone and not everyone is said to have endured this lifestyle, according to the dropouts. Some would have developed massive psychological stress.

“People are destroyed, brought into line and traumatized.”

Sebastian Stark, former companion of Felix Krolle

Sebastian Stark has been active in the so-called “integral movement” for years, a scene that also includes “Go & Change”. He also knows K.K. and Krolle for a long time, had been to Lülsfeld several times. In an interview with the editors, he confirmed the descriptions of the dropouts: sex as “treatment”, substance abuse and a psychological and financial dependency of the community members. He speaks of “permanent totalitarian psychotherapy-like work” in the monastery. Stark’s assessment: “People are destroyed, brought into line and traumatized.”

The atmosphere in Lülsfeld is difficult to grasp

There is obviously no trace of this beyond the monastery walls. In the village, the opinion of “Go & Change” is difficult to grasp. Some speak vaguely of a “sensitive issue”. But the tenor is: “These are nice people.” Former mayor Anger praised that the members were active in the football club, the music band and the fire brigade and had revived the choir. How big the commitment actually is, however, is questionable: if you listen to Lülsfeld, you will come across divided opinions. Pastor Stefan Mai, head of the parish community “St. Franziskus am Steigerwald”, to which Lülsfeld also belongs, does not want to comment on “Go & Change”. When asked, he says he is not concerned with it. “No comment!” According to their own statements, “Go & Change” still maintains very good contacts with the former residents, the Savior Sisters; Mayor Heinrichs confirms this. A request from the editors leave the sisters unanswered.

The current monastery residents “mingle with the people,” says Heinrichs, head of the town hall. In fact, the monastery was even invited several times to the “Open Day”. Most recently, during the Corona crisis, they offered, among other things, to go shopping for the elderly, Heinrichs continues. No surprise for cop Nickels. It is “not uncommon, but common practice” that such communities integrate into village life through clubs, neighborhood aids or festivals. It can “often be established that even very critical and dangerous groups succeed in moving into and acceptance in small towns”.

Two deaths shake the community – and result in a criminal order

“Go & Change” is celebrating a wedding in Lülsfeld in June 2018. Former Mayor Anger trusts the couple and sends the editorial team a small report with a photo. The couple smiles at the camera. Both are no longer part of “Go & Change”, they say. Months later, the image of the ideal world, which “Go & Change” at least gives to the outside, gets deep scratches.

In March 2019, a one-year-old falls into an extinguishing pond near the monastery and later dies in a hospital in Munich. As it turns out, the child was visiting “Go & Change” and was supervised by members of the community. According to the public prosecutor’s office in Schweinfurt, “it was investigated against three people for negligent homicide”. In the meantime, fines of 120 daily rates have been imposed on the accused, “the punitive orders are final”. An infant from the “Go & Change” environment had died on a walk four weeks earlier. According to the public prosecutor’s office, there was “a natural cause of death” and proceedings were terminated.

Youth Welfare Office sees no child welfare risk

The responsible youth welfare office in Schweinfurt has had an overview of childcare at “Go & Change” since March 2019 during three registered and unregistered home visits. “The community has again been expressly pointed out” to the supervisory duties that are “the responsibility of the persons responsible for childcare”, it is said on request. There were no indications of a child’s well-being. When the youth welfare office last visited Lülsfeld in November 2019, the authority said that nine children were living in the monastery, one of them of school age. Visit a Waldorf school.

“The childcare concept was assessed and praised by the youth welfare office.”

Felix Krolle, managing director of “Go & Change”

Kroll’s former companion Stark gained a different impression when he visited “Go & Change”. He observed a “poor form of child supervision” and questionable pedagogy: Mothers are said to have been told not to hug their children; Children who demand attention should not be allowed to be looked at by the monastery residents; one does not look for children crying at night. This coincides with the statements of several dropouts. Felix Krolle, on the other hand, asks why “neither the police nor the youth welfare office acted and no report was filed,” should we have acted unlawfully or endangered the child’s wellbeing “. Rather, the youth welfare office praised the “Go & Change” childcare concept.

For the community, the deaths were “severe strokes of fate”, “which almost led to a break,” said Mayor Heinrichs today. His predecessor Anger speaks of an “ordeal”. Some had moved out at the time. “But the top has stayed.”

Ralf B’s ​​wife is different: Three months after moving in, she surrendered. “I waited for weeks for her call that she wanted to get out straight away,” says Ralf B. He left immediately.

That’s how the research went

It started a few months ago with a background discussion with Jürgen Lohmayer, the Weltanschauungmantrag of the Diocese of Würzburg. The topic was alleged occurrences in a community that lives in a former monastery near Gerolzhofen. It quickly became clear that the editorial team would go deeper into the research. Several meetings with dropouts followed. The talks lasted several hours each. The need to report on their experiences was very great. We drove to Lülsfeld to get an impression of the huge monastery complex and listened around the village. We made inquiries to the public prosecutor, police and youth welfare office, in the town hall, to the pastor – and finally to “Go & Change” directly. However, questions remain unanswered. It is therefore clear that the research does not end with this report.

cj / ben

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