How Germany Views Its Narconon
with Permission from
21 October 1991
Note: The following is reprinted with permission. Copyright 1991,
Der Spiegel. Distributed by The New York Times Special Features.
Der Spiegel is a German magazine similar to our Life magazine.
This article appeared in the October 21, 1991 issue.)
The enterprising Scientology sect increases its profits thanks
to the misery of addicts. Their cover organization, Narconon,
offers drug rehabilitation therapy that, in the opinion of experts
and doctors in the field, is not only useless but also dangerous.
Former drug addicts tell of spending five hours a day in the sauna
and of brain-washing, including hours of monotonous repetition
of meaningless phrases. Many families spend all their savings
to cure their drug-addicted offspring but most of Narconon's "graduates"
are no less addicted than when they went in. Former patients claim
Narconon is only in it for the money.
Christoph Hubler, 22, from Switzerland slides around on his chair,
scratches his thigh then his face. As the minutes pass he becomes
increasingly restless. The apprentice metal-worker desperately
needs a fix. He last injected himself last night now it is already
midday and the effect of the heroin has worn off. Christoph jumps
up and rushes with long strides toward the bathroom.
He is a depressing sight, particularly for his father. Only a
few months ago the Swiss electrician Hansjorg Hubler scraped together
the francs needed to pay for therapy for his son. Now he says,
"It was all a senseless waste."
Christoph spent ten weeks at the picturesque Bavarian Schliersee.
At Fiechhauson, 50 kilometers south of Munich, an ominous sounding
organization called "Narconon" runs a home for all addicts
midst the rolling pastures. They treat all types of addicts: alcoholics,
people dependent on pills, and heroin addicts like Christoph.
According to the organization's statute the patients are supposed
to learn to lead a "life of self-responsibility without their
A noble goal, but the reality looks different. Since Christoph
was at the home he is more addicted than ever before. He not only
shoots as much as before - the countless red marks on his arms
attest to that - but he now also regularly throws back large quantities
of alcohol. "One arrives as a junkie," he says, "and
leaves an alcoholic."
What happens in this idyllic location is far from a conventional
drug therapy. The Scientologists - who have 200,000 followers
and turnover of 150 million Deutschemark (about 255 million dollars)
a year in Germany alone - use unsuitable methods to get people
off drugs. The result is usually a new addiction. Instead of cocaine
they provide the drug of the soul - Scientology.
The house set in the foothills of the Alps is one of many such
centers run from the headquarters in Los Angeles. In Western Europe
they already boast 500 homes in England, Spain, Sweden, Denmark
and Italy and other countries. And in the Bavarian center the
first Russian is being trained. She will take the hardened ideology
of Scientology back to her homeland, where alcoholism is widespread
and the drug Mafia pursues its trade.
desperate parents of the drug addicts, who entrust their children
to Narconon throughout the world, usually have no idea that they
have become involved with a front organization of the profit-addicted
Scientologists. For the Hublers Narconon was the last, deceitful
says, "the Narconon people are addicted themselves, addicted
Christoph was rolling joints and drinking vodka with his pals
at the Schliersee, Narconon employees were putting pressure on
his parents. His father had to pay ever-increasing sums of money.
In total Mr. Hubler paid over 15,000 Deutschmark.
closely follows the motto of the Scientology sect's founder, Lafayette
Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986 at the age of 74. The discoverer
of this pseudo-scientific hocus pocus, gave this advice: "Make
money, make more money, make other people make money."
disciples at Narconon follow this order. It is officially an independent
subsidiary of Scientology. The Scientologists have developed countless
supposedly humanitarian initiatives around their "church."
One example is the "commission for the violations of psychiatry
against human rights." Another is the "organization
for the furthering of religious tolerance and interhuman relations."
fact all these activities like the drug rehabilitation program
are only to further the fame and increase the paying followers
of the sect.
Therapy for addicts is a market with fantastic possibilities.
In former East Germany alone 2 million people are said to be alcoholic.
Specialists estimate that about a million people are dependent
on pills and over 100,000 take hard drugs. The health insurance
spends about 800 million DM every year on the treatment of addicts.
With his sound nose for good business, Hubbard already prescribed
his lessons for drug therapy in the mid-sixties. The purification
of a novice Scientologist uses rituals like the ones used to treat
The American founder had a naive belief that the components of
the drug are deposited in the lymph of the addict. With a "purification
rundown" these substances are supposed to be washed from
For that the patients, known as students at Narconon, take sweat
cures lasting several weeks. They spend nearly five hours a day
in the sauna.
Vigilli Venzin, a Swiss drug expert, says the method is "absolute
rubbish and medically questionable." He says a short sauna
wouldn't harm the addicts since they are easily cold. But more
than two hours a day is "far too much, unhealthy." Doctors
specializing in the field agree, "medically all trash"
says Klaus Behrendt of Hamburg's General Hospital Ochsenzoll.
He runs the detoxification unit of the hospital and says intensive
saunas for addicts is "medieval."
Two days after the latest shot, heroin is broken down so much
that it is no longer detectable. In "very unusual exceptions"
this decomposition process can last a week, says Behrendt.
These days most addicts take several drugs at the same time. They
take heroin or cocaine as well as codeine or the sleeping tablet
Rohypnol. In those cases the withdrawal is totally unpredictable.
Two weeks after the last drug consumption some patients still
get cramps and hallucinations.
Experienced drug experts from the Munchen advice center, "Con-Drobs"
attempt such complex detoxification "only under constant
medical supervision," says Gerhard Eckstein, the administrator
of Con-Drobs, "otherwise it would be much too risky."
At Narconon they aren't as concerned. The junkie is examined by
Narconon's doctor, who lives 15 kilometers away, before starting
the treatment, and after that the only doctor who comes is the
emergency doctor. And that happens all the more often for the
lack of supervision.
Time and again one of the "students" collapses. "The
sauna is like torture," says Kurt Siegenthaler, 39, "but
what comes after is even more dangerous."
Siegenthaler is also Swiss. He is alcoholic and sniffs cocaine.
He spent a year at Narconon and survived the psychological suction
the Scientologists practice on the drug addicts.
After the cleansing ritual for the body follows the purification
of the spirit. The first session for beginners consists of standing
and staring each other in the eye for hours. After that they partake
in a nonsensical dialogue. For example: Question" "Do
birds fly?" Answer: "Yes, thanks." "Do birds
fly?" "No thanks." "Do birds fly?" "Maybe."
The dialogue is repeated for hours.
In an advanced exercise the "patient" stands before
a blank wall. Organizer: "Look at this wall." Answer:
"Thank you." "Go over to the wall." "Thank
you." "Touch the wall." "Thank you."
"Turn around." "Thank you." Then on to the
next wall. The ritual continues up to eight hours a day.
The monotonous courses go on until the "student" has
an experience of awakening. "At some point you just take
off," Siegenthaler describes. Christoph Hubler says, "They
all totally float."
Venzin observed the results of this brain-washing in his patient,
21 year old Susanne. After three months she was "absolutely
depersonalized." When she came back from the Narconon center
she spoke like a computer. She only came out of the trance after
two months and promptly relapsed into drug abuse. She now lives
in a park in the middle of Zurich, the center of the drug scene.
The heroin addicts take their fix in sight of the police. Afterwards
they lie like corpses on the grass or walk around as in a drunken
stupor. Here Susanne has refound nearly all the Swiss "students"
who were at Narconon with her.
Horst Niesel, the 43 year old head of Narconon for Germany, Austria
and German-speaking Switzerland claims to have a 50 percent success
rate. But the "pupils" have other memories. Siegenthaler
can't remember one client who stayed clean. "After a few
weeks they were nearly all there again," he says. An alcoholic
from Berlin has been back over a dozen times. Most of them just
can't do without Narconon.
The logical consequence of the detoxification cure is Scientology.
The pupil learns during his endless sessions to give himself unconditionally
to his trainer. The rehearsed skills are of no practical worth
outside of Scientology. The addict can only make progress within
Narconon does not strengthen the patient's autonomy, as the propaganda
claims, but rather weakens the people, who have suffered years
of disappointments and the worst despondence as drug addicts.
That is why this kind of therapy results in a new dependency.
Narconon only achieves a "transferal of addiction,"
says Axel Siefert of Munich's state drug advisory center, "We
don't send anyone there." Narconon is cut off from serious
doctors and advisers. In the mid-seventies the Berlin branch managed
for a while to obtain state drug program funds. But the error
was quickly rectified.
The organization moved to Bavaria in 1984, first to Gmund and
then to its present location, a former children's home on the
Schliersee. There is room for 40 addicts, but the building is
usually only half full. The patient or their families have to
come up with the fee of 120 DM a day. The rehabilitation course
at Narconon is not covered by any medical insurance.
Narconon still finds people willing to admit themselves because
the waiting lists are so long at other centers. Addicts have to
wait three to six months to be taken in by Con-Drobs in Munich,
and the waiting list in Switzerland for heroin addicts is up to
takes everyone immediately. The aspiring patient only has to bring
along enough money. Narconon agents regularly do the tour of the
"fix-scene" in search of new clients.
Scientology subsidiary even pays commission for new names and
Since the rent of the Narconon building is 12,400 DM a month Mr.
Niesel doesn't like to see his victims leave. New arrivals not
only give up their identity papers, but also hand over all their
cash. That way the patient finds it difficult to leave without
Briska Vogt, 25, and her boyfriend Andreas, 27, who is a heroin
addict, only lasted a week at the Schliersee. One Sunday afternoon
the couple climbed out of a window and fled, hitching a ride to
Munich. They had the police help them get their belongings back.
But there was one good thing about the shock experience with Niesel's
band. That week was such a nightmare for Andreas that he hasn't
touched heroin since. The Narconon experience doesn't strengthen
other inmates. Drug therapist Venzin knows of two addicts who
have given themselves that final "golden shot" shortly
after leaving Narconon.
Keel, a confirmed Scientologist of 22, ended his stay at the Schliersee
tragically. He got himself into deep debt for his community. After
some time at Narconon he complained to his mother about the "barefaced
swindle." Narconon is only "about money," he said.
On September 14, 1990, after less than two months at Narconon,
Pius packed his bags and threw himself under a train.