Meet the Council: Stefan Beier

Meet the Council: Stefan Beier


1.Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I studied civil engineering and urban planning, but have been working as a museum director in a “Religious Heritage” property in the former Cistercian monastery Lehnin, near Berlin, for more than 15 years. This monastery complex belongs to a larger foundation of social welfare, the Evangelisches Diakonissenhaus Berlin Teltow Lehnin, which operates a hospital, a hospice and a kindergarten on the monastery grounds next to the museum. I like it very much that this monastery complex, which is quite important for German history, is used in such a way. It can be said that the work on this site in many ways stands in the tradition of the monastery, which was dissolved in 1542.

2. How did you become interested in religious heritage? 

I can’t say exactly when I became interested in churches and monasteries. When I was young I travelled a lot with my parents and visiting monasteries and churches was always an important part of vacationing together. I can remember very clearly that when I was about 10 years old I read a historical novel about Albrecht Dürer and that this book captured me so much that from then on I found religious art very interesting.

3. How did you get started with FRH?

I can remember my first meeting with FRH like it was yesterday. I can even name the exact date: it was December 2nd, 2015. At that time, the first working meeting within the Europetour project took place, in which both FRH and KLOSTERLAND, were project partners. I met Lilian Grootswagers for the first time and I loved her great enthusiasm for the work of FRH. It was a very interesting connection for Klosterland because I think that the goals of the work of the two associations complement each other wonderfully. The Europetour project came to an end after three years, but the connection to FRH became more and more intense!


1.Can you tell us a bit about what you currently do outside of FRH?

As a museum director, I am of course occupied with all the typical content-related and administrative tasks of such a position. For the Lehnin monastery, the unique selling point is that a deaconess motherhouse has found a home on the monastery site since 1911. A deaconess community is a form of communal life for Protestant women who are particularly dedicated to social work. This kind of “reuse” of a historical facility is unique in Germany. And so this particular story is the main focus for the museum and its permanent exhibition. In Germany, the Protestant and Catholic churches have roughly the same number of members. So, of course, the good cooperation between these churches is also an important issue. The museum sees itself as an educational offer that aims to report on these two forms of Christian life and that shows visitors the answers to questions of meaning and belief given by both churches. The visitors should be able to understand the life models of Catholic Cistercian monks and Protestant deaconesses and be able to reflect their own life in these answers.

I am also the chairman of KLOSTERLAND. In this association, monastery sites form a network in which responsible stakeholders at different monastery sites exchange their experiences and initiate joint activities. The association understands religious heritage not only as the material legacy of buildings, but also as a legacy of spirituality and the way of life of monks and nuns, which contains very interesting impulses for how human communities and society as a whole can succeed. Above all, the association would like to convey the monastic culture to a public that is increasingly less aware of religious traditions and thus also of the religious heritage in Europe.

2.What are your activities/work/research focused on concerning religious heritage?

In the KLOSTERLAND association in particular, we have very diverse starting points for this. First of all, the cultural tourism marketing of the monastery sites is important for us. Therefore, our association takes part in travel fairs and draws attention to the respective tourist offers in the member monasteries. But we don’t stop there. As already described, it is important for us to view the monastic way of life as part of a living inheritance. For example, we hold working meetings on the question of how traditional monastic ways of life relate to changes in modern society. The “Zukunftsinstitut”, which is based in Frankfurt / Main, has analysed these changes and, on this basis, has defined “megatrends” that influence the life of every single person. On this basis, in special working meetings, we examine how such megatrends – such as individualization, globalization, new work, neo-ecology or urbanization – affect monasteries. In addition, we also look at how the monasteries can give impulses with their way of life so that people do not feel overwhelmed by the changes in society.


1.What do you think is the biggest threat to religious heritage and what do you think is the best way to combat it?

I firmly believe that the world’s cultural heritage has never been as respected as it is today. We live in a time in which awareness has grown in (almost) every nation that the cultural heritage belongs to a self-assurance of the people. We can and may also state that the religious heritage in the form of churches, monasteries, synagogues and mosques, as well as moveable heritage such as altars, paintings and sculptures are part of the cultural wealth. Of course, we see today that this legacy is in danger, but what was it like in other times? When an architectural style had become out of fashion, when a monastery was abandoned, when the religion of the local population changed, the buildings were left to decay, in the worst-case demolished or in the best case (and thus in an almost current sense) repurposed. So I think it is a great civilizing achievement of the modern world that so many religious buildings in Europe are in good shape. Of course, the question before us is how this can work just as well or even better in the future. Especially when churches are no longer needed, the question must be asked how their future can be secured. I experience with great joy how people everywhere are concerned about it and eagerly take matters into their own hands. I live in eastern Germany, where religion as a way of life plays no important role anymore. And yet the church has remained the centre of the village and the people care about this point of identification of their community. Concern for the legacy begins with each individual, continues at the regional level and then culminates in supra-regional structures, as represented by FRH.

I see the greatest threat – and this is perhaps a big difference from earlier times – in the fact that churches and monastery buildings are often no longer associated with religious content. I experience it in my work every day: A church is a beautiful and concise building – people see that and they are of the opinion that preservation is absolutely worth striving for. But they no longer understand these buildings in a deeper sense because there is a great religious alienation.

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