A Chinese meditation center appears like a mirage in the middle of the Swedish countryside. The vision comes complete with a dragon, a tea house and a temple, and depending on your perspective, it’s a retreat of sublime spirituality, or a one-man money pit.
It all began in 1998, when a Polish-born Buddhist monk named Marcus Bongart wanted to bring his form of the ancient Chinese spiritual and meditative tradition called “Qigong” to southern Sweden. Bongart, who had escaped communist Poland in the early 1970s, bought an old school in the small village of Jönstorp, with the hope of creating a retreat center for Qigong, a practice related to Tai Chi.
Bongart got some investors to underwrite his plans, including Anni-Frid Reuss (of ABBA fame), who had an interest in Qigong and alternative therapies. The building project went on for years, and Anni-Frid gave Bongart tens of millions of Swedish krona to keep it going (although it’s not entirely clear whether her money was intended as investment, donation, or flat-out gift).
With no end or opening in sight, a bankruptcy petition and lawsuits ensued, and Bongart’s Yangtorp project eventually halted altogether. Other than the occasional curious hiker, it sat dormant in the forest, burglars making off with everything that wasn’t nailed down (and a few things that were).
The site was put up for sale, and in 2013 finally found a buyer who paid öre on the krona (pennies on the dollar) to take it on and rebuild. The retreat opened in 2015 with Marcus Bongart remaining at the helm, even with a conviction of accounting rules violations and tax evasion to his credit (his sentence was only a hundred days of community service). Whether Bongart is to be seen as a pious Buddhist monk or a single-minded business man, probably depends on who you ask.