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25.01.2016

While sipping coffee with Paulo, the scruffy Brazilian manager of Cooke Town’s hostel Meditating Monkeys, we discover that German travellers make up 65% of his international guests. Looking around at work and play, in pubs and at science centers and NGOs, we find that Bangalore is now home to a steady stream of Germans, who come to work in varied fields. A chat at the Goethe-Institut and a trip back in time reveals that the German-Bangalore connection is deep and old and scented with flowers. 

Early German settlers in Bangalore seem to have created a network of sorts and as a result, word back home is that the Garden City is welcoming, allows you to cycle, drink beer from hops made in Bavaria and is great for creative and corporate types.  

Chapter 1

In the early 1900s, Mysore’s Maharaja Krishnarajendra Wodeyar won a bet against Baroda’s Maharaja Sayajirao, which helped turn Bangalore into the Garden City. Apparently, the king of Baroda had wagered Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel, German botanist and garden designer, who was immediately sent to work for the Mysore State. 2016 marks the 150th birth anniversary of Krumbiegel, designer of Lal Bagh Garden, builder of Bangalore’s tree-lined avenues and implementor of seasonal flowering here. So when you see pink tabuleia in January and April’s sky scorched with Gulmohar flowers, you have him to thank. Yes, he’s a jolly good flower! 

Chapter 2

On MG Road, a large tree shades the statue of Reverend Ferdinand Kittel, a German priest who spent his life learning Kannada and eventually producing the first Kannada-English dictionary in 1894 with 70,000 words, a treatise on Kannada grammar and Kathamale, the life of Jesus written in Indian classical meter. 

Chapter 3

Eating a dosa at the Indian Institute of Science is one way to pay homage to the building’s German architect Otto Königsberger, who built it during a stopover here while fleeing Nazi Germany. He was also responsible for building Town Hall, Bangalore’s first public swimming pool (it no longer exists) and bus terminal as chief planner and architect of the Mysore State. 

Chapter 4

Today, the migration continues with German artists, philanthropists and corporates travelling 7,296 kms from the Fatherland to make a home in Bangalore. Why here of all Indian cities? Maureen Gonsalves, cultural coordinator at the Goethe-Institut, who has been working with the organisation for sixteen years, pegs it on the “incubator” nature of Bangalore. “German expats who move here tell us that the city is fertile ground for experiments of all kinds and provides a judgment-free zone.” Early German settlers in Bangalore seem to have created a network of sorts and as a result, word back home is that the Garden City is welcoming, allows you to cycle, drink beer from hops made in Bavaria and is great for creative and corporate types.  

It is for this reason that the Goethe-Institut’s artist residency programme picked Bangalore as the chosen Indian city in 2013, and has stuck with this choice ever since. “Every year, we bring 10-15 German artists to live and work in Bangalore with 24 partner organisations ranging from academic establishments to artistic spaces. And every year, one or two of the Residency’s alumni choose to settle here once the program is over,” says Maureen.

***

Hannover resident Lena Robra didn’t pick Bangalore for its love for artists. She’s a doctoral student at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, and moved here for “the world-class facilities and vibrant scientific community.” But it is the little things that made her stay. “A few days ago, I was cycling and at a stop light, a lady rolled down her car window and offered me a packet of biscuits, telling me to keep up the good work,” she says, noting that such demonstrations of warmth are unheard of in Hannover.

Other active connections between Bangalore and Germany have been the auto industry and IT sectors. “I’ve met a lot of Germans because they’ve been posted here on short work stints with multinationals. There’s also the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce that works closely with automation, industrial projects and finance,” says Anke Schuermann, a German national and NGO consultant who moved to Bangalore in 1998 to work on nutrition and food security.

Anke had only heard of Bangalore on German news channels because of the city’s growing reputation as the IT capital of the nation. Just like that, she hopped on a plane and decided to use Bangalore as her base, while conducting postgraduate rural development fieldwork at a village in Chitradurga. “At the end of my stint I was offered a full time Bangalore job and I grabbed it. I’ve come to enjoy the chaos of living here, a stark contrast to the safe, sterile environment of Germany.”

*** 

Talks with others point us in the direction of microbreweries and even baking ingredients as elements that make Germans feel at home in Bengaluru.

Anke tells us that she and many of her German friends can relate to Bangalore’s current obsession with baking. “We Germans love to bake, and I’ve discovered Navadarshanam products, which are great for cake makers,” she says.

Others prefer beer over baking soda. “Last year, one of our artist residents was deeply impressed that hops for the craft beer here were being sourced from his hometown in the Bavarian region of Germany,” recalls Maureen, adding that there’s nothing like German beer to help cure homesickness.

Anke and Lena agree, and we go around the table raising our glasses to Bengaluru and Berlin. 

Getting there:Write to arts@bangalore.goethe.org to get updated on events and programmes of the Goethe-Institut in Indiranagar. German residents in the city can register here on the Elefland list to be kept informed on diplomatic issues and local happenings that might affect them. 

Photo credit: Cop Shiva

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