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Gandhi and I
by Peter Rühe
(to be continued)
The Occident made me a man, the Orient a child again
I'm in my mid-sixties now: old enough to review and reflect on life, but too young to take stock. Therefore, the present work is an interim report and reflects my current views and opinions. However, since life is a process and I am in a constant state of flux, my attitude towards individual aspects depends on it and can change. The advantage of publishing a work on a website is that it can be modified, completed or corrected any time. Writing down my reminiscences is a continues process and I will make amendments or corrections from time to time. Hence, what you read here is always the most current version.
Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions or comments.
So far, my life can be roughly divided into three phases: in the first phase, football was the focus and shaped my childhood and youth. In the second phase, which lasted about 35 years, I devoted myself intensively to India and in particular to the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. In the third phase, which I am currently in, I am enjoying my slow entry into retirement in Thailand.
After the end of World War II my family on my mother's side was driven from their homeland east of Berlin by the Poles. They were only given what they carried on their bodies and could transport in carts. On the Trekking north, my mother's youngest sister died of typus. They started a new life in Wismar, my mother later came to Teltow near Berlin as a chambermaid. My father became a soldier at the age of 17 and suffered a shot in the stomach and a knee injury at the front in the first week and was initially taken prisoner of war by the US. He was in a prison in the southern states of the USA for a year, where he learned chess and did sports, among other things. After the end of the war he was deported to France, where he worked for a few years in the port of Marseille and in a steel mill. When he returned to Berlin, he took on unskilled jobs and looked after his war-torn parents. He met my mother at a dance event in the "New World" club in Hasenheide, Berlin-Neukölln. They married and I was born on May 12, 1957.
I spent my childhood with my parents as a subtenant in a small attic apartment in Berlin-Rudow. I grew up sheltered, always surrounded by my parents, grandparents and “Aunt Gothner”, the owner of the house and her husband. Their son Klaus was over 5 years older than me and therefore only a limited playmate. A cousin two years older came to visit us now and then from Wismar, I can't remember any playmates of the same age. We had chickens in the barn and my grandmother on my father's side had a dog called "Purzel"; these were my main playmates in my earliest childhood. I did snail races on my legs and played with earthworms.
My wooden scooter gave me great pleasure and I was out in the fresh air every day. The circumstances I grew up under were modest, but the love and care of my parents allowed me to have a happy and carefree childhood.
In 1961, when I was four years old, my parents bought their first car, a Lloyd Alexander. We then went on trips with him in Germany and as far as Italy, which was a huge experience for all of us. When I was five we moved to a comfortable 2.5-room rental apartment in Berlin-Buckow and I started school. I was a rather calm and mediocre student, but physical education was always a lot of fun.
When I was seven, my father signed me up for a football club, Britz-Süd 49, where I was initially used as a defender. After a short time, however, my
goalkeeping talent was recognized and I was allowed to stand between the posts. My role models at the time were initially Hans Tilkowski from my favorite club Borussia Dortmund and later the
legendary Sepp Maier from FC Bayern Munich.
In 1966, when I was nine years old, my sister Corinna was born, whose presence I was happy to take note of, but due to the age difference, we could only relate to one another to a limited extent. That should of course change in the course of life and today she belongs to my closest circle of friends.
My youth was shaped by my obsession with football: in addition to training at the club, I played every day with my buddies on the fenced clay court in front of the house and of course at school, where I guarded the school team's goal from the start. Football became my life and my obsession with training kept getting better and better. In addition, I developed my own goalkeeper gloves to make them more grippy and I repaired my leather ball myself. The ball was cleaned every day after every use and anointed with leather grease so that it doesn't become too heavy and soaked in water so quickly. So right from the start I had a tendency to develop and improve: my personal and my football equipment. When I was 12 I switched to the Polizei SV, with whom we went on a couple of nice football trips to tournaments in West Germany. Unfortunately, I soon had to wear glasses, which was not very comfortable. It would be almost 10 years before I switched to contact lenses. When some of my sports mates switched to the better-class Blau-Weiss 90, I switched, too, and from then on I played in one of the best B youth teams in Berlin, which created Bundesliga and even national players. However, a year before I graduated from high school, my career was suddenly interrupted because I had to undergo knee surgery. I had already had a first, minor knee operation and now I wanted to fix a bone inflammation. I had the appointment at the hospital one day after the final of the 1974 World Cup. Since “we”, Germany, became world champions, the football-loving neighbourhood gathered on the clay court after the final and we played the - successful - final. The enthusiasm knew no bounds and so there were also minor injuries that were barely noticed. The next day, however, there was a rude awakening in the hospital when I was told that the operation could not be performed because of the small abrasion I had suffered in the "final". Anyway, we were world champions and a few days don't really matter. I could have hugged the world! A week later I had surgery, which luckily went well. There was only one incident that stuck me painfully throughout my life: the tube that drains the wound secretion after the operation was pulled a few days after the operation. That is, the nurse tried to pull the hose. With every attempt I went up to the ceiling, pained and suspected that the tube was sewn to the skin. The nurse just said that it couldn't be and pulled again, with full force. If the pain hadn't just torn me apart, I would have jumped at the guy's throat. The tube didn't move an inch and it took me a while to recover from the stress. When the doctor saw a window in the plaster of paris so that he could look it up, it was found that the tube was indeed sewn to the skin. The nurse said only succinctly "can happen" and my trust in the medical staff had suffered a bad damper. Numerous more were to follow, but more on that later. I then spent a month in the hospital in the hot midsummer with a full leg cast and only hoped that I would be fit again when school started, my last year of school. I became that, even if at first with support in school lessons. I also had to get fit quickly, after all, I had sport as an exam subject. I put football on hold for a while in favour of my Abitur (high school exams). I trained hard and the rehab went well, which was to stand out. I was always a mediocre student, some subjects were more suited to me than others, but all my life I had problems with lectures, presentations and exams. My nervousness often thwarted my calculations. So also with Abitur. After the written and oral exams, I only had a few points and I had to pass the examination subject Sport with at least 13 points (out of 15) to just about pass the Abi. The big day came, for which I had mentally prepared myself for several years. I had trained hard and was in good shape again, but I couldn't be sure if I would make it. On the decisive day, however, the mind triumphed over the body and I scored a smooth mark 1, i.e. 14 points. With that I had the Abitur in my pocket and was the happiest person in the world!
Now the seriousness of life began! Move out of the parental home and run your own household. At the age of 19 I started training as a mathematical-technical assistant at Schering, which is now part of the BAYER Group, and started playing football again. First in a leisure team and then at TuS Makkabi. Why in a Jewish association even though I'm not a Jew? Quite simply because the club was looking for a good goalkeeper and therefore overturned its principles. Incidentally, the club did not only do this in the goalkeeping position. We had a great team together and were promoted to the regional league in the first year. A trip to Israel, where we did a test match, brought me closer to Judaism and the history of the Holocaust. Of course we had already dealt with this topic in detail in school, but it has a different quality when survivors of a concentration camp share their experiences. I often talked to my parents about this time and realized for myself that there are no winners in a war, only losers. Although I was not personally affected by World War II, from the conversations with my parents and other contemporary witnesses in Germany and now also in Israel, I came to the conclusion that I want to do everything in my power to ensure that war never happens again. I want to work for a peaceful world where all people, regardless of their origin, religion or gender, can live together and where conflicts can be resolved without violence. At first, things turned out differently: together with Indian friends and my girlfriend at the time, we opened the “International Specialty Snack Bar” in Berlin-Britz. We were one of the first snack bars in Berlin to offer Indian fast food specialties. For some time now there was also döner kebab in Berlin, which was offered by the Turkish-born fellow citizens: minced veal on a spit, served with a salad and a dash of lemon juice in a quarter flatbread. It was traditionally prepared in Turkey and also offered in Berlin for the first few years. The tasty kebab quickly became a competitor to the well-established Berlin currywurst. It was therefore not far from us that we also offered the kebab in our snack bar. At first we made it ourselves and it tasted - admittedly - more like meatball than kebab. But we were inventive: just returned from a trip to Greece, where my girlfriend and I ate gyros with tzatziki sauce, we also gave our kebab a tzatziki sauce. And that was well received by the customers. In the meantime, we had the kebab delivered to us by a dealer who, during his daily visits, noticed that customers liked to order our kebab with sauce. The trader also reported this to other restaurants and snack bars that he supplied, which now began to produce their own sauces in no time at all and add them to the kebab. The rest is history: today you have several sauces to choose from in every kebab shop: herbs, garlic, spicy, ... a traditional doner kebab with just lemon juice is rarely ordered. We had to close our “International Specialty Snack Bar” a short time later, as a fun pool was opened on the premises, but the doner kebab with sauce that we introduced retained!
We are now in 1982, I have been working as a programmer at the Technical University for 3 years and I sympathize with the Berlin squatters' movement and the peace movement that is just emerging. Now, together with my former colleague from Schering, Andi, and other friends who are also active in the peace movement, I am founding a shared apartment. We not only build a large attic in Berlin-Friedenau, where I should live for 16 years, but we also discuss all night long over all the pending problems in the world. We agreed that these - diverse - problems had to be solved exclusively without violence, similar to what Gandhi did. Nonviolent resistance, civil disobedience, tax boycotts, and sit-ins were not only discussed but also carried out in Germany at that time. Where injustice becomes right, resistance becomes a duty! The anti-nuclear movement grew, Gorleben and Wendland became a catchphrase and we peace activists became en vogue, at least among part of the population. At the same time, I questioned conventions and experimented in numerous areas such as diet, clothing and living arrangements. I was doing my own “experiments with truth”, so to speak. I had not read Gandhi's autobiography of the same name at the time. Up until then I knew very little about Gandhi, namely what we learned about Indian independence in school in a few hours.
My Indian colleague at the university and friend, Ravinder, who already took part in the “International Specialty Snack Bar” with his wife Nirmala, brought me closer to Indian culture and philosophy, which fascinated me as much as the tasty Indian meals from Nirmala. India became more and more interesting for me, also because I had already dealt a little with Gandhi as part of the peace movement. Since the travel bug had seized me since my youth, I accompanied Ravinder and his family on their next visit home, in January 1983. The following 10 weeks were to have a lasting impact on my life. At first glance, India seems like another planet to me. Upon arrival in New Delhi, we took a taxi to Ravinder's friends, where we spent the first night. This taxi ride was tough and I can still remember it today: I was sitting in the - fortunately - well-shielded tin can and life was bustling around me on the streets: dust, elephants, cars, camels, motorcycles, cows , bikes and everywhere ... people. I hadn't seen anything like that before. At first I really asked myself: what do I want here and was really happy that I was in the care of my friend and his family. They explained everything to me and that made it a lot easier for me to get started. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a traditional wedding in the first week, namely the wedding of Ravinder's brother Surinder. It was a special kind of experience, namely primarily a challenge to the senses: the band played unspeakably loud, the food smelled and tasted fabulous and I interpreted the colorful saris as an expression of joie de vivre. The wedding party, which consisted of several hundred participants, was in a good mood and everyone was very friendly to me. I soaked up the new life for myself from the first minute like a sponge. Until then, I didn't know so much, e.g. that you can eat with your fingers, which is even practiced by "modern" families. After that later became part of my flesh and blood, I really wondered what tools are needed for, like a knife and fork, to eat the food - completely superfluous! One can dose the food much better and feel the temperature when you eat with your fingers. It is also beneficial to sit on the floor while eating, as is traditionally done in India. The blood does not shoot from the head into the legs and makes us tired, but remains, more or less, in the horizontal. If you sit on your heel for a few minutes after eating (Vajrasana), the food can even be digested optimally. At the first meeting I was immersed in this completely different culture, in the daily routine, the customs, ways of thinking and the religions. India has so much to offer, especially if you come from a completely different culture. Values are being turned upside down and that has broadened my horizons enormously. This also promotes tolerance in dealing with other people and leads to the fact that you first look at something new without judgment and maybe learn from it. And I learned a lot! Traveling but especially being in India was a continuous learning process for me and the best university I could attend! The fact that I took the time to do this and adjusted my life accordingly fills me with great satisfaction today. And I am infinitely grateful that I was able to enjoy the - extraordinary - Indian hospitality and learn from the people. This first trip to India not only had a lasting impact on my life, it also changed it, changed it a lot - because I have changed. After a week in the sheltered environment of his family in Punjab, Ravinder gave me addresses of friends, acquaintances and relatives all over the country, whom I visited on my subsequent eight-week tour. From the north Indian Punjab I drove the west coast south to Kanya Kumari, the southern tip of India, and then the east coast up again to Calcutta. I spent a week in Nepal before returning to Punjab. Most of the time I lived with these wonderful people, with whom I had fantastic conversations about life in India, life in Germany and about God and the world. The warmth and openness with which they let me penetrate their life was a great opportunity for me to look at life from a different perspective. Usually three or even four generations lived under one roof and so I was able to gain insights into India before independence in numerous conversations with the old, while the younger generation was more interested in the western, consumer-oriented lifestyle. This range was exciting for me but as a 'peace-loving critic of civilization' I was more interested in recent Indian history and in particular the independence movement.
At the end of January 1983 I arrived in Bombay, now Mumbai, and was staying with an industrialist and his family. Right from the start I was impressed by how humble he lived and appeared. Not at all the image I had of a big businessman. Admittedly, I had never met an entrepreneur of this caliber personally before. We talked about life in India and he often spoke of Gandhi. He pointed me to the Gandhi Museum in the southern part of Bombay, Gamdevi, where Gandhi lived during his early stays in Bombay. Furthermore, there were numerous historical and very different areas and buildings in South Bombay, which I looked at with great interest. During my city walk I passed a large square where a large crowd was jostling in front of a cinema. I looked at the whole thing from a distance and saw how agitated the visitors to the show that had just ended came out of the cinema and how expectantly the crowd, impatiently waiting outside, streamed into the cinema. The title of the film that was shown here was "Gandhi", a feature film about the life and work of the 'Father of the Nation', Mahatma Gandhi. A film which had just opened in India and which would later receive seven Oscars. Of course, I also wanted to see the film, on the one hand out of interest in Gandhi's life, but also to experience the atmosphere in an Indian cinema, which was obviously so different from Europe. Since the film dealt with a topic that appealed to the general public, all screenings for the next few days were sold out, which tended to encourage my interest in seeing the film. I bought a ticket to see a performance in three days and continued my walking tour of Bombay. A short time later I reached Mani Bhavan, the Gandhi Museum in Bombay, which my host had recommended to me. Unfortunately, today was Monday, were many museums are closed. The old, well-preserved building is located in a beautiful, by Indian standards, quiet side street with old Laburnum ("Goldrain") trees that gave the street its name. An area I will be happy to return to. Bombay fascinated me from the beginning with its contrasts, the bustling, colourful markets, the beautiful, historic buildings from the colonial era, the modern skyscrapers of the super-rich, as well as the slums, where I experienced unspeakable misery. Amazingly, I saw more happy and laughing people in the poorer areas and slums than in the street canyons with the skyscrapers of the Indian elite. You can get lost quickly when you roam the countless alleys and side streets in Bombay with your eyes and ears open. After all, the city, like India as a whole, is an experience of the senses that we do not know from the Occident to the same extent: on the one hand, cruel noise that echoes through the streets and from the houses and, on the other hand, the finest sitar and veena music that touches the heart melt. On the one hand there was a stench that made me almost vomit, and on the other hand the sweet scent of the wax flower or the frangipani. On the one hand the sight of the cruel misery in the slums and on the other hand the wonderful architecture of a Taj Mahal and other very aesthetic results of Indian architecture. These extreme opposites captured me and moved me deeply. And now it was there, the day when I was supposed to see the inside of an Indian cinema for the first time! The Regal Cinema in Colaba, a district in southern Bombay, is a venerable, large cinema with an enormous capacity. Even though I have a ticket, I have to push myself in, just as I have to get used to the jostling everywhere: on the train, on the bus, in the shops, in the markets - everywhere. In the cinema, too, before the screening begins, there is a liveliness that we only know from football stadiums. And suddenly: silence! Everyone gets up to sing along loudly to the Indian national anthem. Since I didn't know too many details from Gandhi's life so far, I watched the film very carefully and was surprised that so much violence was shown in a film that was mainly about the 'Prophet of Nonviolence'. In my later, intensive study of the Indian independence movement, however, I was to learn that the reality was even more brutal and cruel than it was shown in Richard Attenborough's monumental work. Again and again my senses were distracted from the film when the audience cultivated collective outbursts of emotions: in fight scenes there was loud fighting and in sentimental scenes you could hear the whole cinema sobbing. A unique atmosphere! I liked that because it made the film even more impressive and moving for me. Gandhi was really great and I wanted to know more about him! The next day I went to the Gandhi Museum again. At first I was particularly impressed by the authenticity of the building: the room in which Gandhi 'resided' has been preserved as if he had just left it. Next to the large spinning wheel was Gandhi's mattress, on which he sat cross-legged during the day and handled mail at a small, almost level writing desk. Everything seemed very minimalistic but functional. So far, due to my involvement in the peace movement, I had gotten to know the political Gandhi. But now I also get a little insight into his living environment and his habits. I was very impressed by what I learned in the film and in the various exhibitions at the Gandhi Museum about the little man with round glasses. I bought Gandhi's autobiography in the museum shop, went to the museum's roof terrace and started reading - and read and read and read. I couldn't put the book aside because I was so amazed by Gandhi's views. In a very simple and accessible language, Gandhi expressed what I had in my head up to now in fragments. He referred to almost all aspects of life and described an ideal society, for which I had already started working in Berlin. Above all, I was impressed by his personal experiments with truth (title of the autobiography), which I had already started in my own way. I experimented with nutrition, fasted regularly and preferred to surround myself with things that I had made or repaired myself. Human rights, renouncing consumption, environmental protection and recycling already had a place in my life at that time. And now Gandhi was added, who was not only able to write very catchy about an ideal society, but also lived it in his life and thus showed that it is possible to rebel massively against injustices and to work for a better community. In this respect, the acquaintance with Gandhi did not change my life, but reinforced the tendency that was already prevalent - and how! Shortly before the Gandhi Museum closed, I left the roof terrace and met the then President of the museum, Dr. Usha Mehta. I told her about my tour and shared my enthusiasm for Gandhi with her fresh as a dew. She gave me addresses of Gandhi institutions that were on the way of my upcoming tour and we said goodbye. I left the museum feeling that my life has just made a quantum leap.
On my further trip I dealt in detail with the life and work of Gandhi and visited the ashrams, museums, social and educational institutions suggested by Ushabehn (sister Usha). I had interesting conversations with Gandhi social workers, co-workers and relatives of Gandhi. For me, the concept of peace, as it was laid down in the Vedas thousands of years ago, was and is very catchy: first to create peace with oneself, then with one's immediate environment and then with the entire universe. This went together with the concepts propagated in the West at the time: “Think globally, act locally”, “Small is beautiful”, “High thinking, simple living” and “Live simply, so that others simply can live”. But it went far beyond that. Everything I learned these days made so much sense and convinced me to live a life of simplicity in the service of society. There was nothing in Gandhi's concept that I couldn't understand and hardly anything that I couldn't accept for myself. 'Satya', living a true life, 'Ahimsa', non-violence in thought and action, 'Sarvodaya', the welfare of all, 'Satyagraha', adherence to the truth, 'Swadeshi', consumption and use exclusively local products, etc., etc. Gandhi developed a holistic system in which, in his time, he presented approaches to solutions and instructions for action for problems that, if you look closely, still exist today. There is still great injustice and violence in various forms in society, we are facing a nuclear and ecological catastrophe, the power of weapons of mass destruction is stronger than ever and many animal and plant species have already been irrevocably exterminated. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to transfer Gandhi's thoughts and deeds to the present day and to recognize the relevance of the worldview he exemplified and propagated. In any case, it was immediately clear to me that an intelligent transfer of Gandhi's thoughts to the present day, in all its facets, is necessary in order to solve the great, existential problems and also in order to work towards an ideal society.
On this, my first trip to India, I visited projects that were ecological in the sense of Gandhi. They practiced agriculture, made decisions based on the principle of consensus, and largely made their own clothes and everything else they needed for life. I was enthusiastic about this life and about the personalities who lived and conveyed these values. In addition, I was impressed with the works created by Gandhi's biographer, Vithalbhai K. Jhaveri. He presented Gandhi's entire life in detail, which meant that you had to allow half a day for the photo exhibition in Delhi, the documentary took over 5 hours and the pictorial biography had 8 volumes with over 500 pages each! In addition, Jhaveri has an absolutely unique selling point with this multimedia approach. With both, the comprehensive and the multimedia approach, Jhaveri convinced me and later became a constant inspiration with a role model in my public relations work.
What I had just learned and experienced filled me with enthusiasm and the realization that the Gandhi image prevailing in the West is inadequate and needs to be completed. I was convinced that many of my fellow men in Germany could benefit from Gandhi's life and work in a variety of ways, if only they had the opportunity to study in depth. And I felt it was my job to take on this mission. I also wanted to share my own enthusiasm for Gandhi's views with others. But how can this best be done? The first thought was to translate into German the small books published by Navajivan Publishing House in Ahmedabad on various aspects of Gandhi's worldview. However, that would only have reached a small part of society, namely those who read books. In my opinion, however, Gandhi would be of interest to anyone, of any age or origin, if he/she were willing to study Gandhi in depth. An exhibition seemed to me to be the better medium to reach a broad section of the population. Photos, diagrams, tables, texts, newspaper articles and caricatures could be presented here and films were shown and lectures held in the accompanying program. There is sure to be something for everyone!
After my return at the end of March 1983, I got down to work: first I needed partner for this project, because I had no experience in exhibition construction and organization or public work, just a very strong desire to share with my countrymen what I had just experienced in India, in form of an exhibition. As part of a peace week, I met three students at the FU Berlin (Free University of Berlin) who were also interested in Gandhi and wanted to take part in the project. Samantha, Mushtaq, Christian and I then spent the following months making display boards, getting photos and other exhibition materials, organizing an extensive program of events and doing public relations work. I financed the whole thing out of my own pocket so as not to waste energy and time on fundraising. I had my job at the university and I was of the opinion that if the exhibition was successful, the costs would be covered by donations. This has partly come true and we were intensively busy for around 10 months with the creation and organization of the first comprehensive exhibition about the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi in Germany.
The first exhibition on Gandhi's life and work in Germany was finally inaugurated on January 30, 1984, the 36th anniversary of Gandhi's death, on the premises of the UFA factory, an area that was still occupied at the time and which Universum Film AG used as a copy facility and archive for films before World War II. The squatters of the UFA had good ideas for an alternative life and an alternative culture business and thus put some of Gandhi's ideas into practice. We couldn't have asked for a better venue! A small but fine cinema, in which the exhibition was opened, was part of the site. In the run-up to the event, there was an incident worth mentioning: the Indian consul arrived in his large black limousine an hour before the start of the event, which caused a lot of sensation. The former UFA factory - today an established international cultural center, which has become an integral part of the Berlin cultural landscape - consisted of a few workshops, a café, a bakery, sports and theater rooms that the bourgeois neighborhood described as dingy. The presence of an official representative of India automatically meant an upgrading of the illegally occupied area. The consul, Mr. Chakravarty, went to see the exhibition and we tried his hand at the upcoming event. Since the seating in the cinema of the UFA-Fabrik was getting on in years, as was the whole area, the chair on which the consul sat failed and collapsed. In his opening speech, the ingenious Juppy, the figurehead of the UFA factory, referred to this incident and said “During the rehearsal, the consul collapsed with his chair. An exchange was done immediatly.” Which caused a lot of laughter in the audience - including the consul. At the end, Juppy said “Nichts wie hin, du, zu Gandhi”, which unfortunately cannot be translated adequately into English. Since our public relations work was obviously not that bad, around 10,000 visitors came to the 'Berlin Gandhi Month' at the beginning of 1984, which prompted us to extend it for a month. Parallel to the exhibition there were lectures by well-known Gandhi experts and activists as well as two films: Attenborough's GANDHI and Vithalbhai Jhaveri's 5-hour documentary MAHATMA. The first exhibition on the premises of the UFA factory was a success. Informally, we had already founded the Gandhi Information Center, which was initially operated on a private initiative. It was not until 1991 that it became a non-profit association. For the first exhibition presentation, we produced a small exhibition catalog ourselves. When it was then foreseeable that further exhibitions would follow, a very detailed, over 300-page compilation was created, entitled “my life is my message - the life and work of M.K. Gandhi”. It was published by Graswurzelrevolution Publishing House. The book contained a chronology of Gandhi's life, photos, caricatures, quotes, newspaper articles and testimony from contemporary witnesses. It served as an exhibition catalog, but was also popular with people who were interested in Gandhi or who worked on him. One of the tasks of the Gandhi Information Center in the pre-Internet era was to network scientists and students who worked on Gandhi, activists and other interested parties. Although we were a small group with limited resources, we quickly made a name for ourselves in the networking arena, and our information and materials were in demand from around the world.
I enjoyed the public relations and archive work and so I was the first in the public service in Berlin to do job sharing and share my full-time position. Since my superior professor in the Institute for Theoretical Chemistry had a lot of sympathy for my off-duty activities, he allowed me to work quarterly in blocks, i.e. three months full-time work and then three months off. If I ended the last quarter of the year with a free block and started the first quarter of the new year with a free block, I had half a year off during which I could immerse myself even deeper into life in India. The first exhibition in Berlin was followed by more, more than 70 in total, and I was always looking for better visuals about Gandhi.
My second trip to India took me from Bombay to South India, where I visited Gandhian projects together with the co-founder of the Gandhi Information Center, Christian Bartolf. On the way back to the north we stopped in Wardha, where Gandhi's Satyagraha Ashram, popularily known as Sevagram Ashram, was located and also Vinoba's women's ashram Brahma Vidya Mandir. While Gandhi's ashram is now a museum, the ashram of Vinoba Bhave in Paunar, 7 km away from Gandhi's ashram, is an active living ashram. Brahma Vidya Mandir was converted from Vinoba to a women's ashram in the 1960s, in which decisions are made based on the principle of consensus. In fact, this facility is a 'laboratory for an ideal society' as it describes itself and is well worth a visit for those interested. The approximately 30 women live largely self-sufficient and devote themselves to spiritual growth. To do this, they have left their families, their careers and their possessions behind. I also visited the Ashram many times later and really appreciated the interaction with the residents, as their life experience and knowledge have enriched me. But there were also men living in the ashram such as the secretary of Vinoba or Gautam Bajaj, a member of the Bajaj family, who provided Gandhi and Vinoba with the land for their communities.
The bookstore was managed by S.V. Govindan, a close collaborator of Vinoba, with whom I quickly got into conversation. From the mid-1940s, Govindanji, as I was respectfully allowed to call him, first lived in Gandhi's Sevagram Ashram and then accompanied Vinoba on his marches of the land and village gift movement across India, before he met Vinoba and the other associates of Vinoba in Brahma Vidya Mandir in 1959, the 'temple of education'. In addition to the personal experience he had with Gandhi and Vinoba, I was amazed by his yoga skills and knowledge of Indian scriptures. He was able to recite the Vedas, especially Ayurveda, and Vinoba was also impressed by his art of massage. Govindanji spoke English well, and had skills and knowledge that I believed would attract interest in the West as well. Govindanji had not yet left India until then, but he showed me an invitation to an international yoga conference in Italy, which he will soon be attending. I didn't think about it for long and then invited him to Berlin after the yoga conference. We had five fabulous events with him about Vinoba, Gandhi, Ayurveda, his Ashram and Yoga. Since he also enjoyed imparting his knowledge, we had him as our guests several times in the following years.
His teacher Vinoba was considered a universal genius: he spoke numerous languages and knew all sciences. His books became bestsellers in India and beyond. When Vinoba suffered a heart attack on November 8, 1982, he realized that he was approaching death and refused to take any medication or any further food. He passed away a week later. Vinoba would have said: his soul has freed itself from its aging body.
Vinoba's brother, Shivaji Bhave, moved to the Ashram after Vinoba's death and in some ways succeeded him, more as a senior than as a spiritual leader. Shivaji recommended that we go to Rajkot, where several relatives and co-workers of Gandhi lived, including his friend Prabhudas Gandhi and also Gandhi's personal photographer Kanu Gandhi. Both lived in the "School of the Nation" founded by Gandhi - Rashtriyashala. So we drove west to the state of Gujarat, where Gandhi was born and grew up. First we met Prabhudas Gandhi. His parents were Chhaganlal and Kashiba Gandhi, who were among the founders of 'passive resistance' in South Africa, which later became 'active nonviolent resistance'. Chhaganlal was a great cousin of Gandhi and later became the first manager of Gandhi's Satyagraha Ashram near Ahmedabad. His son Prabhudas was born in 1901 and grew up with the sons of Gandhi in the Phoenix settlement he founded. Prabhudas should work closely with Gandhi throughout his life. The Gandhi family claims of him that he understood Gandhi best and implemented his values as far as possible in his own life. Indeed, Prabhudas was very much like Gandhi. Japanese television even used his shadow to feature Gandhi in a documentary. Prabhudas, then 85 years old, spoke excellent English, although he never went to formal school. His teachers were Gandhi in South Africa and later in India Mirabehn, Vinoba and Kaka Kalelkar, another learned collaborator of Gandhi. For us Prabhudas appeared on the one hand like a encyclopedia of Gandhi's ideas, life and deeds, and on the other hand he was also a good living example of the values that Gandhi stood up for: humanity, mercy, humility, helpfulness and a simple, God-centered Life. Gandhi's goal was to see God face to face and to create a Kingdom of God on Earth ('Ramraj'). We enjoyed meeting Prabhuad's Gandhi and I knew we would meet again. Then we went to his neighbour, Kanu Gandhi. Kanu Gandhi was in his late 60s and very fit. He was a great-nephew of Gandhi, who had lived with him since 1936 in Sevagram Ashram in central India and whose photograf he was. He was the only one allowed to take photos of Gandhi in any situation, under three conditions: 1) no flash was allowed, 2) Gandhi would not pose and 3) Gandhi would not finance his great-nephew's hobby. From the beginning, Kanu was forced to sell his photos of the Mahatma to newspapers. He made a name for himself with it and a few of his photos became known outside of India. The young Kanu received the camera from the industrialist G.D. Birla, and Gandhi had given him a darkroom on the ashram site. This resulted in over 1300 photos of Gandhi, some of them very personal. Kanu was married to Abha, one of the two 'living walking sticks', as Gandhi called them, in whose arms Gandhi died and who, like Kanu, was one of the Mahatma's closest collaborators. It was a sublime moment when Kanu proudly showed me his photos. All 5 x 5 cm contact sheets were glued into albums and Kanu and Abha could tell a story for each picture. I had the impression that I would experience the time with Gandhi and his surroundings together with them! Their eyes shone, remembering what they themselves called 'the best time of their life'. Gandhi once put the relationship between the three as follows: “We are three bodies but one soul.” Kanu and Abha came to Gandhi's Sevagram Ashram as adolescents and Gandhi arranged the marriage of the two. On Gandhi's numerous trips, they took care of his luggage as well as Gandhi's wife Kasturba. They acted as his secretary and closest collaborator. After Gandhi's death, they went to Kanu's hometown of Rajkot and founded the Kasturba Ashram nearby, where Gandhi's experimentation in self-sufficiency, informal education and the development and use of environmentally friendly technologies continued. We agreed to meet again next year and continue the exchange. Unfortunately, fate should thwart our plans. But more on that later.
From Rajkot we took the train to Delhi. My friend Christian returned to Germany and I took the bus to Kathmandu in Nepal. In Kathmandu I had an appointment with an Austrian film team to take part as a 'Gandhian advisor' in a TV production about Mirabehn (an English colleague of Gandhi), the Chipko movement (“Hug the trees”) and ecology in the Himalayas. *1 But this bus trip turned out to be an unexpected great adventure. It started when the intercity bus, which had seen better days, was completely overloaded at the bus station in Old Delhi by Nepalis who worked in India and drove home. Chickens, furniture, boxes with clothing and food were stowed on the roof and in the interior, using every free square centimeter. One hour late, the bus then left at 5 p.m. in the late afternoon. Since there were bomb attacks in Delhi that day, the exit roads were strictly controlled. Every few kilometers we passed a barrier and the bus, including its passengers and their luggage, was inspected by uniformed men. It took different lengths of time from lock to lock and I had the impression that the two bus drivers - interestingly enough - could exert a certain influence on it. Personally, I had no contact with corruption in India, I just knew that it existed and had the impression that it was being applied here. When we had left the greater Delhi area and numerous controls behind us, the bus stopped again abruptly, with some poorly fastened cookware and furniture becoming independent and falling through the area: the aging bus had a flat tire. In the meantime it was dark and we were 'in the middle of nowhere'. However, the drivers soon fixed the breakdown with rather inadequate tools but more skill and experience and the journey could continue. Since a lot of time was lost through the controls and breakdowns, the drivers decided to take a shortcut and enter Nepal via a smaller border crossing. When we arrived at this crossing, however, we were informed that the control of the bus can only be carried out in daylight and that we would have to wait until the next morning. Whatever we did then, for better or for worse. Of course there was no guest house or hotel in the vicinity where you could have got a comfortable bed and so we had to rely on the bus for overnight accommodation, also because of the cool temperatures. All seats on the bus were occupied and the aisles and overhead lockers were overloaded with goods. So we had no opportunity to take a comfortable sleeping position, but instead 'slept' in the same position that we had assumed several hours ago in Delhi. At daybreak the bus was then examined in great detail and we were able to continue our journey on May 12th. I still remember the day clearly, because it was my 28th birthday and the adventure shouldn't be over yet ... It went straight through Nepal with many switchbacks, gorges and - to put it mildly - inadequate road conditions. The latter almost became our doom: a broken bridge that crossed a river and the drivers decided to cross the river by bus, which was the only way to continue the journey. The river didn't have much water and everyone hoped that the high-lying bus with the big tires would get through it - but it didn't. The bus got stuck in the middle of the river and didn't move an inch. The drivers gave everything. They tried to move the bus back and forth, but it seemed to get buried deeper and deeper in the river mud. Even getting out and walking to the bank was not possible due to the water level, and certainly not with luggage. So we waited for things. There were no mobile phones, internet or GPS at this time. The mainly Nepalese passengers did not panic, but rather calmly accepted the situation. Perhaps, unlike me, they didn't experience it for the first time. Although I could no longer keep my appointment with the TV team in Kathmandu, I leaned back, relaxed, and looked at this peculiar situation with happy interest, after all, it was my birthday! After a while, a tractor came by out of the blue and agreed to try to pull the bus out of the river. After several unsuccessful attempts it actually worked and we were able to continue our journey - again. We reached Kathmandu with a considerable delay and I was able to join the TV team. We celebrated my birthday and laughed heartily when I told them about my adventurous journey. The next two weeks were exciting for me because it was the first long TV production that I was involved in. The Austrian geologist and journalist Herbert Tichy, who was the first to drive a motorcycle from Europe to India in the mid-1930s (as a passenger) and then lived in India for many years, spun the thread through the show. He knew what the regions we visited in the Himalayas looked like 50 years ago and was able to describe firsthand the now very advanced environmental degradation. In many places only the bare rock could be seen where there was a dense forest at that time. With increasing illegal deforestation in the subsequent rainy season, the mother earth covering the rock was washed away, which leads to avalanches and floods in the valley, which in turn destroys neighbouring agriculture and forest. Afforestation in this region is then no longer possible and the habitat for the mountain population, who already live in simple conditions, is irretrievably destroyed.
Mirabehn was born Madeleine Slade in England in 1892. She was the daughter of a British admiral and dedicated herself to Beethoven's music from an early age. She organized concerts and read with enthusiasm the Beethoven biography of the French writer Romain Rolland, whom she visited in Switzerland in the early 1920s. Rolland mentioned a new biography of Gandhi that he had just finished and gave it to young Madeleine to read. This literary encounter with Gandhi was the turning point in her life: she wanted to go to Gandhi! Madeleine wrote to him and he invited her to his Satyagraha Ashram near Ahmedabad, provided that she first familiarized herself with Indian customs: sleeping on the floor, sitting cross-legged on the floor, eating with her fingers, etc. At the end of 1925 Madeleine reached India and was given the spiritual name Mirabehn ("Sister Mira") by Gandhi. Mirabehn also belonged to Gandhi's inner circle of employees and lived with him as far as possible in his ashrams. After Gandhi's death, she devoted herself to environmental protection and in particular to preserving the trees in the Himalayas. Although Mirabehn was active in the Indian independence movement, as a foreigner she was not officially recognized as an 'independence fighter' and did not receive the state pension she required. In protest, Mirabehn left India in 1959, initially for England. A year later she settled near Beethoven's grave in the Austrian Vienna Woods, where she died in 1982. The Chipko movement is also dedicated to protecting trees. One of its protagonists is the journalist Sunderlal Bahuguna, with whom Mirabehn was friends. The TV team brought the ashes of Mirabehn with them from Austria and in a dignified ceremony they were given by Bahuguna's spiritual teacher, Swami Chidananda Saraswati from the Hindu Divine Life Society, near Rishikesh on the Ganges. Herbert Tichy also attended the ceremony, who was also very close friends with Mirabehn.
After the TV recordings, I visited Sunderlal Bahuguna and accompanied him on a hike through the villages in the lower reaches of the Himalayas. The aim was to talk to the village population about an environmentally friendly way of life and the protection of trees. Our group consisted of about 10 participants. In the good Indian pilgrimage tradition, we had neither money nor food with us. When we reached a village, we first knocked on the front door and asked for “Do roti do” - two flatbreads, please. The request was rarely denied and so we came into good contact with the mountain population. However, most people had problems with the idea of changing their traditional and not always environmentally friendly way of life. For example, the Indian government supported the introduction of cooking stoves in which the smoke that is generated is directed outside. This was only approved by a few, because according to the mountain population, the smoke that is produced helps against the insects. That certainly cannot be denied, but neither can the fact denied that many people develop lung diseases and die from them early. Sunderlal Bahuguna later visited us several times at the Gandhi Information Center in Berlin and gave lectures on the Chipko movement and ecology in the Himalayas.
* 1 : The title of the production was "Embracing trees - Mirabehn and the destruction of forests in the Himalayas" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ksuQ_KeMBU
So far I had traveled through India by public transport and now I wanted to get to know the country by bicycle. On my visit in 1986, together with my friend Jutta, I set out from Ahmedabad to Rajkot in Gujarat; but not on the busy main road but on small side roads, where we came through sleepy villages and found a still very traditional India. We were greeted by the population with the typical "Ram, Ram" and everywhere we were met in a friendly and benevolent manner, although with a bit of incomprehension why we rich Westerners drove sweating through India on a bike and not in an air-conditioned limousine. Our interest in Indian villages and, above all, in Gandhi's ideas were very well received in his home country, even if some were surprised that Gandhi is known outside of India at all. Our stable Hero bikes, which we called 'Hero-Mercedes', carried us reliably from village to village and after a week we had reached Rajkot, where I was very much looking forward to seeing Kanu and Prabhudas Gandhi and their families again. The joy was clouded, however, as Kanu Gandhi had succumbed to a heart attack the week before. Jutta travelled back to Germany and I took part in the 12-day funeral meetings in the house of Abha and Kanu Gandhi. In contrast to the western world, or what I knew about it, the grief was over after 12 days and everybody went back to business. Abha Gandhi told me more stories from her interesting life. Many of them are published in a Hindi book. "Our Days With Bapu" is the English translation. As at the Sevagram Ashram back then, Kanu also had a photo laboratory in Rajkot, because he worked as a commercial photographer and photographed the population after Gandhi's death. During her husband's lifetime, Abhabehn had rarely entered his photo laboratory, so it was a special moment when she and I entered the nearby laboratory. Abhabehn (Sister Abha), as she was commonly called, unlocked the door and there were thousands of photos in a 30 square meter room: on the floor, on shelves and in cupboards. Since Kanu continued to supply the world with photos of Gandhi, it was mainly pictures of the Mahatma that we saw. Since I had been looking for good picture material of Gandhi for a few years, my eyes naturally passed over in view of the variety and quality of the photos. When I asked Abhabehn after a while what she wanted to do with the photos, she said that she had a copy of every picture in her apartment in the album, which was enough for her. She would throw away the rest, i.e. the thousands of prints we were in the middle of, because she would soon have to rent out the apartment that had been converted into a laboratory in order to generate income. I didn't have to think twice to make her an offer and buy most of the pictures from her. In the weeks that followed, we sat together every day and worked out the captions as far as she could remember. In her opinion, her husband had left no record of the pictures. She tried hard to remember the respective situation, where and when the picture was taken and who could be seen in it, but the decades had already clouded her memory a little. In any case, I was happy that I was able to secure the - important - photos of Gandhi's personal photographer and use them for our public work in Germany. Since my first stay in Rajkot, I have been living regularly with the family of Prabhudas Gandhi, in the immediate vicinity of Abha Gandhi. Four generations lived here in a confined space under one roof - and now me too. I got on well with everyone and learned a lot about Gujarat, India and Gandhi. Above all, I have developed a very close and friendly relationship with Prabhudasbhai, despite the age difference of 55 years. He became my mentor, whose advice I sought and respected in every situation in life. As a recognized fighter for Indian independence, Prabhudas had a passport that allowed him to travel across the country by first class train. Although he was a close student of Gandhi - or perhaps because of it - he always had numerous items of luggage with him, such as his mobile spinning wheel, his bedding and his writing utensils. In his family, Prabhudasbhai was considered a complicated travel partner and nobody wanted to accompany him on his travels, where he liked to visit old companions and interesting projects. For me there was no greater joy than touring the country with my friend and teacher on the train and learning a lot from him. Needless to say, his humanity, his common sense and his life experience made me feel very comfortable in his presence. There was a kindred spirit between us, which made us look at the world in a cheerful and positive way through what we had together. We visited many interesting places and projects all over the country together, but most of all we enjoyed the time together. I was interested in his life, his views and his time with Gandhi and he was pleased with my interest and growing understanding of the time and the context in which it all took place. Above all, he could still remember the time in South Africa, when Gandhi's experiments did not always meet with understanding from his colleagues. However, even as a child, Prabhudasbhai had a basic trust in Gandhi and was often the only one who was willing to make himself available for his experiments. This concerned areas of nutrition, clothing and naturopathy, in which Gandhi acquired a great deal of knowledge and experience. Naturopathy, the use of exclusively natural elements for healing and maintaining health, was Gandhi's specialty. His “Guide to Health” would later become a bestseller and was even printed in large numbers by the Italian government in the 1980s and distributed free of charge. In the Phoenix settlement near Durban, Gandhi also taught his own children and the children of his roommates, and so Prabhudasbhai was brought up and trained as Gandhi's 'fifth son'. Prabhudasbhai also told me that the Phoenix settlement was in the immediate vicinity of John Dube, who had appropriated the black cause, while Gandhi focused exclusively on Indian rights in South Africa. Both exchanged their experiences on a regular basis and so Gandhi was always up to date with the situation of blacks, even if the Indian affair fully filled him. After all, he did not come to South Africa as a civil rights activist, but as a young, shy and inexperienced lawyer, the first in the Indian community to slowly grow into his role as a representative of Indian rights in South Africa.
Of the numerous trips I have made with Prabhudasbhai over the years, two particularly stuck in my memory: In the mid-1980s, Gujarat found itself in a period of drought that drove many farmers to suicide. The entire rural population was doing badly, but especially the people living in the Barda Mountains near Porbandar. Prabhudasbhai and I went there to find out what people needed most. In the rough terrain there were no paths or roads, we had to move around by camel. A camel was made available to us, on which we both went to the very scattered houses of the village population. Prabhudasbhai talked to the people and I also had the opportunity to learn more about them. The rather remote tribal population surprisingly showed an interest in spinning, something they did not know before. And that, although Gandhi only saw the light of day a few kilometers further, in Porbandar, and spinning was a mission for him! After our return to Rajkot, money was collected and food, grain, spinning wheels and cotton were delivered to the Barda Mountains. On another multi-day train journey we drove from Rajkot to Delhi. When we were shortly before Agra, Prabhudasbhai told me that he had last seen the Taj Mahal 60 years ago. In no time at all we packed our things and got off in Agra. We deposited our luggage in the guest house at the train station and took a rickshaw to the Taj Mahal. So far I had only known the famous building, which is first associated with India worldwide - Gandhi comes second -, only from slide shows and illustrated books and thought that I didn't necessarily have to visit it. But the opportunity to see it together with my mentor was a special one and so we waited expectantly into the queue, which consisted mainly of Indian but also a few foreign tourists. With slow steps we approached the imposing mausoleum, which is located on the bank of the Jamuna River, which the Indian Mughal Shah Jahan had built in the 17th century as a tomb for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. It was only then that I became aware of the beauty of this unique building! The symmetries and inlay work, the colours and the spacious interior, which also houses the grave of Shah Jahan, overwhelmed us and we have not regretted leaving the train headlong and spending the night in the simple train station guest house . The next day we continued our journey, but we will remember the Taj Mahal forever!
From Delhi we went on to Wardha in central India, which can undoubtedly be called the 'Gandhi center', as there are over 200 projects in and around Wardha that can be traced back to Gandhi. Above all, it were the personal encounters that were important to Prabhudasbhai: in the Sevagram Ashram we met Gandhi's daughter-in-law, Nirmala, who was married to Gandhi's son Ramdas and was the head of the ashram. And in the nearby ashram of Vinoba Bhave the two old friends Shivaji and Prabhudasbhai met again and together we drove to the house of Madalsabehn Bajaj, the daughter of the treasurer of the Indian National Congress, Jamnalal Bajaj. She was inspired by Gandhi and Vinoba and brought their concepts into her social engagement. As the wife of the former governor of Gujarat, Shriman Narayan, her ideas were also taken into account in Indian education policy. An education that is based on lasting values and serves to develop hands, hearts and heads was advocated by Gandhi and should be imparted in politics as per Madalsabehn. Her house in Gopuri was like a museum and a temple: she had a large photo collection and a huge library, which was, however, housed in the adjacent Mahila Ashram (girls' ashram), and numerous films that she stored in a temple-like corner on the terrace. For a while the sun shone directly on this area every day and I suspected that the celluloid films would suffer. I therefore advised Madalsabehn to have the films dubbed onto video in good time, which, after remembering several times, she did a few years later. That was a good thing, because she kept putting the films back in her terrace temple and when I wanted to watch the film rolls again after several years, there was only a sticky mass in the metal cans. As a thank you for letting me know in good time, I received a copy of the copied films. I found time and again that the owners of original letters, documents, photos or films are very fond of the materials, but that they often don't know how to store them well to withstand the challenges of the aggressive Indian climate. I felt that I could provide assistance with my technical knowledge and a penchant for archiving. Time and again, in conversations with eyewitnesses, which I also recorded occasionally, I was shown original materials that were in a more or less good condition. I had the impression that the Indian Gandhi museums did not go to great lengths to identify these materials, to preserve them and then to make them available for science and publications. I had a key experience in Rajkot that prompted me to look more closely at securing Gandhi's original materials: I found out from a photo studio that they were supposed to have a picture of Gandhi and went to see it. In the meantime, the son had taken over the business, who informed me upon request that his father had taken a picture of Gandhi and that he would look for it at home. I should come back in 3 days, which of course I did. When I entered the photo studio, the owner saw me, grabbed a large-format glass negative and came towards me beaming with joy. When he was about to show me the negative, it slipped out of his fingers, fell on the tile floor, and broke into a thousand pieces. Since there were no prints from this motif, it was now erased. From then on it became my passion to save as much original material as possible under the motto “Search and Research”.
Since my first trip to India, I was very impressed by Vithalbhai Jhaveri's work on Gandhi and I wanted to meet him now. I wrote to him from Germany, but got no answer. A mutual friend, the then director of Mani Bhavan in Bombay, Licykutty Bharucha, agreed to organize a meeting, but also told me that he had a serious kidney disease and needed weekly dialysis, which made him very weak. When I got to Bombay, she sadly explained to me that Jhaveri had passed away a week ago. I was also saddened by the news, but I resolved to pay a visit to the family on my next visit to India.
My football career at the Jewish club TuS Makkabi only lasted two years but my interest in Israel and Judaism continued. I have been traveling to the Holy Land annually since 1979 and dealt with German history, the Holocaust, the situation of the Palestinians and Israeli politics. The - small - country has so much to offer for someone who travels the world with open eyes and ears. My first visit came after the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel at Camp David and the peace talks between Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. It was a time of new beginnings and hope for peaceful coexistence in the violent region. The Israeli peace movement Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) was strong, as was the socialist opposition, which was pressing for recognition of the Palestinian territories. The radio ship Voice of Peace ("From somewhere in the Mediterranean") by former professional pilot Abie Nathan, who was from Persia and grew up in India, was known to everyone in Israel and linked the daily - independent - news with the hope of an early, lasting peace. The founder of the kibbutz movement, Avraham Lissod, shared his hope for a peaceful Israel with me, as did the Haifa-based violinist Joseph Abileah, who was the first conscientious objector to achieve relative prominence in Israel. The Quaker was a non-violent peace activist and avowed pacifist who, together with his friend Yehudi Menuhin, founded the Society for a Middle East Confederation in 1971, which advocates a political union between Israel and its Arab neighbors. I stayed with Joseph Abileah on my visits to Haifa as he was Servas host. Servas International is an international, non-governmental federation of national Servas groups, a system of hosts and travelers built to promote world peace, mutual support and recognition, and understanding for one another by providing opportunities for deeper and more personal contact with people from other cultures. The organization was founded by Danish students after World War II and had a quote from Gandhi as its motto: "With every true friendship we build the foundations on which peace in the whole world rests." I was registered with Servas as a traveler and host and as a result I met many interesting people while traveling and at home and broadened my horizons. A big advantage of Servas is that the whole thing happens without exchanging money. A traveler is allowed to stay a maximum of 3 days and is expected to take part in the everyday life of the host in order to get to know the culture and society better. In Israel in particular, I had numerous interesting encounters as a Servas traveler, e.g. with the wonderful Joseph Abileah, who - involuntarily - helped me to another key experience. I lived with my friend Nurit in Tel Aviv who worked during the day. So, I wanted to spend the day of my birthday with Joseph Abileah in Haifa. We had easily arranged to meet in advance and I took the bus to Haifa in the morning, which takes about an hour. In Haifa I went to the house where Joseph had a rather small apartment, but nobody was at home. There weren't any cell phones back then, so I couldn't get in touch with him. I spent the day in the streets and parks of Haifa, which was my favorite city at the time. I was concerned for Joseph, felt alone, and did not enjoy my birthday. I felt that the most beautiful place is of no value if you are not together or at least in contact with people you like. In the afternoon I took the bus back to Tel Aviv, then over the phone I heard that Joseph had an important short-term appointment today that he could not postpone and that he was fine. I had a nice birthday evening with Nurit and quickly forgot the experience. But later it came up again and again on various occasions, even in moments - or especially then - when I was surrounded by friends and felt good!
In Israel I met numerous peace activists from both camps who were peace-minded. However, I was shocked at how little the general population knew about each other. The media - loyal to the government - had obviously done a good job and presented the respective enemy as the great monster that had to be destroyed. My impression after numerous conversations with Palestinians and Israelis was that both sides wanted to live in peace with their families and that the continual excesses of violence would have an end. So it was clear that it was due to a lack of encounters between the two sides, which made it easier to maintain prejudices. With my fresh interest in the life and work of Gandhi, I wanted to set an example and positively influence the communication process. To my amazement, there were around 40,000 Jews of Indian descent in Israel in the mid-1980s, which at the time had a total population of 4 million. I made contact with the Indian community and met scientists at several universities and research institutions who were working on Gandhi. In the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement I had already met some activists interested in Gandhi and so it was not difficult to accommodate the idea of a Gandhi exhibition. I also met Hermann Kallenbach's niece in Haifa, who was very supportive of the exhibition project. Kallenbach was a German-Jewish architect who lived in South Africa and was very successful there. He sympathized with Gandhi's ideas and gave him the land for the Tolstoy farm near Johannesburg. Kallenbach was one of Gandhi's closest friends in South Africa and a close confidante. Kallenbach remained unmarried and childless, but loved his niece Isa, who lived in Haifa, more than anything. Isa visited him regularly in South Africa in the 1930s and learned a lot about Gandhi. Kallenbach was buried in Haifa. His niece Isa, whom I met for the first time in 1986 and who gave me an insight into her treasure chest, inherited his rich archive. I was allowed to copy the photo archive and helped her sort the materials. She later had parts of the archive, namely the Gandhi-Kallenbach correspondence, auctioned in England, which caused some uproar among Gandhi supporters. Very few people know that most of the proceeds from the auction were used to set up the first vegetarian restaurant in Tel Aviv. I helped her son Eli set up the restaurant, but couldn't prevent the restaurant from closing a year later. The time was not yet ripe for a vegetarian restaurant in Israel. Today it would probably be a gold mine! Back to the exhibition: it became the first non-artistic exhibition in the region where Israelis and Palestinians worked together. In three months we put together an interesting trilingual photo exhibition - Hebrew, Arabic and English - about the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi. The Indian community actively helped, as did the Israeli branch of the International Felowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence (PCSN). A preparatory meeting for the exhibition was held in Ramallah. It was the first time that members of IFOR went to the territories occupied by Israel. There was tension in the air at this encounter, because our cars were easily identified as "Israeli" by the yellow number plates, while the Palestinian cars had green number plates. Presumably, however, it was recognized that we were on a peace mission and so there were no incidents. The head of the PCSN, Dr. Mubarak Awad, was also involved in organizing the first Intifada (uprising, rebellion, resistance), which was originally supposed to be nonviolent. Many copies of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's autobiography were printed and distributed among the Palestinians to convince them of the need for nonviolence. Khan was a Muslim Pashtun leader in the border area between Afghanistan and India (later Pakistan), who was a great supporter of Gandhi and who independently set up a nonviolent army of 100,000 soldiers. Thus he is an ideal model for nonviolent resistance in the recent history of Islam. The exhibitions that I had organized in Europe up to then fell under the category of "culture" or "history" and were peaceful events. The day before the exhibition opened, I realized that this was different in Israel when I was asked if I had informed the Israeli army about the event. Wow, no, I hadn't done that and didn't even give it a thought, as it was a peace-oriented event! At the opening event I realized that this question was justified. Fortunately, we quickly took security measures. Speakers from all the camps involved had their say about the importance of Gandhi and the need to pacify this crisis and war-torn region. The mixed audience, around 250 people, had been listening attentively to the speakers by then. Then came the speaker of the Israeli branch of IFOR, which called for a minute's silence for the Palestinian victims of Israeli war policy. That was too much for some of the Israelis in the audience. They protested loudly and were very emotionally charged. It was thanks to the presence of some soldiers that there were no outbreaks of violence. Some of those present left the room cursing loudly, but then it was quiet again and the event could continue. In the following month, numerous visitors found their way to the Ecumenical Center of Tantur and viewed the exhibition or took part in the film and lecture events. The effect of an exhibition cannot be measured, but I am fairly certain that the exhibition visitors and those directly involved have benefited from this - unusual - event. Unfortunately, society itself has not changed and with the first intifada, which began a month later in December 1987, the first stones flew after three days and the good intentions for nonviolence were gone. Well: the journey is the goal. For me, the organization of the first Gandhi exhibition in Israel and the extensive accompanying program was a very exciting experience.
After returning from Israel to Berlin, the preparations for the group trip, which were planned by the Society for International Encounters and carried out by Benjamin Pütter and me, began. Benjamin was a proven expert on India and Gandhi and, thanks to his social commitment, especially within IFOR, was ideally qualified for this role. Together we worked out a 6-week group trip, which I meticulously prepared in advance in India, because it included numerous encounters with contemporary witnesses and social activists, visits to Gandhian projects, a 10-day work camp and a one-week bicycle tour through rural Saurashtra, the western part of Gujarat. There were two preparatory meetings for the trip in Berlin, where the twelve young participants, all between 17 and 25 years old, were provided with the basics for their first trip to India. In addition to factual knowledge, the main aim was to convey to the participants how important it is to travel mentally and physically healthy to India, as a 6-week round trip is a challenge for body, mind and soul that should not be underestimated. The group arrived in Bombay and we lived on the edge of a slum area, which was the first challenge for most of the people because it was noisy, there were a lot of mosquitoes and we slept on thin mats on the floor. To get used to this strange country, we went to Bombay in the coming days and there was the opportunity for some group members to attend the wedding of the youngest daughter of Keshub Mahindra, the director of the leading car manufacturing company Mahindra & Mahindra. I knew the industrialist from previous visits to Bombay, where I stayed with his brother-in-law, who was a Servas host. The wedding was a social event in Bombay, on an almost unbelievable scale: friends, business partners and relatives were flown in from all over the world with charter planes and for one week there were receptions in the specially rented football stadium in South Bombay, which was attended by thousands of well-dressed people who paid their respects to the wedding couple and presented their presents. Of course, the whole thing was also a culinary highlight, as each evening ended with the finest food and drinks. The actual wedding then took place in the closest circle of around 300 invited guests in the residence of the Mahindras, in which I was allowed to take part with four participants of our group. This was preceded by purchases of saris and cosmetics, because our girls wanted to be in no way inferior to the stately Ranis (princesses) and ladies of Indian society who were present. On the other hand, we were all closer to Gandhi's ideas than those of the rich and famous and so we decided to be more simple. In any case, it was an unforgettable experience for all participants and a great contrast to what we mainly got to see on our trip. Incidentally, the huge effort involved in this wedding did not guarantee a good marriage: when I asked the bride's father a year later how the couple was doing, he informed me that the two had just been divorced ... Our group trip continued to Vedchhi in South Gujarat, where we were guests of the son of Gandhi's secretary Mahadev Desai, Narayan Desai, who ran the Institute for Total Revolution there. We were introduced to alternative technologies, such as solar-powered machines of all kinds, Gober Gas (methane gas from cow dung), spinning, weaving and various recycling facilities. A highlight were our 'cultural evenings' with Narayan, who was an excellent singer and songwriter. We had rehearsed a few songs in the preparatory meetings and we and Narayan took turns singing them. In Ahmedabad we visited the Gujarat Vidyapith University, founded by Gandhi, and his Satyagraha Ashram on the banks of the Jamuna River, which is now a museum and maintains a rich archive. The evening excursion to the village restaurant Vishala should give us a foretaste of the coming weeks that we should spend in the rural area of Saurashtra. In addition to authentic Gujarati cuisine, this unusual restaurant also had an extensive collection of traditional village utensils on display there. In addition, we were entertained by Gujarati musicians who pursued an art that was quite strange to our ears. However, the whole thing was very entertaining. The next day we drove to Rajkot, the capital of Saurashtra, where we were to stay for two weeks in the nearby Kasturba Ashram. We were warmly welcomed by Abhabehn, Prabhudasbhai and their families and in the rural tranquility we were able to switch off and process what we had experienced so far. The drought had lasted for four years and skeletons of cows and other animals were lying next to the road. We were aware that our stay was a particular burden for our respective hosts, given the current water shortage. We had therefore already agreed in advance to contribute to the relaxation of the situation and to help create a water reservoir in a 10-day workcamp. In view of the persistent drought, the Indian government made a larger amount available for 'Relief Work', which was administered by a local politician. Of course we did not receive a fee for our work, but I was surprised when, during my visit next year, I had to see that the water reservoir we had created had run down and was not being used. At the same time, the politician had built a considerable new house. A behaviour that was not uncommon in India and where hardly anyone was upset about it. On the contrary: many young people wanted to become local politicians or police officers, i.e. take up jobs where they could benefit from corruption and mismanagement. There were enough role models….
In any case, the physical activity was a complementary experience for our group and good training for the subsequent 7-day bicycle tour from Porbandar to Diu. The special thing about the tour was that Prabhudasbhai and his grandson Yogeshbhai, who also played a key role in organizing the trip, accompanied us - not on the bike but in the support vehicle. It was a great gift for the participants because it allowed them to benefit from the enormous knowledge of Prabhudasbhai. In the 1970s he was the director of Kirti Mandir, Gandhi's birthplace in Porbandar, for ten years, during which time he created a family tree with over 1,500 relatives. This was the first family tree published in India that also included women! The book in Gujarati is called 'Ootabapa no vadlo'. I later had it translated into English and posted the family tree on the GandhiServe website. Prabhudasbhai showed us around Gandhi's birthplace and we listened intently to his stories that he told us.
For a few days our group was accompanied by a German television team. For legal reasons, the recordings were not allowed to be broadcast in Germany, but for us they were a good memory.
During the bicycle tour through the villages along the coastal road, we had a number of nice encounters, especially when we took a break. First the children came running and then the men. The women stayed in the background, but were still very interested in us "extraterrestrials", as we had mostly female group members. Although Gujarat is one of the rich Indian states, the traditional snacks in the villages are rather simple: we learned to eat raw or fried chilli peppers with fried rolled bread and jalebi, super-sweet fried cereal rings and of course there was always sweet tea. On the one hand it took some time to get used to the not exactly healthy food but on the other hand we were provided with the necessary calories and minerals. We only cycled from sunrise to noon, but that also took a lot of energy, especially since it was still quite warm during the day, even in winter. We stayed in schools and visited Hindu temples and Gandhian projects. The latter are numerous in Gujarat and we were welcome guests everywhere. We had been provided with stable bicycles with good tires for the tour, so that we only had a few breakdowns that could always be quickly fixed by the local bicycle repair shop. At each station there were also Prabhudasbhai and Yogeshbhai, which made it easier for us to access the local population and which gave us a lot of additional information. On the island of Diu it was time to say goodbye to the two loyal travel companions and at the same time it was the last stop of the 6-week group tour. We rested for a few days on the beach and reflected on what we had experienced. Everyone agreed that this was a journey that will have a long-lasting effect. For one or the other it should also have an impact on their future lives. The then 18-year-old Gregor should be mentioned as an example, who initially viewed Gandhi rather critically and always wore a button with the inscription "No Heroes". During the trip he developed into an outspoken Gandhi fan and studied Gandhi's educational concept on his return in Hanover. Today Prof. Dr. Dr. Gregor Lang-Wojtasik one of the leading Gandhi scientists in Germany and the first trip to India was followed by numerous others. About 30 years after this group trip, a participant wrote to me about how much she would have benefited from this trip and how it had an impact on her later life.
Back in Bombay, I made my plan to visit the family of the Gandhi biographer Vithalbhai Jhaveri. Together with the director of the Gandhi Museum, Kuttybehn, as she was fondly called, we drove to the house where Jhaveri's family lived. It was located about 30 meters from the beach in the Worli district of Bombay. His son explained to us that after his death, his father's room was cleared out. His photo collection, which we were mainly interested in, would still be in a large wooden overseas box on the terrace. He allowed us to open the box and take a look inside. What was revealed to us there was the most extensive collection of photos of Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement! The son was also surprised by this discovery, because he had never dealt with his father's 'hobby'. Since some photos had already been glued together with the picture surface, it was high time the box disappeared from the terrace and the pictures were sorted, preserved, reproduced and used extensively in the archives. On our advice, Jhaveri's son wrote a letter to several Indian Gandhi organizations and the National Archives in New Delhi. He only received rejections from the Gandhi organizations because there was too little space, too little money or too little manpower available for the necessary work. From my point of view, these were all excuses and evidence of the pathetic situation in which the Gandhi organizations found themselves. Gandhi was a very good fundraiser and when he died he had raised a large amount that would benefit the future work in his name. These funds were dubbed the Gandhi Memorial Fund (GMF) by the Indian government and administered by the Gandhi Memorial Trust (GMT) in Delhi. In addition to seven official Gandhi museums, the Trust also operated around 2000 spinning and weaving facilities in rural areas, mainly to provide women in villages and small towns with an additional income. The GMT is a non-profit organization that was financed in the 1950s and 1960s by donations and the interest of the GMF. This worked until 1969, when Gandhi's 100th birthday was celebrated worldwide. After that it became quiet about Gandhi, as the country was in an emergency situation for two years in the mid-1970s. After Indira Gandhi's murder in 1984 her son Rajiv radically modernized the country. At the time, Gandhi's views were considered out of date, irrelevant for todays situation and part of Indian history. The GMT received only a few donations and due to rising inflation, the purchasing power of interest rates fell dramatically. The Gandhi organizations failed to modernize and rejuvenate. Above all, they should have changed their economic concept, especially since Gandhi has always advocated independence, self-help and self-sufficiency. The dependence on government funds, which only started again on a larger scale with Prime Minister Narasimha Rao in 2004, led to indolence and an inability to restructure the institutions in accordance with the times. The abandonment of the non-profit status and the introduction of own sources of income would not only have had a positive effect on the bank accounts, but also on the self-confidence of the management staff. That was missed and so unqualified staff occupied important positions until their death. The fact that many of them have proven themselves in the struggle for independence does not mean that they are also good archivists or museum directors. With the new generation, media affinity and public relations are only slowly finding their way into the Indian Gandhi organizations. My constructive and concrete suggestions to make the Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad and the Bombay Gandhi Museum Mani Bhavan more attractive and to cooperate with Western museums were gratefully accepted ... and put aside.
So it was not surprising that the Gandhi organizations contacted did not want to take on the great task of processing the - unique - photo collection of Jhaveri. Only the National Archives agreed to house the collection. After extensive research, the owner of the collection, Jhaveri's son, decided against the National Archives, as access to the materials housed there is very difficult and is largely reserved for specialists. However, that was not in our interest and so it was decided to send the approximately 9,500 photos to Berlin, where I had access to a perfectly equipped photo laboratory with a Leica repro camera in my institute at the university. The collection was subsequently listed in detail and registered with the Indian state authority and approved for export in 1989 with subsequent repatriation. A lot of work awaited me, but I was really looking forward to it!
Personally, I always had a recurring funny experience when I traveled across the country by bus or train. After arriving at a bus or train station, teenagers and young adults often came running up to me and asked for an autograph. They were then very excited and called me 'Jackie'. They mistook me for the actor Jackie Shroff, who was one of the most famous and popular actors in Indian film at the time. I obviously had a certain resemblance to him, so that the mix-up kept coming up. To be honest, I then told the young people that I was not Jackie Shroff and I didn't give them an autograph either. The selfies were autographs in the time before the mobile phone and I had to give them regularly in India when I visited schools or other institutions - but in my name and not as Jackie Shroff. But since this mix-up happened quite regularly, I wanted to know what the similarity was about. At the opening of our Gandhi exhibition in Stuttgart, which took place in 1985, I met the mayor of Bombay, who invited me to his place. After the group trip I went back to Bombay and gladly accepted the invitation. We had breakfast together in his residence and talked about the film industry, among other things. Since the resemblance to Jackie had not escaped him, he made it possible for me to visit Filmcity the next day, where Jackie often shot. I watched the recordings of a variety of films and saw great actors up close, like Amitabh Bachchan, Anil Kapoor and Chunky Pandey - but Jackie wasn't there today. The mayor then gave me the phone number of Jackie's management and we arranged to meet on the sets in Juhu the next day. Since there are long breaks between shoots, we had ample opportunity to talk. Just like with my Gandhian eyewitnesses, I also did an interview with Jackie but this time about the Indian film industry, which is very special. We got on well, especially since he also had an interest in life in Europe and my Gandhian activities. In the years that followed, we kept meeting and exchanging ideas on the sets. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I presented him a piece of the Berlin Wall for his birthday, which moved him deeply. I thought our resemblance has faded over time as he kept amazingly fit and handsome. When I took a taxi through Mumbai in 2018, the taxi driver actually spoke to me and asked if I was Jackie. I was more than amazed….
In the meantime I had developed into a Gandhi photography expert because I had visited numerous photographers and collectors and saw their pictures. I had the two most extensive collections, those of Kanu Gandhi and Vithalbhai Jhaveri, with me in Berlin and worked with them on a daily basis. By now I knew every picture with the corresponding caption, knew when and where it was taken and who the photographer was. The images from Jhaveri's collection came from around 350 different photographers from India and abroad. The remarkable thing about Jhaveri was that he never left Bombay to collect the photos. He did this exclusively by correspondence, which was transported to the family home in Bhavnagar after his death. Jhaveri's family allowed me to spend several weeks at the Jhaveri's estate and go through his correspondence. I read the letters he exchanged with the photographers very carefully and also noted their addresses. Jhaveri used his image material for his large permanent photo exhibitions in Bhavnagar and Delhi as well as smaller ones in Bombay and Poona. He used it for his monumental film MAHATMA as well as for the eight-volume biography of D.G. Tendulkar, for which he made the photo selection and which contained over 1,200 photos of Gandhi. The meticulousness and perseverance with which Jhaveri systematically collected photos of Gandhi over the decades impressed and inspired me to continue his work. At first Jhaveri was involved in the struggle for independence and operated with the later socialist leader Dr. Lohia and the aforementioned Dr. Usha Mehta an underground radio as part of the 'Quit India' movement in 1942. When the illegal radio station was exposed, all were imprisoned with several years' imprisonment. After his release in 1944, Jhaveri began collecting photos of Gandhi, as he was commissioned with the selection of photos for an anniversary volume for Gandhi's 75th birthday entitled 'Gandhiji'. He then continued collecting the pictures and also wrote to foreign photographers such as Margarete Bourke-White or Henry Cartier-Bresson. Almost at the same time, Gandhi's youngest son, Devadas, began to collect his father's photos in order to visually document his life without gaps. After Gandhi's death, Devadas received the offer to work as editor-in-chief of the Hindustan Times newspaper founded by his father in 1924, which he gladly accepted. He left the photos collected up to that point to Vithalbhai Jhaveri, who at the time worked intensively with D.G. Tendulkar on the Gandhi biography, which was jointly edited by the two of them. The publication and distribution of the eight volumes dragged on for several years and afterwards Jhaveri had the wish to create an extensive documentary film on the occasion of Gandhi's 100th birth anniversary as well as a photo exhibition in the "My Life is my Message" pavilion in the immediate vicinity of the Gandhi memorial in Rajghat, near the Jamuna river. He did both with flying colours, for which he received the prestigious order 'Padma Bhushan' from the hands of the Indian President in 1969. And now his entire photo collection was with me in Berlin! I was aware of the responsibility and carefully sorted and cleaned the pictures. Repro negatives were produced, the images and negatives stowed in archival parchment bags and many folders were created. This process took about 5 years until the collection was returned, on the occassion of Gandhi's 125th birthday in 1994. Later, all of the material was also scanned and digitally cleaned.
My knowledge of Gandhi and especially his photos were subsequently requested and used by numerous media productions: film, TV, theater, opera, musicals, newspapers and magazines. Since India is not exactly known for its historiography and documentation of events, there were also several discrepancies with the captions of the Gandhi photos. A picture is exemplary: even during my first stay in India, the image caught my eye again and again in the various Gandhi museums, in which Gandhi chases after his grandson Kahandas (Kanaa, Kanu) on the beach, his walking stick made of bamboo ('lathi' ) aimed at him. The captions were unanimously "The leader being led," giving the impression that it is one stick that the boy is pulling. I had doubts about this caption because the stick seemed too long to me and I hoped to meet Gandhi's grandson someday to find out the story of this photo. And that should actually happen! During one of my numerous stays with Prabhudasbhai he mentioned that Gandhi's grandson Kanaa is passing through India and is coming to visit tomorrow. At that time Kanaa lived with his wife in the USA and was a recognized scientist at NASA. After getting to know each other, I was actually able to ask him thr burning questions and he was happy and amused to answer them: he spent his childhood in the Satyagraha Ashram in Sevagram and occasionally accompanied his famous grandfather on trips with his parents. So also in 1937: together with Gandhi's doctor, Dr. Sushila Nayar, they were walking on Juhu Beach in Bombay. Kanaa, who loved and emulated his grandpa, had his own walking stick. Only he didn't run as fast as Gandhi and kept falling back, which caused Gandhi to let Kanaa run in front of him. But when he slowed down again, Gandhi pushed him in the back with his walking stick so that he should run faster again. The photo was taken at the moment when the two walking sticks were at the same angle, giving the impression that it was one walking stick. The captions couldn't have been more different! 'The leader is led by a child' and 'Gandhi urged the child to run faster.' I told this story to a journalist friend in Bombay and shortly afterwards it was published in the Indian Express newspaper.
Since my stays in India were limited to the winter months, I was able to often take part in the Gandhi Summer School of the English Gandhi Foundation in the summer. This facility was founded around the same time as the Gandhi Information Center in Berlin, after the global success of Richard Attenborough's GANDHI film. The famous actor and film director gave the initial spark for the establishment of the Gandhi Foundation and also became its president for life. The Gandhi Summer School always took place in the first week of August in an abbey or in an old school in beautiful Oxfordshire in UK. 30-40 people of all ages and origins came together to live together for a week in an ashram-like atmosphere. We cooked together, cleaned the house and tilled the garden. Every morning there were also lectures and discussions with interesting participants, such as Marjorie Sykes, Satish Kumar, A.B. Bhardwaj and S.V. Govindan. For me, the Gandhi Summer School was the best opportunity to exchange ideas with other people interested in Gandhi outside of India, especially since I was on friendly terms with the Secretary of the Gandhi Foundation, Surur Hoda, and his family.
The year 1989 was of course mainly shaped by the events in Germany and especially in Berlin. History was made and I was right in the middle of it: I stood on the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate and looked the helpless GDR (German Democratic Republic; East-Germany) border guards in the eyes. A few days later the wall fell and the GDR collapsed. People flocked to the West 'just to take a look' and then happily went back to their coal-furnace-heated tenements. Freedom of travel was what most GDR citizens primarily strived for - but a union with the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany, West-Germany)? I think that even the Monday demonstrators in Jena and Leipzig and the artists on Alexanderplatz did not aim for that. A reform of socialism? Yes! But a take-over by the West? No! The GDR was too weak to survive and systemic reforms would have required a great deal of effort. The door was opened a crack to capitalism and soon the former GDR was overwhelmed by insurance agents, cigarettes, alcohol products and goods that people did not know beforehand that they would ever need. At the same time, the factors that made life in the GDR safe were dissolved: Basic food, rent for apartments and kindergartens became more expensive and unemployment increased. Although I grew up in the West, I can understand the displeasure of ex-GDR residents about the way in which the (re)unification took place. I would have been pissed off if they had pulled the floor from under my feet like that, even if the floor was dilapidated! This displeasure about how it happened has survived in the minds of some to this day.
I spent a couple of weeks in Israel again in the winter 1989. It was to be the last stay for 26 years. And it became an exciting one: I lived alternately with my friend Nurit in Tel Aviv and with Lina, a Christian-Palestinian friend and her family in East Jerusalem. Her father, a well-known doctor, was formerly the mayor of East-Jerusalem, Minister of Health in Jordan and an advisor to King Hussein. It was a special event to spend Christmas 1989 with this family. On December 22nd, we went to a lecture by the South African Archbishop Desmund Tutu, who gave a fiery speech on behalf of the Palestinians on Shepherd’s Field, a supposed birthplace of Jesus near Bethlehem. Ultimately, however, I was inspired by the thought that a better knowledge of each on the other hand, can lead to peaceful coexistence. And so I asked Lina and her family if Nurit could attend the Christmas dinner. Nurit and Lina knew each other from working together on the Gandhi exhibition, but it was not a matter of course for Nurit to celebrate Christmas in a Christian-Palestinian household in East Jerusalem, which usually coincides with the Jewish Hanukka festival. And it also took a lot of effort for Lina's family to share the Christmas roast in their own house with an Israeli woman! Both parties consented to the experiment. As an outsider and observer, I was able to determine a certain tension and a slight uncertainty in dealing with each other, but after two days together in Lina's house, the experiment can definitely be described as a success. I am quite sure that if more people were to move towards one another in this region, peaceful coexistence would not be utopian.
My stay in India this year was all about archive work. I spent several weeks in Rajkot, where I wanted to finish work on the captions with Abhabehn. But that did not happen because when I arrived she happily explained to me that she had found a small book with handwritten notes from her husband in a hidden corner of her house, which among other things also contained the captions for all of his photos of Gandhi. That was really a pleasure, so we now had a reliable, authentic source for the pictures! When we compared this with the captions that Abhabehn and I had worked out in recent years, we found that her memory was already showing significant gaps and we were all the more pleased about the important find. Since Kanu also had an 8mm and 16mm film camera, he took some short 8mm shots of Gandhi in the Satyagraha Ashram of Sevagram and in Wardha. A longer 16mm film had raw footage of Gandhi's peace march in Noakhali in 1946/47. Since Abhabehn did not have a film projector, she asked the owner of a photo studio friend in Rajkot, Bachhubhai, to come over with his projector so that we could watch the longer film in her house. Bachhubhai came by with an old, very heavy and stable projector made by Russia and inserted the original film, of which there was only this one copy. We started to watch the film when the projector suddenly stopped because the gripping points that were supposed to move the film at the perforation reached into nothing. The film had suffered over the years and was dehydrated so that it was no longer smooth in shape, but rather shriveled. When the film stopped, the strong bulb burned the film at this point, so the projector had to be switched off immediately. The film was moved a little further by hand, the projector switched on again and we were able to continue watching the film. But again only for a few seconds until the gripping points reached into nothing and the celluloid charred at this point. Since it was a unique piece, we ended the film evening early and thought about how the film could be restored and saved. Since India has the largest film industry in the world, the Film and Television Institute of India in Poona or the Films Division of India in Bombay came into question. Both refused Abhabehn, however, fearing that the case would become public and the poor condition of the film could be blamed on her. It was her wish that I should take the film with me to Germany and have it restored there. Her wish was my command; she wrote me a statement which I might have had to present to customs and I packed the film can without knowing what to expect. In Berlin I contacted three film laboratories and they all told me that the dehydration process had progressed too far and that the film could no longer be restored and transferred to video. It hurt my soul that this important document could no longer be saved and I turned to the Federal Archives in Koblenz, which were technically the most advanced of all laboratories in Germany. After a few weeks I received a call from the head of the Federal Archives, who also informed me that the film could no longer be saved and sent it back to me. Then there was one of those - inexplicable - moments that I experienced several times in the context of my work on Gandhi. While studying newspapers in Berlin on a fine Sunday morning I read an article about the new Getty Film Laboratory, which was to be opened shortly as part of the British Film Institute, London and which had the most modern technical equipment. I rang them up and explained the background of the film and they agreed to try to transfer the film to video after the necessary conservation treatment. Then I hadn't heard from the BFI for a long time and had almost given up hope of ever being able to see the film in full. After ten months, however, I received a call from a BFI employee who told me that the film could be transferred to S-VHS after a very complex - and expensive - preservation process. I was really happy, but at the same time I also thought of the possible high bill that might come my way. Taking into account the peculiarity of the film and its background, the BFI decided not to charge me, provided a copy of the film can be transferred to the BFI archive. Of course, I agreed to this after consultation with Abhabehn.
On my next visit to Ahmedabad, the film was presented to the public for the first time in the presence of Abhabehn and Prabhudasbhai on January 30, 1991 as part of a memorial service in the Satyagraha Ashram. On this occasion I had created a photo exhibition for the Ashram with pictures of Kanu Gandhi under the title “Our Days With Bapu”, where reminiscences of Abha and Kanu Gandhi were incorporated. Since there were still numerous undiscovered treasures in India, i.e. photos, documents, films, etc., I repeatedly suggested that the technically and personally underdeveloped Gandhi museums cooperate with western museums that had a high standard and where a willingness to cooperate was present. India had the original materials and the West had the technical and personnel equipment to conserve and restore them. Some museums in Germany had already signaled their interest in such a cooperation, but the Indians were suspicious of this idea, as they feared that their treasures would be stolen from them. At the same moment, however, these treasures crumbled under their fingers, like an old edition of Indian Opinion, which I was allowed to inspect in the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad. For me it was of course a tragedy, but it also inspired me to continue to do 'search and research' on my own, on previously unknown, rare or important materials from and about Gandhi and to help preserve these materials and internationally for publications and research to provide. The press and later television became aware of me and began to report controversially about my, often critical, views on the reputation and understanding of Gandhi in India. It was not in my own interest, however, to revive Gandhi in India, but to collect suitable materials for our public relations work in the West, in order to give the people there the opportunity to study Gandhi's life and work in detail. The Gandhi Information Center in Berlin soon had the most extensive audio-visual archive of Gandhi outside of India. We use the huge photo, film, audio and document collection as well as the extensive library for our own projects, but also made them available to other organizations or private individuals for their work on Gandhi. Since it was difficult to get suitable materials from India at the time, our service was increasingly appreciated - now also in India itself!
1991 was marked by the first Gulf War, when the USA, as part of its 'Desert Storm' offensive, used embedded journalists for the first time to report live from the front - in the living rooms of the world. I sat in Prabhudasbhai's living room and watched the horror of the war in Kuwait with him, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Since it was the first time that reports were relentlessly and directly from a theater of war, the children and young people in particular had problems processing what they saw. They had never seen so much ruthless violence, wounded and dead, even in movies before. Since Prabhudasbhai's family consisted mainly of teachers and social workers, the question quickly arose of what to do about the violence that is currently being seen in the media. The answer was not difficult: the violence must be countered with nonviolence, in which the children and young people deal in detail with the life and teachings of Gandhi, who had spent part of his youth in Rajkot. We found that a painting competition entitled “Mahatma Gandhi - As I See Him” was initially a suitable project for all schools in Rajkot to involve students, teachers, artists and parents. In fact, in preparation for the painting competition, Gandhi's life and work were taught more thoroughly than ever before; Artists were asked how best to portray Gandhi and his ideas in a picture and the children asked their parents about Gandhi at home. The painted picture also turned out to be an ideal medium, since no language skills were required for understanding and the picture could be understood across borders and cultures. In addition to one local artist and a few teachers, the jury also included Abhabehn, who was better than anyone else (with the exception of Prabhudasbhai) to assess the authenticity of the pictures. This event, which took place in this form for the first time, was gladly perceived by the media at both regional and national level. The best pictures were breathtakingly good and so the question arose what one could do with them after the painting competition. First of all, however, the award ceremony took place, at which I gave a previously rehearsed speech in Gujarati. Interestingly, the young artist whose picture won the 1st prize was the son of a gun and ammunition manufacturer! I then took the pictures with me to Germany and discussed with my staff at the Gandhi Information Center and my friends and teachers how they could best be used. The pictures were then exhibited in schools, the teachers dealt with Gandhi in the classroom, in a wide variety of subjects, and finally the German students wrote to the young Indian artists and dealt with the picture, Gandhi's ideas and the different cultures. The youth project “The Gandhi Bridge of Understanding” was launched! In the following years, too, painting competitions "Mahatma Gandhi - As I See Him" took place in various regions in India. The pictures were then sent to interested schools in different countries, exhibited there and discussed in the classroom. This resulted in numerous pen friendships. There weren't any emails back then and contact with someone of the same age from a completely different culture was something very special. 28 years after the first painting competition, I received an email from one of the winners, who meanwhile lived in the USA and was married there. She fondly remembered this event, which, according to her, had greatly enriched her cultural horizons and her understanding of Gandhi.
At the age of 34 I received an award for my life's work from the Writers' Association in Gujarat, although I had the impression that my life was just beginning ... Prabhudasbhai with his family, Abhabehn, Purushottam Gandhi and other contemporary witnesses were also present at the award ceremony, which gave the award a certain meaning to me.
The year 1992 was a special challenge for me, because in the autumn, before the planned next trip to India, a tumor was diagnosed, which was removed immediately. It did not require any further therapy, but I still had to deal with the topic. I dealt with the diagnosis of cancer from several perspectives in such a way that I soon realized that the disease was an enrichment for my life, true to the motto "disease as an opportunity". In this and the following years I was a total of four times in the - then wonderful - Sonnenberg Clinic in Bad Sooden-Allendorf, where I was able to get to know different types of therapy such as dance therapy, Rolfing or psycho-oncology. During the treatment period in the hospital, I had two operations and was pumped full of medication. I refused preventive chemotherapy, but after my discharge I felt the need to detoxify my body. This happened partly in the already mentioned Sonnenberg Clinic, but even more intensively in India. I asked some of my Indian friends about a suitable facility for a detox. The Institute of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences (INYS) near Bangalore was recommended to me. At the beginning of 1993 I went to INYS, which is now called Jindal Naturecure Institute, and undertook an intensive detox treatment. I had initially set myself up for 14 days in the spa clinic. After three days, however, I was so enthusiastic about the facility that I extended it to 42 days, the maximum possible period! The daily routine consisted of brisk walks, yoga, water therapies, massages, physiotherapy, fitness training, meditation and internal cleansing exercises (kriyas). In addition, there was a diet tailored to my individual needs. It also included a 10-day fast with coconut water. Everything happened under close medical supervision and strictly followed the knowledge of naturopathy and yoga. I lost 14 kg in 42 days and felt reborn on the day of discharge. The skin was softer and I felt lighter, happier and better. There was absolutely no question that the improved physical condition also has a direct impact on the psyche. It was a wonderful experience that I have been enjoying regularly every two years since then.
Later in 1993 I traveled with my girlfriend and later wife Susanne to Thailand at the invitation of a Berlin friend who lived there since many years, which was a special experience for me and was to have a strong influence on the further course of my life. But more on that later.
First of all, a joint stay in India was on the program, where we were guests of Madalsa Narayan in Gopuri, central India. When we informed Madalsabehn that we were planning to go to India for a longer period of time, she was so enthusiastic that she spontaneously offered us to hold an engagement ceremony. After a little hesitation and deliberation, we agreed and already the next day Madalsabehn had organized decorations and delicious food. She also invited a few friends and so we got engaged in a cozy atmosphere, which we hadn't expected but were still able to enjoy. Another stop was Rajkot, where I now stayed for a few weeks on all trips to India. We lived again with Prabhudasbhai's family and by this Susanne got a good impression of the Indian family life.
A few months later we were back in India, mainly to attend the annual Sarvodaya conference, this time in Savarkundla in the southern part of Saurashtra. Over 3000 Gandhian social workers came together to exchange experiences and also to get to know each other. There were numerous co-workers and relatives of Gandhi present, as well as many social workers whom I knew from previous trips. Despite the large number of participants, it was like a family reunion, especially since all the family members of Prabhudasbhai were involved in organizing the conference. As soon as we arrived we were introduced to the mayor of Savarkundla, with the information that we got engaged in Madalsabehn's house last year. Without hesitation, and to our utter amazement, he offered to organize a Gandhian wedding ceremony as part of the conference. In principle, we had considered getting married, but until then we hadn't wasted any thoughts on the timing and the circumstances. We needed time to think it over! We then weighed the pros and cons and decided to accept this - fantastic - offer and take this important step. We were aware that an Indian wedding had no legal validity for us and that a civil wedding in Germany had to follow. But the fact that we would say "yes" with a ceremony as it was customary in Gandhi's Ashram and in the presence of so many contemporary witnesses and Gandhian social workers had just as much weight for us - if not more - as the following civil wedding in Berlin. By the way, it was not a problem for us to find a date for a civil wedding in Germany because we both had our birthday on the same day, May 12th. But first of all, the Indian wedding was to be held in the Gandhian tradition. In the short time that the conference lasted, four days, our wedding dresses were tailored and the usual utensils for a Hindu-Gandhian wedding were procured. Everything was ready within two days. On the morning of the third day of the conference, when all about 3000 participants had taken their seats, a Hindu priest began the ceremony, which also included the traditional seven steps around the fire. It was read from the Sanskrit texts, some rituals were performed and finally we put a dessert in each other's mouth. That was the Hindu part and now came the Gandhian part, as it was carried out in numerous weddings in the Sevagram Ashram: we read a chapter from the Bhagavad Gita, we blessed the cow and spun a certain amount of yarn before we entertained our guests, maybe not all 3000 but at least those who sat in the front row. Afterwards, several companions of Gandhi came to us and congratulated us. We received small gifts and had small talk with some of the aged veterans we should have seen here last. For us it was a wonderful experience, which we could confidently call a 'dream wedding'. Even today I am still approached about this wedding in the Gandhian circle. Unfortunately, the experiment was unsuccessful because the marriage, which was then officially consummated in Berlin on May 12, 1994, did not last long. The good wishes of the many great people in Savarkundla were unfortunately no guarantee of a good and lasting relationship. Still, I don't want to miss the days in Savarkundla!
After more than 5 years I had transferred Vithalbhai Jhaveri's loose photo collection into a well-organized archive and the material was sent back to India.
I was finally able to return the hospitality that I had experienced and enjoyed in India over the past few years: Yogeshbhai visited me in Berlin with his wife Saroj and their children Sweta and Nandan! They had given the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, popularily known as "Wall Museum", Gandhi's wooden slippers, his diary and other originals as a 10-year loan, which were in the possession of Yogesh's grandfather, Prabhudasbhai Gandhi. In a media event, the museum proudly presented the exhibits to the public, which were then incorporated into the permanent exhibition “From Gandhi to Walensa”. The museum was one of the best-visited museums in Berlin at the time, which meant that the objects were seen by over one million museum visitors a year. It was agreed that the owners of the materials would come back to Berlin in 10 years and pick up the things. We were all very satisfied with the agreement that had been made and could not dream of how the whole thing would develop. First I spent a nice summer in Europe with my guests, we visited Amsterdam, Paris and London and attended the Gandhi Summer School of the English Gandhi Foundation. The teacher couple and two teenagers were very interested in anything new, including escalators and double-decker buses. When we called Saroj's parents in Bhavnagar from the top of the Eiffel Tower, they were over the moon and didn't want to believe that this was possible. So far I had learned a lot of beautiful things from their life in Rajkot and now it was fun to show a little bit of European life to them. In the years to come I visited the Museum Haus am Checkpint Charlie every now and then and, on Yogeshbhai's request, convinced myself of the condition of the Gandhi originals. Shortly before the 10-year loan period expired, the museum announced its interest in extending this period for a further 10 years. However, they could not agree on the terms with the owner. Thus, the valuable originals should have been returned. The museum refused, however, and put it on a lawsuit in which I acted on behalf of the owners and employed several good lawyers. After long and intensive efforts, we were unable to get the materials back due to our weaker financial position. So the originals were illegally withheld by the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie and we were unable to successfully take action against this breach of law! Not being able to win this year-long struggle was one of my worst experiences in life!
That year I completed a drastic break in my life: I quit my secure job at university and moved out of the shared apartment I had lived in for the past 16 years ... and moved to India. More precisely, I took an apartment in Mumbai, very close to the Gandhi Museum and right across from the Gandhi Book Center. The internet developed more and more and I tried to establish myself as a Gandhi expert with the help of this new medium. My efforts so far to identify and preserve original Gandhi materials were to be taken to a broader level. Now I wished to include the seven official Gandhi museums. I was convinced that by working together we could save the majority of the photos, documents, films, sound recordings, etc. in India from decay, preserve them and use them internationally. To do this, I visited all Gandhi museums and spoke to the respective directors, all of whom I had known personally for years. In general, they were impressed by the idea but not really ready to invest in a joint project. For several months I tried to get the gentlemen around one table to sanction the project - and failed. There were a number of reasons not to take responsibility. Ultimately, I understood that each institution has its own sphere of control and that there is no interest or courage in cooperating with other museums. That was a very disappointing experience, because I am sure that at this point in time a lot of materials could have been saved that have now rotted or otherwise disappeared.
From India I went on a trip to the United Arab Emirates, for which I first had to get a visa in New Delhi. I duly filled out the form and gave it to the Indian embassy employee at the UAE Embassy. When she saw that I was German, she asked me why I was applying for a visa in India and what I was doing here. I replied that I was interested in Gandhi and that I visited relevant projects and met authentic people. She got shiny eyes and informed me that her uncle was Gandhi's secretary and that she also met Gandhi in his ashram as a little girl. It was not difficult for me to guess that the uncle was Pyarelal Nayar. And since I knew a photo of Kanu Gandhi from August 1944, on which Gandhi gave Pyarelal's niece, who was called Nandini, a banana for her birthday, I asked her straight out if she might be called Nandini, which she affirmed with an outburst of emotions that was difficult to describe! We talked briefly about her childhood and my work and I am sure that the others waiting behind me wondered what causes so much hilarity when applying for a visa. Of course, I got the visa without any problems and the trip to Dubai could start. One reason for the trip was to meet Madalsabehn's son, who owned a large potato chip factory in Dubai and from there supplied all of Africa with chips. I only knew Bharat from a few photos where he was on Gandhi's arm as a toddler. I was his guest for a few days and he told me a lot about his childhood and the encounters with Gandhi. It was interesting for me to see how Bharat, as well as the many others I met who knew and valued Gandhi, implemented Gandhi's ideas and ideals in his own life. Only a few have seen, understood and accepted Gandhi holistically for their own life, but everyone has taken on one or the other aspect, whether it is punctuality, precision and efficiency at work, cleanliness, simple but healthy nutrition, thrift, physical activity or was committed to helping the disadvantaged. I conducted numerous interviews with Gandhi employees and contemporary witnesses who knew him and asked everyone what quality they valued most about Gandhi. Surprisingly and interestingly, the same answer came up again and again: Gandhi had the ability to see the qualities and inadequacies in people and helped them to strengthen the positive qualities and eradicate the negative ones - without making these people dependent on him (Gandhi). These are the qualities of a true guru, or teacher, from which many have benefited. However, Gandhi did not want to be a guru at all, because, according to the title of his autobiography “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”, Gandhi saw himself as his own student who dealt very critically and aggressively with his own mistakes and inadequacies. Gandhi wanted to inspire others to also carry out 'experiments with truth' and once said when asked about his message: "My life is my message". I believe that everyone can benefit in one way or another from an intensive study of Gandhi's life and ministry.
I returned from Dubai and tried to gain a foothold professionally in India. I was also a member of the International Network for Peace Museums and in the same year took part in a conference in Japan, where I also got to know Gandhi's grandson Arun and his wife Sunanda. Their son Tushar was unemployed in Mumbai at the time and did not know what to do with his life. His parents, who lived in the USA, asked me to take him under my wings and remind him that he was Gandhi's great grandson.
All media mentioned in the book have been extensively digitized and edited and are available for viewing and downloading from www.gandhimedia.org, the GandhiServe channel on YouTube - www.youtube.com/user/gandhiserve - and www.gandhiserve.org