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November 2004

Bombay Dreams

How Indian culture is booming in Munich

It started with a curry. Ever since Munich’s first Indian restaurant opened some 20 years ago, Subcontinental culture in the city has been getting hotter and hotter—in every sense of the word. Yes, if you want to shoot up the style stakes, India is the way to go. Don your sari, take up yoga, deck your apartment out in garish colors, then settle down to some soothing sitar sounds. Or you could just check out the latest happenings on the Munich art scene. Many cinemas in the city have picked up on the Bollywood boom and introduced screenings of Indian films. And the interest in modern Indian art is also growing in Munich, not least thanks to Peter Müller. He first discovered the genre while traveling in India in 1989, and has since turned what started as a personal collection into Munich’s first gallery of modern Indian art. “The past ten years have seen some major developments in the Indian art world,” he says. “There are still some folklorish touches in the work, but there’s far more to it than that—the pictures are extremely colorful and have a very fresh composition.” Indeed, Müller regularly attracts 100-plus people to exhibition openings at the Galerie Müller und Plate at Adelheidstrasse 28, which is open to the public every Thursday afternoon. Whenever possible, he also arranges for featured artists to travel from India for the occasion. They aren’t the only ones, however. Over the past few years several Indian musicians have also made the journey to Munich to star in Indian events, such as the Diwali celebrations. At this year’s festival, which takes place on November 13, the world-renowned Sargam group will be performing a program of fusion music—from Bollywood, Punjabi and Hindi songs to popular light classics—at a concert in the Tonhalle at Munich’s Kultfabrik. The party starts at 7 pm and tickets are available on the door. All of which, of course, is great news for Munich’s Indian community, which has been growing in line with the trend and now stands at around 700 residents. “It’s important for people to keep their links with India alive,” says Avinash Pandey, who moved to Munich in January 2002 to become his country’s first consul general in the city. “Although India has economic links with southern Germany, we didn’t actually have a consul presence here, so it was left to me to start establishing some links.”
Since then, he and his staff have worked with the cultural establishment the Indian Institute to organize various traditional events, the most recent being a cricket match in the English Garden to mark Indian Independence Day on August 15. Next year the consulate, which is based in Widenmayerstrasse, will celebrate Republic Day on January 26 with an open-house day.

When it comes to everyday life, the general interest among Europeans in the Subcontinent, and Commonwealth links with Great Britain, enables those of Indian origin to preserve their traditions with little difficulty. “There are some very good Indian grocery shops over here, which receive fresh deliveries each day from London,” says Pandey. Perhaps one of the greatest lifelines for homesick expats is Kohinoor at Adolf-Kolpingstrasse 10. As well as typical groceries, it also stocks telephone cards, traditional musical instruments and the city’s largest selection of Indian music and films on video and DVD. The shop also runs an ordering service, should customers require something in particular.

Home comforts are one thing. But how have Indians been received in a city that has relatively little racial diversity? “On the whole we have no problems,” says Pandey. “The Indian community is a very peaceful one. We celebrate our traditions and practice our religion in the comfort of our own homes and don’t force it on the outside world.” Indeed, many have also adapted easily to the German culture and enjoy making the most of Munich. “I think it’s a wonderful city,” says Pandey. “It’s a lot cleaner than India, for a start, and in a way is geographically quite similar—where India has the Himalayas rising above it, Munich has the Alps.”

Kirti Joshi’s first experience of Munich was in 1992, when he visited as a student. “I remember sitting on the steps of the Deutsches Museum and thinking how stunning it was,” he says. Five years later, Joshi moved his family to the Bavarian capital, after getting a job at Munich International School. Despite being a visibly non-white couple in bright white Bavaria, the Joshis received a warm welcome when they moved to their new home in Starnberg, not least thanks to their daughter, who is now nine. “We had a cute baby, whose smile broke the ice with even the most sour faces,” he says. Bavaria’s many meat dishes are not an option for Joshi, a practicing Hindu. “Luckily I can buy Indian ingredients in Starnberg,” he says. He admits missing the Indian cricket culture. “That’s something you really don’t find here,” says Joshi. Yet, with a bilingual daughter, Germany is feeling ever more like home. “I love exploring the mountains and going to the local beer garden,” he says. “If you live somewhere, it becomes part of you. Right now Munich is our home and it really has it all.”

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