German Ambassador to India discusses diplomacy through red car, humour
Sunday mid-day meets the rockstar German Ambassador to India on his Mumbai visit
Walter J Lindner won't do anything conventional. The German ambassador to India ditches the swish lobby of a five-star to meet this writer at Leopold Cafe & Bar on the Friday before Diwali when shoppers are thronging Colaba. "Interviews at posh lounges get boring. So, I thought, we could meet here, the place Gregory Roberts immortalised in Shantaram," he says right after cutting through the crowd, a towering lean man in his 60s. The monsoon has finally withdrawn. We think we are going to soften the October heat with a cola. Just then, the temperature drops and the sky opens up when it isn't supposed to.
Moving on from his last position as State Secretary of the Federal Foreign Office, Lindner took charge in India this April. His connection with the country, he traces back 42 years. It was at a concert in New York where Ravi Shankar had taken stage where he grew mesmerised with India. "I was only 22 and a new graduate. Like most youngsters, I was in search of spirituality. And, there couldn't have been a better place to seek it than in India. So, I stuffed a backpack and got here," he remembers. He moved from Mumbai to Goa, and then through Pune, Varanasi and Amritsar over six months, "I never really got the answers to my questions, but, I found so many people who were looking for the same. That's what makes India special. So many different religions, and yet everyone living together, with the goal to hit spiritual enlightenment some day."
German Ambassador Walter J Lindner in Mumbai. Pic/Suresh Karkera
It's no wonder then that within a few weeks of settling into his home in Central Delhi, Lindner's Twitter feed was reeling with requests from Indian followers, asking Incredible India to make him their brand ambassador. Every time he travels to a new city, he shares photos and trivia celebrating the country. By the time we meet, his Twitter feed is already discussing Haji Ali dargah and Kala Ghoda's The Knesset Eliyahoo synagogue. "I show Indians their country through my eyes."
That he is a musician has helped strengthen the rockstar vibe. Having trained in the flute, sax and keyboard, Lindner is part of a rock band back home in Munich, and plays gigs in Delhi whenever he can. "Being a diplomat was never the plan. I was into classical music and grew up listening to Beethoven," he says, But after returning from his first trip to India, he decided to study law and eventually, made his way to the government services. But, juggling his work and music is never a struggle. "I never stopped playing. Even on German National Day celebrated last week, I had prepared a musical night for our guests," he adds. His personality, he hopes will help change the way the world perceives Germans, "strict and serious". "I have a good sense of humour, and love talking to people."
Things will get a bit serious when German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the biennial summit level meeting next month. "It's the fourth time that Merkel and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be meeting. The chemistry between the two leaders is incredible," he thinks. Lindner reminds us that Germany is India's biggest European trade partner. "We have 18,000 Indian students in Germany. That's more than in the UK. The two nations also engage in cultural and technological exchanges. We have about 1,700 German companies in India. The camaraderie is seeing an all-time high."
And then, we ask him about Red Amby Aunty. He says, when he got to the Delhi residence, he spotted posh cars in the garage. And a grey made-in-India Ambassador. Lindner got it painted red, to go with India's vibrancy, and drove it to the Presidential Palace on May 21 to present his credentials to Ram Nath Kovind. Ever since, it has become a social media darling. "Every time we take it out, Delhiwallas want a selfie with it," he laughs, "It is no longer mine!"
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