Under the leadership of Amita Desai, Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad has been playing a vibrant role in the city’s cultural scene. Lakshmi Ramakrishna meets the director and gets a picture of its activities and aims.
Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad has a new home — an aesthetic, accessible and independent cultural space of its own in Banjara Hills, after seven years of operating out of the Hermitage Office Complex on Hill Fort Road.
Amita Desai, Director, is the force behind the establishment of Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad. After working at the Max Mueller Bhavan in Mumbai for a decade, Amita quit her job in the late 90s and packed her bags to be with her family in Hyderabad. Travelling on the Hussain Sagar Express from Mumbai, she fell in love with the rockscapes on the city’s outskirts. Today, as she sits in her new office, giving her support is a towering rock visible from the window.
After relocating to Hyderabad, Amita worked at Vidyaranya School for three years before she was persuaded by the Max Mueller Bhavan to establish a centre here.
Due to “realignments”, the earlier centre in Hyderabad had closed down after the erstwhile East and West Germany united. Later, the need for a new centre began to be sorely felt for several reasons. Students were being conned by promises of visas and admission to universities in Germany, or fooled by outfits promising proficiency in the language in three weeks.
“In 2003, I agreed to set up the centre and started my work with advice from my father-in-law and husband on legal and budgeting issues. The Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad began operations on 2nd October 2004 on Hill Fort Road, but the official inauguration took place on 6th December 2004,” says Amita.
In 2005, the centre had 200 students on its rolls and hosted 15 cultural events; today, it has 1,000 students and hosts 90 events a year, some jointly with Alliance Francaise, the Hyderabad Western Music Forum and others. “The idea of the centre is to promote art and culture in the city by involving all sections of society. The centre also organises film screenings for students, and promotes German language and Indian culture,” adds the director.
“Art and culture are not only for enjoyment. There is a lot we can learn and grasp from the events we organise. We encourage discussions after screening of movies and are also proud of the month-long women’s march to celebrate International Women’s Day we hold on 8th March every year,” she says.
As Goethe-Zentrum and Alliance Francaise often jointly conduct cultural programmes, proposals to function out of one premise were considered but did not materialise. “For both centres to come under a common roof, we needed a bigger space. We did look at places, but plans did not fructify; we did not want to operate out of shopping malls as they do not reflect a cultural environment,” explains Amita.
Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad is now situated in a semi-residential area and is mindful of preserving this character. The building, a four-storey complex, has been designed by architect Shankarnarayan and is very environmental friendly. It is a source of pride for the director that every item from the Hermitage Office Complex has been recycled: “All electrical switches, lights, tables and chairs have been reused here. The building has water harvesting facility and LED lighting. No inverter has been installed as a back-up; we plan to go in for solar cells.
“On the first floor, with a seating capacity of 80, is a hall where we plan to conduct lectures and seminars, and hold exhibitions. There are administrative offices on the second floor, language classes on the third, and on the top floor a resource centre, cafeteria and open space where students can unwind or hold impromptu discussions.”
Talking about language classes, the director says, “In the next 15 months, plans are on to have 1000 Kendriya Vidyalayas across the country teaching German. As of now, the language is taught in all KV schools in the city. Nearly 10 schools teach the language as part of the curriculum and we also conduct classes to train the teachers.”
At Goethe- Zentrum, the first-level German language course is of six to 10 weeks’ duration, and the basics are taught; at the second level one learns the grammar and the third level, lasting eight to 10 months, imparts proficiency in the language.
For anyone wishing to study or work in Germany, knowledge of the language is a confidence booster. Nearly 40 per cent of the visas issued by the German Consulate in Chennai are to students from Hyderabad seeking admissions to German universities for PG courses.
“German, like Sanskrit, is a very precise language. In fact, students pursuing linguistics in Germany are required to do two semesters of Sanskrit,” points out Amita.
Cultural exchanges between the two countries have been vibrant. The logo for the Indo-German Year, signifying infinite opportunities, was designed by an Indian she says, adding: “Many cultural and educational programmes have been held during the German Year in India. Among the notable ones was a photo exhibition on ‘Protection of Heritage Monuments’ early this year in Hyderabad. Upcoming programmes include an exhibition on design at the Salarjung Museum from July 7 to 22, a seminar, ‘Post-oil City’, focussing on the energy crunch and renewable energy resources in August at the Vidyaranya School, and the mega biodiversity conclave in October.”
On her recent honour as ambassador of the City State of Hamburg, Germany, Amita says, “I hesitated initially. But, Hamburg happens to be my home as my parents and brother stay there. I want to reach out on all fronts — education, research, trade, politics. I call it ‘Project 040’ as the telephone codes of Hyderabad and Hamburg are similar.”
Another similarity that strikes her is that just as Vizag is the second-largest port in India, Hamburg is the second-largest port in Germany. It is not perhaps a coincidence that she is drawn to such similarities. Connectedness seems to be a key theme for her. As she neatly puts it: “The idea of setting up a German centre is to connect with nations and their peoples.’’
Photographs by Sharath Reddy
Goethe-Zentrum Hyderabad, Plot No. 20, Temple Bells, Road No. 3, Journalists’ Colony, Banjara Hills;