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German Ambassador to India: Living in a society with respect for their culture

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Date18 Dec 2021

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In this interview with New2, the German ambassador in New Delhi talks about what integration means to him, what similarities there are between German and Indian culture, and what blunders he himself has already put his foot in. New2 would like to thank Walter J. Lindner, who has been Ambassador to India since 2019, for this in-depth interview.

Anjana Singh: Mr Lindner, thank you very much for taking the time today. I have brought some questions on integration in a new society. How important do you think it is for people who move to another country to integrate into society?

Walter J. Lindner: Of course, it depends on how long they are in the country. If they are only there for a short time, then it is not so important. But the longer they are there, the more important it is for them to learn the language and to know what the culture is. It's about showing respect for the country, but also understanding the country and the mentality better.

Take for example that I am in India now, I don't sit here in the embassy all the time, I go out. I go to the different states and I go to the markets and so on, because I want to know what makes Indians tick. When I go to Germany as an Indian, it is of course also good to know what makes Germans tick. What is their mentality like, why are they like they are.Then I have to know something about history, politics, sociology, music, all sorts of things and so on. The more they know, the more they feel comfortable. Integration is exactly that. Not that you give up what you bring with you, but that you see what others are doing and how you can bring yourself into it?

Anjana Singh: Exactly! That is also what you are doing here. A lot is known about German culture, but also about Indian culture. But from your perspective, where do you see commonalities between German and Indian culture? I think if you can see the similarities at the beginning, then it's easier to find an approach to the culture and the people. Where would you say there is common ground between Germany and India at certain points, or do you see none at all?

Walter J. Lindner: Yes, there are! But that is also the reason why I am here, because I want to find out where the similarities are. There must be many, because it's not for nothing that there are the largest number of Sanskrit scholars in Germany - more than in India. That is, there is all this interest in Indian culture in Germany.

I think both mentalities are a bit "no-nonsense", so to speak, we are very straightforward, we say what we want, we don't beat around the bush, but are straightforward - a certain seriousness, to put it that way. There is a certain depth in the culture, here it's thousands of years, in Germany it's also long years. So we have an old culture that people are proud of and can always refer to.

And then I think it's the case that Germans like to travel. They are among the world champions of travel and they are interested in foreign cultures. Many are drawn to India because they want to decipher this mystical India. What I see is that many Indians know the foreign countries they have travelled to only from a professional perspective, like the UK. The rest of the countries in Europe, for example, they know mainly through Bollywood films, like Switzerland, France and so on. But there is so much more to Europe. And what there is in Germany, we want to highlight a little bit. These are landscapes, culture, mentality, music and so on. There are many things that are perhaps not yet so well known in India, but which arouse great interest.

In short, I see a lot of cultural similarities between the two countries. But we also have relations that go far beyond the culture. From students to scientists to business relations, with CEOs and German companies.

Anjana Singh: Yes, this kind of exchange has existed since the 1960s.  

Walter J. Lindner: Exactly. In the 1960s there was also a special exchange through all the youth in Europe who said we have to look for spirituality. I was there too. Many people came to India to meditate, for yoga, Ayurveda, transcendental meditation and so on.

Anjana Singh: Do you see any changes at this point - you were already in India then and now you are here again - from then to now?

Walter J. Lindner: Yes, I think in general there was a worldwide search for meaning, for depth and for spirituality in the 70s. In the 80s and 90s it was more about being economically successful. And now there is a certain return to spirituality. It never went away, it was just a bit suppressed. I do believe that after COVID there will be another phase where people will say, now we've pressed the pause button and what do we actually want now? Do we just want to go even faster and even more or do we just want to think about what we want in this life? And India is the perfect place for that.  

Anjana Singh: You are now so well integrated, I would say, you have travelled much more in India than I have. Did you have a funny experience somewhere or did you commit any blunders here in India?

Walter J. Lindner: I think you always have to have a certain respect for the culture. Whether you go into a temple and ring the bell with your left hand, that's already blundering. Or you give someone a gift with your left hand, that's not allowed either. So these are things you shouldn't do. Respect for religious feelings is especially important. Since there are at least ten major religions here in India, there is also something spiritual at every corner, so I have to be careful. Not watch out in the sense that it's all forbidden, but where you have to show a certain sensitive behaviour. Covering your head, taking off your shoes, not walking out of the temple with your back to the deity. There are a lot of things that you come to know over time. And that is excused in the case of a foreigner, because you say, yes, he doesn't know. But if you are here for a long time and you want to respect the country, then it is important to know these things. So I've committed all these blunders, but I've learnt from them and now I hope I'll be able to avoid those.

Anjana Singh: What could an app like the New2App do to cover the social parts in favour of integration? In other words, what content should we have on this app that makes it easier to arrive socially in Germany as well?

Walter J. Lindner: Such an app is indeed useful because it bundles information. What can I expect when I come to Germany? But conversely, what can I expect if I am German and come to India? Both are important for integration. Off the top of my head, I can think of topics like: What specialisations are there in the individual universities, but also very general questions about how society functions, how the state is structured, how neighbourhoods help each other, how to behave with the authorities, and so on. It's endless, you can put a lot of things in there that are useful. It doesn't have to be complete at the beginning, it can become more and more condensed in the course of time and then you see that it becomes a real smorgasbord of information.

Anjana Singh: Thank you very much for taking so much time to speak to me. 

Walter J. Lindner: With pleasure, good luck with the app.

The interview with Walter J. Lindner, the German Ambassador in Delhi, was conducted by Anjana Singh. Transcription and editing Tanja Holbe

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