Fascinating Frankfurt

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cropped-screen-shot-2014-10-15-at-6-55-06-am.pngSwamiji in Germany

The history of the Ramakrishna-Vedanta movement in Germany goes back to the days of Swami Vivekananda when he visited professor Paul Deussen of Kiel in Germany in 1896. There were many prominent German scholars in the past, like Schopenheur, Max Mueller, Paul Deussen, and others whose contribution to Vedanta is immense. In recent times, Kurt Friedrichs made a lasting impact on Vedanta movement. He has written or translated many books on Ramakrishna-Vedanta literature also. 

Official beginning

In the year 1933 an official centre was started with Swami Yatishwarananda as the head of the centre at Wiesbaden. But due to some unavoidable reason it was closed down in 1938. However, the work of Vedanta Centre of Wiesbaden was revived from 1959 with Kurt Friedrichs, a disciple of Swami Yatiswarananda, as its president. Since then this society has been publishing books on Vedanta and bringing out a quarterly journal called ‘Vedanta’. Later on in or around 1995 some enthusiastic devotees and students of Vedanta formed this Society and bought a spacious three-storied house at the present location. At the request of the Society the Ramakrishna Math headquarters at Belur Math, India, has affiliated its spiritual activities in November 2004.

courtesy: German Vedanta Centre

Fascinating Frankfurt

It was a​ ​cold​, wintry ​day when we arrived at Frankfurt. ​Clutching on to our warm jackets ​we wheeled ​our bags out of the central station and to the taxi rank. To our surprise we noticed hundreds of beige coloured “e class” Mercedes Benz cars​ running as taxis. But then we understood that we were in Germany – home to the MB family!

As we drove to the hotel, I could not help but notice the contrast between old and new buildings, with the modern skyline and its glass skyscrapers set on one side, and the historical old town opposite. ​we were looking forward to reaching the hotel as the body needed a hot drink.

The​ Flemings Deluxe Hotel​ – a truly regal building, was a welcoming sight after the four and half hour train travel from Paris. After lunch I contacted brother Swami Baneshananda, the Minister-in charge. He was profoundly regretting that he could not meet me at that hour as he had urgent meeting at Berlin and hence he was leaving Mühlheim as early as possible.. He had, however, made all arrangements for us to be received by his Assistant Swami Bhaswatananda at Mühlheim ashram the next day.

Mesmerising Mühlheim Ashram

A one hour journey from Frankfurt to Mühlheim was indeed scenic; ​we drove along ​the beautiful country​ side​ with rivers and lakes along the way, lots of parks and​ quaint apartment buildings with ​ well manicured gardens to be marvelled at.

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Our ashram building is a 3-storey building with a small compact shrine on the first floor which was really beautiful. Swami Bhaswatananda welcomed us warmly and offered us hot tea and snacks. We had a short satsang, ​some ​reading and then the Swami gave us a little history about the ​Mühlheim and Berlin centres​. We were treated to a sumptuous lunch. It was a pleasant meeting of an India born volunteer who was expert in culinary and we learnt that he prepared our tasty meals! He was pursuing his higher education while staying at the Centre. 

Cooking vis-a-vis pure mind

I was pleasantly reminded of the incident in the life of Swami Vivekananda about the art of cooking. Saratchandra Chakravarty, a disciple of Swamiji in his famous work “Swami-Shishya-Samvâda” in two parts recounts how Swamiji was appreciative of good cooking and connects it to the pure mind… I give below the passage from this book :

For some days past, Swamiji has been staying at Balaram Bose’s house, Baghbazar. There will be a total eclipse of the sun today. The disciple is to cook for Swamiji this morning, and on his presenting himself, Swamiji said, “Well, the cooking must be in the East Bengal style; and we must finish our dinner before the eclipse starts.”

The inner apartments of the house were all unoccupied now. So the disciple went inside into the kitchen and started his cooking. Swamiji also was looking in now and then with a word of encouragement and sometimes with a joke, as, “Take care, the soup (The Bengali expression has a peculiar pronunciation in East Bengal which gives the point of the joke.) must be after the East Bengal fashion.”

The hungry monk

The cooking had been almost completed, when Swamiji came in after his bath and sat down for dinner, putting up his own seat and plate. “Do bring in anything finished, quick,” he said, “I can’t wait, I’m burning with hunger!” While eating, Swamiji was pleased with the curry with bitters and remarked, “Never have I enjoyed such a nice thing! But none of the things is so hot as your soup.” “It’s just after the style of the Burdwan District”, said Swamiji tasting the sour preparation. He then brought his dinner to a close and after washing sat on the bedstead inside the room.

While having his after-dinner smoke, Swamiji remarked to the disciple, “Whoever cannot cook well cannot become a good Sâdhu; unless the mind is pure, good tasteful cooking is not possible.”

As we were leaving the ashram, drops of rain washed our faces…a true blessing from Thakur!

Sight-seeing the spots

the Eschenheimer tower …

Directly opposite our hotel was the one of Germany’s finest relics the Eschenheimer tower from Frankfurt’s old town walls which was built in the 1400. It’s a hugely impressive structure at 47 meters high.​

What was the best way to view the city? The Swami at Mühlheim advised us to take the open bus, as the extreme cold weather would not permit us to walk leisurely in the city. That was the right decision.

In the heart of Frankfurt’s old town (Altstadt), the Römerberg is an irregularly shaped square with the justice fountain at its center. As the tourist guide described it was not only Frankfurt’s most picturesque public square, it’s the city’s busiest pedestrian zone, home to numerous tourist attractions. One can see a variety of shop structures, from its many Kulturschirn, a form of open-fronted shop once common throughout the old town, to the Römer, a complex of 11 lovely old buildings from the 15th to 18th centuries. The old town hall (Altes Rathaus) with its imperial hall (Kaisersaal), once the scene of splendid banquets was another attraction.

Man with a hammer

As the bus I was sitting was winding its way I noticed a sculpture that kindled my imagination. It was right on the pavement of the road leading to Trade Fair grounds.

The man with the hammer...
The man with the hammer…

A man with a hammer was that sculpture I noticed. I remembered the English proverb “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”! He can fix up all broken frames. He can “create’ whatever remain to be done. Did not Swamji say, “You are the creator of your own destiny”? It signified the tremendous efforts put up by Germans to ‘create’ a new nation, as it were, after the war ravages. The splendour and prosperity that we witness today comes from that hard work of the industrious German people.

Saying farewell to Frankfurt we left for our next stop in Europe – the snowy Switzerland.


|| Aum Shri Raamakrishnaarpanamastu ||

Never to forget Nischalananda

Gurudev Swami Nischalanandaji
Gurudev Swami Nischalanandaji

Gurudev Swami Nischalanandaji was the Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. Every year, during his birthday weekend some program or other is arranged in various ways. This year, on the 84th birth anniversary, our Centre held a Seminar on Religious Education.

Following erudite Papers were presented to the delight of all the listeners accompanied by captivating slide-shows.
1. Identifying a Curriculum for Hindu Religious Education by Ms S Naidoo from Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville
2. The Role of Sunday School Teachers in Promoting Hindu Religious Education by Dr N Balkaran from Ladysmith
3. The Role of Parents in Home-based Religious Education by Mrs R Singh from Newcastle
4. Using Distance Education and the Electronic Media to Promote Hindu Religious Education by Mr V Mohanlal from Headquarters

Gurudev Swami Nischalanandaji in a lonely moment
Gurudev Swami Nischalanandaji in a lonely moment

While inaugurating the Seminar, I drew the attention of all to the wonderful early spade-work done by Swami Nischalanandaji in introducing variety of ways in keeping up the heritage of religious ideas among the Hindus who due to the prevailing political conditions in those days, could not maintain their cultural contact with Mother India.

He had several disciples. I met a few who are pretty old now. The name of Mother Henny (sweetly called Henny Maa), now 87, spending quite days in Asherville Sri Sarada Devi Ashram is not unknown to many devotees of the Ramakrishna Centre in South Africa.

Henny Maa
Henny Maa

Her original name was Henny Maria Thekla Schimmel, was born at Leipzig in East Germany. She arrived in South Africa in 1950. She was 28 years old then. In 1956, a friend introduced her to the local branch of the Ramakrishna Centre in Johannesburg. A doctor of homeopathy – Dr Mckippen, ran the branch. She visited the branch every Thursday. In 1956 (after a few months of attending satsangs) she was informed that the leader of the Ramakrishna Centre was arriving in Johannesburg from Durban.

Meeting Gurudev

It was a Thursday towards the end of 1956 that Henny first saw Gurudev.

“We were singing, when I felt a gust of wind brush past me. I turned my head and saw the feet of Gurudev. At that very moment, I thought to myself these are the feet of Christ – the anointed one. I was not myself after that. I was transported to a higher plane of consciousness. All my life I was looking for something. On seeing these divine feet, I knew that it was Gurudev I was waiting for. At last, I had found him.”

She continued to say in a choked voice,

“Gurudev informed me that he was going to India. I asked him to give me initiation before he left. I was initiated on the 6th of February 1957.”

Henny Maa could relate to us some of her memorable experiences vis-a-vis Swami Nischalanandaji. I give below two of them as narrated by her. One was on Yoga Camp and the other was Dance of Shiva.

Yoga Camp
“I was looking forward to going to the yoga camp when I got very ill with double pneumonia. Gurudev phoned me. Disappointedly I informed him that I could not make it to the camp. He said to me, “You will come. Phone me after midnight.”

I called him after midnight and felt better soon after. Needless to say, I attended the yoga camp. It was relayed to me later that Gurudev got seriously ill after my telephone conversation with him. He had taken over my illness.

Dance of Shiva
At one of the camps, Gurudev had dressed as Nataraja the cosmic dancer. He danced using classical intricate steps, with no formal training or knowledge of knowing how to dance. The devotees were moved by this experience. Some cried and some laughed each having a different experience. A trained dancer wrote down the movements and informed Gurudev that the intricate steps he performed could only be done by the rishis.
He was a saint of this century. Not many people knew of the power behind his deep spirituality. His sannyasa Guru, Swami Purushottamananda knew about the positive influence that Gurudev would have in South Africa.
I am truly blessed to have been associated with Gurudev.