Marked by vibrant colors and the coming of spring, India’s religious festival of Holi is the country’s latest export.
And here in Germany, young people are embracing the lively tradition.
But unlike the spontaneous street festivities that mark Holi in India, here it is held in a large, open field and you have to pay to get in.
26-year-old German Maxim Derenko visited India last year and was inspired to re-create the Indian festival at home.
“We were so amazed by the basic idea, which means the equality of everybody, we have also inequality in Germany as well so we wanted to transport this message to Germany and this happiness and this feeling which is carried out through colors, which are the symbol of equality, we wanted to have it here as well.”
Maxim and his friends organized the event here and plan to take the festival across Europe too. Complete with Western party beats, it’s a celebration of Holi with a European twist.
And so far it has been a success, with as many 15 thousand visitors paying the 17-dollar entrance fee to attend.
Maxim says people have welcomed the festival concept.
“Indian culture is quite popular in Europe and in Germany especially, people love the Indian food, culture; they love the Bollywood. We are also doing something for it, we have talked to the Indian embassy and tourism office and they are lucky that we support them. It’s a mutual fit for everyone.”
At a nearby food stall, Indian curry is sold under the banner, “holy food.”
Delicious Indian food is one of the main attractions of the event, with festivalgoers joining long queues for a spicy treat.
Outside the festival too, Indian immigrants in Germany are establishing a loyal fan base.
Originally from the Indian state of Punjab, Manu Puri opened a restaurant in Bonn city several years ago.
His business has been going so well, he is planning to open another restaurant too.
“My business is very good, there is a craze for India here and they love Indian food and culture. We have customers who go and stay in India for six months each year.”
The Indian film industry is also playing a major role in fueling what Manu says is a craze for India.
Every year top Bollywood film stars visit Germany’s premier film event, the Berlinale.
Shah Rukh Khan, who attended last year to promote his film ‘Don,’ is a well-known name here.
But Germany’s appreciation for all things Indian is relatively recent.
In the year 2000, German politician Jürgen Rüttgers made headlines when he controversially said “Kinder statt Inder,” meaning “Children instead of Indians.”
Ruuger, like many German nationalists, was criticizing the number of Indian immigrants in Germany.
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Nisa Punnamparambil-Wolf is a south Indian author who was born in Germany.
She wrote a book to counter the ‘Kinde-statt Inder’ mind-set and says her book explores different ideas about ‘Indian-ness.’
“We also have stories in this book of young Indians who feel very much at home here and who say we are Germans although we look Indian. And we have stories in this book about Diptesh or so who says, ‘A multicultural society in Germany is not possible.’ So, there are different ways to meet this kind of torn between two cultures, but not everyone feels torn between two cultures.”
Considering the Holi festival recently held in Germany, Nisa said she wasn’t bothered about whether it was an authentic representation of Indian culture, or just a marketing ploy.
“There is a variety of Indianness in Germany now and of course the Holi festival is very popular now, but it has got nothing to do with Holi as such. But then there are always culture and societies dynamic and we can like it or not like it. It will come and go. And who knows, I mean Halloween was never here in Germany when I was small and now it has become a part of the culture. So, maybe it’s just a bridge, a bridge, a mainstream bridge through the culture and Germans, young Germans would have never known anything about India if they have not taken part in a Holi festival.”
Yoga and classical dance from India are also gaining popularity.
In the city of Cologne, a 55-year-old German woman uses the artistic name Madhavi Mandira when she teaches classical Indian dance.
Madhavi says her classes have attracted a niche market of mostly Germans.
“It is still not a mainstream art in Germany there are other dance forms like salsa and flamenco those are more easy approachable, but with classical Indian dance it is still a niche that means you always have to go out and look for interested people and it’s not that huge groups will stick to it but those who once start will stay for many years that the difference.
Back at the Holi festival, German youths throw colored powder at each other, while some girls place bright bindis – the Indian symbol of marriage – on their foreheads.
And while festivalgoers may not know the true meaning of Holi or bindis… they are certainly having a good time.