Some Hare Krishna devotee called Nanda Kumara from back in Germany chatted to me on facebook today. He knows a lot of the people I know, but I can’t remember him.
He also knows the centre in Cologne that I and three other girls opened, causing all sorts of memory floodgates to open. So here you go – this is some of my past.
I had joined the Hare Krishnas in 1990 and spent 3 months in the temple in the centre of Heidelberg, but it was soon obvious that I wasn’t a temple person – far too much energy to be contained in a small place like that.
So at the end of the initial 3 months of temple training I tried to figure out all sorts of things I could be doing. My first instinct was to do something to assist my guru’s activities – I very quickly developed that sort of attachment and faith that would carry me through some difficult times. (the wisdom of which, I’m quick to point out, is being supported by the fact that even now he still is the only person among all the people in any sort of position of power within that organisation whom I and a lot of other people trust implicitly. So I’m ok with that.)
Vainatheya, another disciple I met in the temple, an artist, told me that he and a few others were collecting for a van for our guru (a Fiat Ducato which could be fitted with everything he’d need to be on the road for some time). So I was thinking of selling sweets, etc, several other things which I could take on the road. At that exact time, Asanga, a lady who was nearing her fourtieth birthday and had been on the road distributing books for many years, was thinking of making a change.
So we talked, and in the end, Asanga took a Toyota Hiace, fitted out with a raised roof, and 3 girls, Hanna, Ivana and me, on the road to raise some funds for a new centre in Cologne. I had made a deal which allowed me to keep 10% of my takings for the guru – it was good thinking, even in hindsight. We were raising a lot of money, alone I would have never managed as much as 10%.
For a year we lived in that van, it slept 2 up and 2 down; we came back to wash our things and the van in Heidelberg and re-stock on everything. We got up early, read together, did our meditations, sang together, while Asanga was cooking the main meal of the day in the back of the van. (If you get up at 5, you’re quite ready to have your main meal at 9am.)
That time might not have been the happiest but my god did I learn a lot. The effect was a little bit like military. I’ve benefitted a lot from all those lessons since. (you know, like mind over matter etc… pushing your boundaries, both physically and mentally… that sort of thing)In any case – at the end of that year we bought a house in Taunusstraße, Cologne, and started living in the first flat that was empty (it’s Germany. Tenants enjoy a lot of protection). While we lived there, it was being refurbished. We still did the same things we did while on the road, going out selling stuff every day, raising money to fix this place up. We also started being a little community around that place.
We were an interesting bunch. Asanga mostly driving us around and taking care of practical things, I had my license by end of 92 and got quite independent… Hanna was the beauty, Ivana was Serbian I think, so was the headstrong one… I don’t quite know how the others saw me then.Being such a small team, we got to try a lot of things. I got quite good at playing the harmonium and leading the singing, and baking bread, Hanna was starting to teach the philosophy behind what we were doing (to a bunch of young blokes who all had enormous crushes on her), Ivana was quite the business person. Asanga was being both the mum and the dad to us, always pushing, always expecting more… We made her a cake in the shape of the house for her 40th birthday, I still remember making a huge amount of marzipan, nougat, everything from scratch – huge fun 🙂
We got a wonderful carpenter in to help us with the interior design and gradually that place was turned around from a dank apartment building to a bright and spacious temple. What was more important was that it was a worldwide first – a temple led and run by women. It was never without some sort of conflict, but my god it was warm. I think for most people, what philosophy you follow (your head) doesn’t matter as much as what energy you project (your heart).
So this morning, the guy I spoke to? He knows the current temple manager. They don’t know us. They’ve got a straight, manly name since 2005 – Gauradesh – and nothing to signify any heart or personality on their website. Which, I guess, is pretty standard for ISKCON, but it does make me miss the nice community we had for a while. I burnt out around 93 (probably more than coincidence that around the same time, the German economy went downhill, so raising funds was much less of a walk in the park), worked in our vegetarian restaurant for a while, moved to Sweden in 94, to work in a publishing house….
Anyways that’s a carcrash post waiting to happen. On some other Good Friday I guess. It’ll be much more fun if I tell you stories from Cologne, like that night the restaurant got invaded by not one but two straight-edge bands on tour…
But back to our temple opening project – Maybe the reason I remember it now, apart from speaking to that Nanda Kumara, is that I’m building communities again, and a lot of what we did right back then applies just as much now. But – it bothers me that the people who live now don’t remember us. I think they should. But I guess none of us have been back much. Do you think I feel justified in wanting to be remembered or do you think it’s false ego?