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For diplomat Walter Lindner, it was the 14th move in his professional life when he took over the management of the New Delhi embassy in April 2019. The 62-year-old was, among other things, ambassador to South Africa as well as spokesman and state secretary in the Federal Foreign Office. He discovered India for himself back in the 1970s: on a trip around the world with a backpack. He and his team are now accompanying the 5th government consultations between Germany and India in New Delhi.
Mr. Lindner, what do people in India care when they meet the German ambassador?
Walter Lindner: There is a lot of curiosity, openness, warmth. And: Perhaps surprising, but many conversations quickly revolve around existential issues. Spirituality is part of everyday life here. Many Indians are curious about how to think about the spiritual. For example, I recently had a meeting with the Indian CEO of a large German company in the country. We had planned an in-depth exchange on balance sheet figures and economic perspectives. But he just came from his house temple and the daily religious puja that is practiced there. Before the actual economic talk, we naturally talked first about rebirth, rituals and enlightenment.
On the embassy page, you write that you came to the country for the first time 42 years ago after studying music - as a backpacker. Did you still recognize India?
India has a 7000 year old culture, 40 years is a tiny thing (laughs). Seriously: India in search of wisdom, which fascinated me so much back then, is of course still there. The land of temples, palaces, mosques and the bustling and colorful street life is of course still there. But India has also made a giant leap: with the IT headquarters of Bangalore, the huge financial district in Mumbai and its whole urban lifestyle, which has transformed parts of the big cities into very modern urban centers - with an Indian touch!
The Chancellor is traveling to New Delhi with several ministers for the government consultations. What are the main focuses of the discussions?
Our two countries have many similar issues. In India, many questions about the future are bundled up like in a magnifying glass - on an enormously larger scale: the air pollution in the many large cities, the water quality in the Ganges, modern urban development or the opportunities of digitization. If we make progress here on these issues, then we will advance solutions that have an impact across the globe. As Germans, we can contribute our technology and our knowledge - and learn from one another.
What does the collaboration look like in concrete terms?
For example, the Chancellor will visit an e-mobility project. The subway stations in New Delhi are expected to be completely solar-powered at some point. There are already individual solar stations. And with the metro card, you can still take an e-rickshaw there for the rest of the way home. Our Society for International Cooperation supports the project with loans.
India has 1.3 billion people. In the public perception, however, it is not so much in focus compared to other regions. Why is that?
That's true. We often focus primarily on the trouble spots in the world. Something is lost in sight of how much potential our cooperation with the geostrategic giant India has. As Germans, we share many common values with the largest democracy in the world. Like us, India relies heavily on cooperation in international bodies and on multilateralism. That’s worth a lot today.
What are your Indian interlocutors interested in in Germany?
For many here we are still a nation of engineers, inventors and tinkerers. Many Indians are interested in our competencies in topics such as artificial intelligence, in mechanical engineering or in the automotive industry. We are India's largest trading partner in the EU - with a trade volume of 21 billion euros. And have more Indian students than in England, for example. These are very good contacts.
The Chancellor will also visit the house of Mahatma Gandhi: How important is Gandhi for modern India?
One encounters his portrait here in many houses and offices. He is still the country's most identifiable figure. I can understand this pride: its story of religious tolerance and nonviolence is a powerful symbol in a time of growing nationalism.
You tweet a lot about your visits to the country: have you already found the place that best describes India?
I would also have liked to become a photographer. Now I often travel around the country privately on the weekends and try to show India through my eyes. There is certainly no one place: But at the Gaths of Varanasi or in the temple complexes of Madurai Kerala, in the Sufi shrine of Nizamuddin - to name just a few - you can already feel the special depth of the cultures, the complexity of the country.
So you arrived after six months?
As a diplomat, you often move, so maybe that makes things a little easier for me. But of course: India is demanding. The intensity of this country is incomparable. It overwhelms you with colors, smells, with the most intense impressions - also with its contradictions. The Indians fly to the moon and at the same time there are many people in great poverty. You have to endure that. I could probably live here for ten years and would not have completely understood the country.
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