Popular Indian mayor is always on the move
Ravindra Gujjula's medical studies brought him to East Berlin in the former communist German Democratic Republic at the beginning of the 1970s. He later found himself in the little Brandenburg town of Altlandsberg because his girlfriend, who he later married, managed to get a job there when she finished her studies.
"That was more of a coincidence," says the 61-year-old today. "We immediately got a two-room apartment and I always felt comfortable in Altlandsberg." The town’s citizens voted the family man into the office of mayor in 1993 when he managed to capture 80 per cent of the vote.
Incredibly, there had never been a non-white mayor anywhere in Germany before Gujjula’s success. Not surprisingly, journalists from all over the world promptly beat a path to the small town, east of the capital Berlin.
"Even today, lots of journalists come to see me," says the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician whose medical practice is situated directly on the ground floor of the town hall. "Recently, I gave an interview to a reporter from Singapore."
Making things happen
The short distance between the two workplaces seems to have paid off for the doctor cum mayor, who is always looking to make things happen.
Ravindra Gujjula won 80 percent of the vote
He talks proudly of the industrial estate on the town’s outskirts where over 1,000 jobs have been created. The increase in traffic made it necessary to build a bypass as previously up to 14,000 vehicles rolled through the small town.
"It was unbearable," Gujjula remembers. "Those who lived near the road couldn’t sleep at night anymore."
Considered a local
For the people of Altlandsberg, this 1.67-metre tall man with dark eyes, black hair and a charming laugh has long been considered something of a local.
Although Brandenburg is hardly renowned for welcoming foreigners, Gujjula has been working hard to foster peaceful cooperation between Germans and foreign citizens.
As chairman of the "Brandenburg against the Right" group, he works against xenophobia and campaigns for the right of foreigners to have double citizenship – German and their own. He also helped prevent the deportation of a Vietnamese family of four.
Mobilising the town
Regardless of what he is trying to achieve, Gujjula manages to mobilise half the town in an effort to achieve his goal.
People still fondly remember the elephant parade at the Hoppegarten horse racing track in Berlin where Gujjula tried to improve German-Indian understanding with a festival encompassing the cultures of the two countries. The elephant parade was only meant to be part of the festivities but even before the event there was trouble. Animal rights activists such German rock singer Nina Hagen accused him of mistreating animals, but Gujjula didn’t let them spoil his fun. He led the parade, which was a resounding success.
"If I had told the visitors that we were going to explain a little about Indian culture to them, only two or three hundred would have turned up," he explains. "Instead, the spectacle attracted 45,000 interested spectators to the horse racing track."
Still remembering India
The memory fills him with joy even now, especially as the presence of over 500 journalists transformed the function into a national event. However, Gujjula has never forgotten his native India and he has already organized three aid projects with German schoolchildren.
"A joinery workshop, which they helped get built there, now secures the livelihoods of 40 families," he says proudly. "A women’s centre in Vijawada is another project. There, every day, over 100 women learn how to read and write."
If no one stops him, he will carry on for hours explaining his projects for India and Altlandsberg. Ravindra Gujjula is simply bursting with ideas.
July 27, 2006
Copyright DPA with Expatica 2006
Subject: German, Germany, Brandenburg, mayor, India, Ravindra Gujjula