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India-born Mayor shines in Germany

People in the German town of Altlandsberg fondly recall the time when their mayor, Ravindra Gujjula, led an elephant parade.

india Updated: Jun 09, 2006 14:21 IST

People in the German town of Altlandsberg fondly recall the time when their mayor, India-born Ravindra Gujjula, led an elephant parade as part of his effort to bring the two countries closer.

The elephant parade at the Hoppegarten horse racing track in Berlin was Gujjula's way of trying to improve German-Indian understanding with a festival encompassing the cultures of the two countries.

But even before the event there was trouble.

Animal rights activists accused Gujjula of mistreating animals, but he 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 200 or 300 would have turned up," he explains.

"Instead, the spectacle attracted 45,000 interested spectators to the horse racing track."

The memory fills him with joy even now, especially as the presence of over 500 journalists transformed the function into a national event.

Gujjula, a doctor by profession, was elected mayor of Altlandsberg in 1993 when he captured 80 per cent of the vote.

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 politician whose medical practice is done on the ground floor of the town hall, near his party office.

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.

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 Altlandsberg because his girlfriend, whom he later married, got a job there.

"That was more of a coincidence," recalls the 61-year-old Gujjula. "We immediately got a two-room apartment and I always felt comfortable in Altlandsberg."

As for the people of Altlandsberg, this tall man with dark eyes, black hair and a charming laugh has long been considered a local.

Always looking to make things happen, Gujjula 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.

At the same time, he has not forgotten his native land and has already organised 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 Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh is another project. There, every day, over 100 women learn how to read and write."

First Published: Jun 09, 2006 09:58 IST