Hindus await first temple in Berlin
The day Vilwanathan Krishnamurthy has been waiting 20 years for is about to become a reality. On November 4, the 55-year-old building technician will witness the groundbreaking ceremony for Berlin's first Hindu temple.
"It's something I have always dreamed about - a place in Berlin where I can worship in my own way and where my children can," said the man from Bangalore, who has lived for 33 years in Germany.
The father-of-two is vice president of the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple Committee, the driving force behind efforts to provide a suitable place of worship for Berlin's 6,000 Hindus.
The temple, dedicated to the elephant-headed deity Ganesha, is being built in Neukoelln, a working-class suburb with a large immigrant population and widespread unemployment.
The district gained notoriety in 2006 when teachers at one of its schools wrote an open letter complaining of a complete breakdown of discipline and growing tendency towards violence by the pupils.
Local councillors hope the temple will go some way towards helping integration and easing social tensions. They also see the potential to attract tourists.
"Everybody is very positive about the temple," Krishnamurthy said.
When completed in September 2009 it will be only the second Hindu temple in Germany but the second biggest in Europe after the Shri Venkateswara, which opened near Birmingham, England, in August 2006.
The Berlin building, costing 850,000 euros ($1.12 million), will be financed almost exclusively by donations, according to the temple trustees.
The temple will be built in a corner of the 84-hectare Hasenheide park after local authorities allowed the Hindu community to use the land rent-free until 2080.
The groundbreaking ceremony was originally set for October 28, but put back to a more auspicious date one week later to bring it closer to Diwali, the Indian festival of lights.
Before the temple foundations are laid, there will be a special "ceremony of fire" to exorcise any demons there might be around the construction site.
The original drawings were made by an Indian specializing in temple architecture. German architects had to go over the plans to make sure they conformed to German building requirements.
A 17-metre ornamental tower dominates the entrance to the complex, which will contain one large temple with seating capacity for more than 300 and four smaller temples.
Stone carvings decorating the entrance will be imported from India, according to Krishnamurthy, who also chairs Berlin's Tamil Cultural society and gives dance and music classes in his spare time.
In addition to daily prayers and religious services, the temple will also be used for weddings and birthday celebrations. Yoga and meditation courses will also be offered.
"It is not only for Hindus. It is also for people who want to live together in peace," says Krishnamurthy. "We would like to invite them and pass on our energy."