Monday, February 14, 2011

Hey, What Was This German Bakery All About?

A file photo of the tattered German Bakery soon after the bomb blast on the night of Feb 13, 2010. It is being restored now.

Vinita Deshmukh
(The following article was published in Intelligent Pune weekly tabloid last February soon after the German Bakery Blast on February 13, 2010)
The 400-sq feet something German Bakery which had caught the fascination of Pune’s
young modern crowd in the last few years was an enigma, ever since it came into
existence in 1987. An insight

The ‘Kambhucha’ drink – a special herbal tea that undergoes a process of fermentation -
was a German Bakery exclusive – and its best-selling item. The ABC juice comprising
apple, beetroot and carrot was also a much sought after health drink. The omlettes were a
hot favourite, especially for breakfast, and the Marble Cake was a lip-smacking delight,
followed by an array of pastries and brown bread. That apart, German Bakery had turned
into a hot and happening spot for college students and young IT professionals who spent
their leisurely moments here, particularly late evenings that stretched up to 11 pm.

It was also a favourite with backpacking westerners who had begun to patronise it ever
since its inception in the late 1980s, as also for the junkie crowd trying to find their
nirvana. German Bakery’s global familiarity can be attributed to its mention in the widely
read and referred to travel book ‘Lonely Planet’ – a bible for travellers the world over.
All said and done, German Bakery was not a clean name – it was always tarnished with
a ‘shady’ complexion. As a young blogger put it after the bomb blast, “There were a
variety of opinions I was exposed to. During my first year of college, one aunt actually
said to my mother: She is a good girl. She is in college and still does not know where the
German Bakery is.”

Another blogger confesses, “I learnt there, while trying out their sinful pastries, how to
distinguish the sweet smell of weed mixed with tobacco from normal nicotine cigarettes.
The first time I realised I was among weed-smoking foreigners and students, I wondered
if that was crime enough to have me arrested. Little guilt pangs of a straitjacketed life, I
tell you! But then the crazy student life that Pune offers gives you a masters degree in life
too along with the subject you landed up in the city to pursue.’’

The 400 odd sq feet bakery, which was more of a restaurant, provided a casual, chatty
ambience, with its bamboo decor and humble wooden benches and tables. In fact, such
was its rather nondescript avtaar that you could easily miss it if you were not a regular
on the North Main Road of Koregaon Park. However, for those residing in Camp and
surrounding areas, it was an ‘out-of-the-box’ eatery. Since the last few years it had come
to occupy a fashionable icon in a youngster’s lifestyle and had become quite a buzz word
in college campuses across the city.

Old time Osho sanyasins recall its erstwhile name as `Chit Chat’, serving Indian food.
Then a German disciple helped a local in concocting breads, cakes and pastries to cater to
the western sanyasins that were swarming in hundreds after Bhagwan Rajneesh (as Osho
was known then) returned from the US in 1987. They were on the lookout for their kind
of cuisine and more importantly, at an affordable price. Like they say, necessity is the
mother of invention.

German Bakery went beyond just serving food for Osho’s sanyasins - it soon became
the one-stop shop for westerners who mostly visited Pune for the Osho Commune.
Where could I rent a flat? Where could I hire a scooter? What’s going on in the Osho
Commune? And yes, where could I get that intoxicating puff? All these questions were
answered here. The Commune though has always looked at German Bakery with utter
disdain as all kinds of gossip floated there.

German Bakery earned notoriety particularly in the mid 1990s when it attracted the
maximum number of junkies – the ‘flower power’ kind of people who raised many an
eyebrow. The trigger for them to arrive here was the stern action taken by the Goa Police
to banish beach parties. It raided one such party on the infamous Anjuna beach, which
sent the junkies scouting for cover. Sure enough they found Koregaon Park as the next
haven. They realised that they could easily camouflage themselves in this neighbourhood
that had become home to hundreds of western sanyasins.

All they needed to do was to become sanyasins by procuring a Commune card. So,
suddenly Koregaon Park was flooded with these ‘weirdoes’ who flip-flopped in their
sandals and loose robes with their hair running down to their shoulders. Quite naturally,
with German Bakery being a mere 100 yards away from the Osho Commune, it became
a hotspot for this new crowd. For this new lot of fly-by-night visitors of the Osho
Commune, there was more to German Bakery than a mere affordable eating out joint. A
blotch in Pune’s socio-cultural history came in the form of mass drug orgies held in the
backyards of Koregaon Park – the first one in the open arena of River View Restaurant
which is now called Pyramids.

Before that, Pune made its entry as a host of such drug affairs on a farm at Dehu
Road, where on a full moon night around 3,000 western junkies and so-called Osho
sanyasins gathered for a trance dance party that lasted for three consecutive nights. This
emboldened them enough to hold one at Koregaon Park. What became a common view
then was to find these guys in robes on old Java bikes who seemed to have taken over
the entire neighbourhood. Organisers of such parties would put up posters in and around
German Bakery and word-of-mouth invitations spread the fastest from this eatery. The
pass to such parties was the Osho Commune card (which the management was not aware
of, or if it did ignored it for the sake of the sudden flood of sanyasins that flowed in,
never mind who they were and what they indulged in).

Those days, few Indian youngsters would have even dared to make their way through
this ‘hippie’ crowd and make German Bakery their hangout. Like in other restaurants
in Koregaon Park during the Osho heydays, Indians were not quite welcome in German
Bakery. However, the attitude changed after the junkie crowd receded. Thanks to the
media campaign against the frenzied drug orgies in the backyards of this neighbourhood
and a sustained campaign by citizen activists, the Osho Commune was compelled to
implement stringent rules while providing the card. Steadily, finding that they would be
exposed as their shelter had been lifted, the junkie crowd dissipated from the city.

German Bakery received a fresh lease of life when the IT industry started to boom
in Pune from early 2000. Pune became home to thousands of young IT and BPO
professionals. College students too began patronising German Bakery as most of them
now had ample pocket money to blow up, unlike a couple of decades ago when hostelites
lived on rather frugal means. German Bakery was also the hub of sanyasins who were
banned from the Commune for reasons that were often stated as ‘flimsy’. Stories of the
high-handedness and eccentricities of the Osho Commune management used to be heard
between these bamboo walls.

That the Osho Commune management always had a disdain for German Bakery is
reflected in this quote by Swami Chaitanya Keerti, former high profile spokesperson
of the Osho Commune, “Oh, I have never been to the bakery, maybe just twice during
my 25 years’ stay in the Commune.” Contrary to that, Swami Jadish Bharati, an Osho
sanyasin who has been banned and was a regular at the German Bakery (he lives close
to it), swears by it. “I will die if German Bakery does not re-open,” he states. That
quite sums up the sentiment of thousands of travellers and youngsters, its reputation
Vinita Deshmukh


  1. Compliments, Vinita ...

    Very neatly chronicled History of the cultural evolution of Pune City unfolding in the old German Bakery in KP - It was Sheer Nostalgia ! Sorry, I had missed this one in IP.

    Although you have aptly made a sweeping
    reference to " a wide variety of lip-smacking
    pastries ", NO historical archive of German
    Bakery can be said to be complete without
    a special mention of those chewee, gooey
    CHOCOLATE DOUGHNUTS !! In those days before Baristas and CCDs, the GB was the ONLY place
    in Pune where one could indulge in those sinfully delicious concoctions ...

    One more reason for the popularity of GB
    was the extraordinary ambiance of the
    'outdoor' cafe - where one could sit and
    discreetly ogle phirangi sanyasins. You
    will recall a similar scenario on FC Road -
    when Vaishali had that outdoor roadside
    seating for young ornithologists ...


  2. Yes Rajiv Ornithologists were aplenty outside Vaishali - know that well as I was a student of Fergusson College! As for the nostalgia, my special beat in The Indian Express was Koregaon Park and the Osho Commune!

  3. Madhu Iyer wrote to my email

    Hi Vinita,

    I was a great admirer of the breaksfast pastries and other stuff dished out at German Bakery. I would sometimes drive down from Aundh on weekends in the morning with my daughters to buy breakfast there.

    Having said that, here are a few things that did go wrong and could have been avoided.

    1. In general, our sense of paying little heed to possibilities of dangers around us will cost us big time. It has already for the people who have lost life and limb in the German Bakery blast.

    2. The German bakery owners would have sensed that there is need for better security. Even a week before the blast I was there in the bakery. And anyone could walk in and anyone could walk out. There was no security of any sort. Certainly something that could have been avoided.

    3. Cordon off shopping areas or crowded areas. Give only 2 points - one for entry and one for exit in normal circumstances. Every entry must be captured by CCTV.

    4. Involve people to watch suspicious people. This will be good for Pune in more than one way.

    5. Gross indiscipline which is a key element in the younger section of the crowd these days must be channelized through mandatory army conscription for at least one year. Discipline will reduce incidents as these and at the same time, will bring in pride to the armed forces and the country.

    As radicals in the society increase, one only needs to take that more precaution.