Marc remembers living and working in Osho’s Berlin commune, Vihan.
The night train stopped suddenly. I woke up in a strange mood.
Outside, dimmed light showed a dilapidated station sign: Helmstedt.
Border town of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
It was December 1983 and I was in the train from Amsterdam to West Berlin. It was dark, cold, and the border between West- and East Germany was severely guarded. Only members of the ‘Volkspolizei’ (VOPO) – equipped with guns and German shepherd dogs – stood on the deserted platform. There were no passengers waiting, for nobody was allowed to leave the GDR, and not even to stand on that platform.
Since April that year I was Osho’s sannyasin and lived in the commune of Amsterdam, Holland. In the Rajneesh Times, a monthly magazine, I had read an article about the opening of the ‘Far Out’ disco on the famous Kurfürstendamm (aka Ku’damm) in Berlin.
For a long time it had been a dream: living together with friends in awareness, having fun and running a business. Life as a piece of Art, and this was now happening on the largest and most exclusive shopping street of West Berlin, a divided city, severely damaged at the end of World War II.
In the morning I arrived at Vihan, the Osho Meditation Center and spoke with Sneha, one of the two young female staff members of the commune. She was loving and open. I hadn’t phoned from Holland to announce my arrival (international phone calls were expensive and anyhow….), but after I told my story I was allowed to stay in the commune for a trial period of 14 days.
The ‘Far Out’ disco was a huge success right from the beginning and additional workers were needed. For weeks I was polishing the white marble floor with a rotating floor polishing machine until everything was clean and glossy. My mind was also often rotating – “Hey Dutchie, what are you doing, cleaning disco floors and toilets in Berlin, is that what you were born and educated for?” I was cleaning the floor and at the same time cleaning my rotating mind.
Later I worked at the bar. During the night the disco was packed with people who shouted their orders for drinks right through the noisy beats of the music: 3 beers, 2 white wine! – holding first three fingers and then two fingers up in the air. I got the idea and filled the beer and wine into glasses, at the same time aware of my breathing. Breathe in… breathe out….
My work had become my meditation.
At first I lived in the ‘Brabu’ (Brandenburgische Strasse) together with approximately 20 sannyasins. More commune members lived in several other flats in Berlin until we all moved to Dahlmannstrasse No. 9, a huge 5-storey house located close to the disco, with a basement for laundry and provisions, a ground floor with space for the commune kitchen, a restaurant, a shop, an office and a meditation room. Above that, were 8 luxurious apartments with huge rooms and high ceilings. There was enough room for a sannyasin dentist’s practice as well.
Before the disco shift started at 7pm, we all gathered on the freshly polished floor. It was then that the jobs for the night were given out, news was shared and we did the Gachchhami’s kneeling down, slowly chanting together: Buddham sharanam gachchhami, sangham sharanam gachchhami, dhammam sharanam gachchhami (I go to the feet of the Buddha, I go to the feet of the Buddha’s commune, I go to the feet of the Dhamma, the ultimate law). When everything was ready we opened at 9pm and the guests who had already been lining up outside, flooded in. The lights changed into ‘disco’ mode and the music started slowly building up. About half an hour later the disco crew came to the dance floor to greet all guests, slowly turning around, hands folded in a Namaste gesture. When we left the shiny floor, the Far Out disco truly took off!
A broad musical repertoire of those days was played sometimes loud, sometimes soft, but always with heart, thanks to our DJ’s, and the dancers on the dance floor could be hardly seen because of the crowd gathering around the bar. Behind the bar we were also dancing and it was an art of awareness to work together in this chaos of heat, loud music and ecstatic young people.
At the same time some fellow commune members from different departments who had been working during the day came in: Construction, Cleaning, Kitchen, Office, Staff and Transport staff. All enjoyed a chat, a dance, a drink (we had free vouchers), a cigarette. Smokers were given one package of cigarettes a day for free. Those were the days when smoking was still worldwide promoted, not prohibited, and Osho had taught me: Whatever you do, just be aware in the here and now, all the time.
During the night we left this pressure cooker to have a late dinner break down in the (relatively silent) basement with a nice variety of vegetarian food.
Time for a break. Breathe in… breathe out….
We learned the ‘Art of Meditation in the Marketplace’. Thanks to Osho, it was a spiritual miracle: dancing through the night, having fun, being aware, working (worshipping) with friends in our own successful ‘Far Out’ disco on the Ku’damm in a dark city behind the ‘Iron Curtain’.
When we went home after cleaning and the Gachchhamis, walking along the silent Ku’damm early in the morning at 5am or 7am, depending on the weekdays, every time there were already friends making breakfast or having breakfast. The commune was a 24 hour business.
I also worked in the commune’s kitchen. The ‘Mamas’ in charge organised the kitchen and gave us a certain job, such as cutting, cooking, washing dishes for breakfast, lunch, late/dinner or take away. Usually relaxing Osho music was played, but the work could be hectic too. We were more than 100 commune members now, living and working together.
Sannyas friends from outside the commune came and joined us because there was so much to do. They got a special ‘guest bead’ in their mala, for the commune grew so fast that we didn’t know who was actually living in! Anyway, now there were many Buddha bellies to be fed.
There were new people, job changes and surprises every day, and I loved it. The ones in charge (who also changed often) organised the businesses, the commune and the job changes. You had to leave your ego behind when one day you were being in charge and the next day following orders of the same guy! This was a hierarchy without bosses, this was ambition without ego. For me this was the future in the here and now!
A job change mostly meant a day/night shift change and a wake up call: Get out of your comfort zone! Your mattress and few belongings (what do you really need?) were moved by friends from Housekeeping during the day, no wonder you sometimes landed in another bed.
Seldom did I receive mail, but one day I got a letter from the Dutch Defence Ministry. Urgent!
I was ordered to appear in Venlo in Holland for military service; because of my studies at the Art Academy in Arnhem I had been suspended for service until one year after graduation. I knew this could happen, hoping it wouldn’t, but now was the time…. What to do? Not showing up would be treated the same like desertion and could be sentenced with two years in prison! Changing a good situation for a bad one? I wrote a letter to the Dutch Department of Defence to be exempted from service on religious grounds because monks didn’t serve either. I wrote a letter to Queen Beatrix, also signed by Sneha (as a mother superior of a monastery), but in the end there I was on the night train again, through the GDR, to the hierarchical discipline of the Dutch Army, ready for the cold war with communism.
For two weeks I served in the Dutch army, in red clothes, with the mala. I applied for red army clothing and vegetarian food but neither was available. Being the oldest in my room I had to stand in position in my red ‘corporate identity clothing’ each morning and salute with my right arm to the commander in chief at the door of the dormitory, with my left arm straight down my leg. After 14 days they sent me to see the army vicar.
My father was a clergyman himself, so I knew his cadre de référence and told him my story. Soon the vicar and I were on good speaking terms and in a letter he advised the commander in chief to suspend me from service until a definite judgement was made. Not waiting for the final judgment day, I left the barracks immediately and took the night train back to Berlin. Now I really was a deserter from the Dutch Army and could not come back to Holland, risking 2 years of army prison until I was 35 years old; more than 5 years to go.
I did not even want to go back!
Happy to be again in the Berlin commune, there were old and new friends and the river of sannyas life went on. The Building department of the commune had become specialised in attic renovations and there was a lot of work to do. It was the time when people in Berlin had become wealthier and wanted bigger and better houses. Because of the limited space on this ‘island of capitalism’ buildings could only be built higher up, so why not change attics into lofts. We had the expertise and labour force to realise those dreams. When our Building department needed workers to carry sheetrock or plasterboard up the stairs to the roofs of these Berlin houses, there were always people like me available to help out.
Then we started ‘Zorba the Buddha’, a vegetarian speciality restaurant at the Ku’damm.
I did a waiter training as part of the first restaurant crew. Efficiency, postures, opening bottles, and customer service. There was also training in creating the menus, dishes, the setting of the plates and cutlery. When all the permits were in and the Graphics Department had printed the menu cards, we opened with a grand party. As a crew with awareness we quickly got used to our new roles. Up and down I walked on request for sugar, a new spoon, and feed-back for the kitchen, the voice of Grace Jones in the background. Everything was changing moment to moment and it was fun.
The management changed too. Sheela had become general manager of all the communes in the world while Osho was in silence in Rajneeshpuram. In came new rules and new mamas. One day at breakfast all the toasters had disappeared. We learned that Sheela wanted all the communes to feel closer to Rajneeshpuram and as there were no toasters there either, so…. The worship hours were extended and the one day off we had was cancelled. More restrictions followed and at the same time AIDS precautions put us in plastic: it was itchy.
Commune members from Brazil, Denmark, England, Holland and Italy came for exchange to live in the Dahlmannstrasse. Our large building became packed with people in red who needed a job and a bed. Most of them worked in Cleaning or Construction for you had to speak German to work behind the bar or in the restaurant. I was lucky, being multi-lingual.
Now we were more than 200 Commune members in Berlin and that required further organisation. I called it Here-Now Management because many decisions were made on the spot and had to be cancelled the next day for Ma X was just going to America and Swami Y was really needed somewhere else.
What seemed to be my fortune became my misfortune. Members who could speak German had to find a job outside the commune because now we were too many! I found a job in a Bistro on the Ku’damm, close to the centre. They were asking for a larder cook during the day. I came in, said I was the new cook and could start right away. It was a very small kitchen without windows, with a Chef who showed me the menu, the kitchen, and then left.
It was not easy. The order came in via a service hatch; 1 Toast Hawaii! I had no idea what that meant and asked the waiter how to make a Toast Hawaii: White bread, a slice of pineapple, cheese on top, and then 5 minutes under the grill. It took me a while to get everything together. However, after 10 minutes it was ready and could be served. “Where is the red cherry!?” the Chef yelled from the other side of the hatch. I wasn’t to come back the next day and that was my fortune. They needed me in the commune anyway.
The new Meditation Centre was opening. We had rented a former car showroom, again on the Ku’damm, and rebuild it in the bright and timeless way all projects were done. There, meditations and groups took place and in the evening we watched Osho’s discourses.
Mostly I was sitting or lying down in the back and let the words and silences of Osho come in. Working day in day out, we were physically tired but the energy of Osho and the commune made us fly. I was living with friends and I was happy.
And then I was transferred to the disco night shift again; a new swami from Holland was in charge. There were new rules and regulations, such as having to sell drinks to patrons more actively. I thought, “Hey Dutchie, you come and tell me what I have to do here?” What I had to say took only one cigarette and a drink; It was time for me to go!
The next day I got on the night train again, heading south to the commune in Munich.
Antar Marc, Osho News