The German Bakery re-opened this May, but unlike Leopold Café in Mumbai, it refuses to acknowledge its horrific past.
(Or have I told you about this place before?)
The first time I went to German Bakery was for my first date. I was 17 and the whole bohemian thing was catching up. It was the kind of place you wished you belonged to, and told stories of later.
Standing in an awkward street corner in Pune's Koregaon Park area, it was more a community than a cafe. The furniture was sparse and conversations (tended to be) long. The maroon robes and dreadlocks of the Osho park across the street that dotted the various lanes of Koregaon Park would congregate every morning, afternoon and night and mingle with many migrant students like me from the rest of the country.
It took some getting used to, but it was one place that allowed you to feel cool and rebellious just because you were there. It housed the smell of a certain herb that seems to be Koregaon Park's worst kept secret. But giving it the due respect that all secrets deserve, you would only talk about it in whispers.
Years later, when a smirk started accompanying the word hippie, the German bakery was still a reminder of the years gone by: for many like me, it was a rite of passage, if you will.
On February 13, 2010 a bomb blast tore it apart.
I returned to Pune as a journalist four months after the attack that killed 17 people, injured many others and changed the image of the bakery in collective memories forever. For three years after that, it became “GB” of the hasty court-reporters' lingo. The German Bakery of my past had not prepared me for long hours of waiting in dingy courtrooms for evidence to emerge against Himayat Baig, the sole arrested accused in the case. It felt like someone had deliberately drained out all the good memories, slowly infusing pain instead. This included listening to victims and survivors narrate how an evening spent in one of your favourite places in the city a day before Valentine's Day could change your life forever.
And yet, for the 38 odd months that it remained shut, Punekars hoped it would reopen soon, and retain that heady fervour which reminded us of the years gone by. In the meanwhile, a new owner took over as the renovation was no longer affordable for the old ones.
It re-opened this May, and as you can see, I did wait for a while before forming my opinion about it. But let me not tell you what I think of it. This is what the new German bakery is like: Before you enter, you encounter a metal detector. You sit under the gaze of 16 CCTV cameras. The long tables you had to share with strangers have been replaced by mosaic top garden furniture. The menu is much more extensive now. All of this would have been good news if it didn't try so hard to start afresh. There isn't even a hint of what it was, and what it meant for it to be destroyed by the blast. Unlike Mumbai's Leopold Cafe that has ceremoniously displayed a bullet shot from the 26/11 attacks, the new German Bakery refuses to acknowledge its past. I understand that it's a choice the new owners made consciously. (People want to forget)
This is not the same place that made first date jitters melt away with its lemon- mint- ginger-tea kind of warmth. But I do hope it becomes a place where new memories are made and old stories are told. My generation of Punekars had its share of the German Bakery. I hope the new lot gets theirs.