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50 years of Auroville
A city without property, money and government

New Year's Meeting in the Tibetan Pavillion
New Year's Meeting in the Tibetan Pavillion | © David Klammer

A ‘human laboratory’ – this was what the township of Auroville, founded 50 years ago, was supposed to be: basic income for all, no hierarchies, all decisions based on consensus. Frederick Schulze-Buxloh has been there from the very start.

By Gerhard Richter / Photos by David Klammer

Frederick has just breakfasted on a scrambled egg in the cafe and is going back to his house. He is tall, slim. An almost aristocratic bearing. Short grey hair, he looks fondly at his life’s work.

In the pioneering days we would spend 95 per cent of our time surviving, getting water, getting electricity, getting bread, finding accommodation, having transport, you had virtually no time to contribute in some way to developing the town.“

A settlement of bamboo huts situated around the only tree in the midst of a semi-desert has developed into a pleasant place in the last 50 years. While it may not have the 50,000 residents targeted in the vision, there are nevertheless 3,500. Most of the houses are scattered between the millions of trees that have been planted over the years. Auroville is no longer a village but more of a small town. Frederick lives in one of the new multi-family houses. His house is a gift from the community. Two rooms, kitchen, bathroom, balcony.

 
  • Aspiration © David Klammer
    Aspiration
  • New creation © David Klammer
    New creation
  • School in Auroville © David Klammer
    School in Auroville
  • House of Roger Anger’s wife © David Klammer
    House of Roger Anger’s wife
  • Steel house © David Klammer
    Steel house
  • Slump House in Ami © David Klammer
    Slump House in Ami
  • Krupa's house © David Klammer
    Krupa's house
  • School © David Klammer
    School
  • Progress architects © David Klammer
    Progress architects
  • Sadhana Forest © David Klammer
    Sadhana Forest

It was fully furnished, I mean a handful of things are my own, and when I open the door I think: thank you, thank you!“

Gratitude is a precious feeling

Frederick believes that gratitude is far more precious than having a lot of money and being able to afford everything. Once upon a time he was rich, very rich in fact, he would have been able to afford a couple dozen such houses.

Frederick’s father makes a fortune in mining. The family ends up in Munich after the war. But post-war Germany offers the young sophisticate no direction.

Denazification had been initiated by the Americans and as children we were sent every month at least once to Dachau to see all that happened there. And of course that had an impact.“

  • Ganga at her office © David Klammer
    Ganga at her office
  • Ganga at home © David Klammer
    Ganga at home
  • In the Matrimandir Gardens © David Klammer
    In the Matrimandir Gardens
  • Aviram talks to volunteers in Sadhana Forest © David Klammer
    Aviram talks to volunteers in Sadhana Forest
  • Celebration im Matrimandir © David Klammer
    Celebration im Matrimandir
  • Inuksut at the Tibetan Pavillion © David Klammer
    Inuksut at the Tibetan Pavillion

To fill the inner vacuum, he reads eastern philosophers such as Sri Aurobindo. He is drawn to the teachings of the gentle scholar and yoga guru that speak of a higher consciousness. After finishing high school in Germany, Frederick travels on a cargo ship from Genoa to Bombay. That was 1959. A year later, he meets Aurobindo personally and lives in his ashram. There he meets Mother Alfassa, Aurobindo’s partner. 

...and that changed my life.“

He puts all his money into the shared vision

Mother Alfassa gives Frederick guidance and direction.  In return he gives her his entire fortune and devotes his life to serving their shared vision. It’s called Auroville – a town that belongs to nobody, where people from all countries live together, with no property, no money and no government. Frederick puts his heart and soul into the project, founds a family and, at the request of the Mother, builds the first solid house.

She just wanted something solid, not only bamboo, but a proper stone house, to show the world that we are here for good. And for the next 20 years those were my marching orders: ‘You must guarantee continuity.“

  • Sunday-Brunch at Johnny's © David Klammer
    Sunday-Brunch at Johnny's
  • Kitchen in the youth center © David Klammer
    Kitchen in the youth center
  • Aviram and his wife Rozan © David Klammer
    Aviram and his wife Rozan
  • Gilles in the Solar Bowl of the Solar-Kitchen © David Klammer
    Gilles in the Solar Bowl of the Solar-Kitchen
  • Achilles in his house © David Klammer
    Achilles in his house
  • A guest at the coffee shop "La Terrace" © David Klammer
    A guest at the coffee shop "La Terrace"
  • Marissa enjoys the monsun © David Klammer
    Marissa enjoys the monsun
  • Youngsters after a battle in the mud during monsun © David Klammer
    Youngsters after a battle in the mud during monsun
  • Party at the "Well-Café" © David Klammer
    Party at the "Well-Café"
  • Residents of the Slump House in Ami © David Klammer
    Residents of the Slump House in Ami
  • Marissa on Kalabhumi Sportsground © David Klammer
    Marissa on Kalabhumi Sportsground
  • Sunday-Brunch at Johnny's © David Klammer
    Sunday-Brunch at Johnny's
  • Babu is exercising in Kalabhumi © David Klammer
    Babu is exercising in Kalabhumi
  • Sunday trip to a nearby pond close to Fertile © David Klammer
    Sunday trip to a nearby pond close to Fertile
  • Awareness through body exercises with students © David Klammer
    Awareness through body exercises with students
  • John after hard field work © David Klammer
    John after hard field work
  • Vera plays the Russian bells at Matrimandir © David Klammer
    Vera plays the Russian bells at Matrimandir
  • Dancing improvisations at Solitude © David Klammer
    Dancing improvisations at Solitude
  • Awareness through body exercises © David Klammer
    Awareness through body exercises

For lunch, Frederick goes to the solar kitchen, a canteen where 1,000 vegetarian dishes are cooked every day using solar energy. He’s wearing a light shirt, shorts and flip-flops. This is where he meets acquaintances, they exchange news. Like all the others living here, he is given a sort of basic income which is pretty adequate for one’s living expenses. In return, one has to spend four hours a day doing something for the community. Frederick handles the sensitive relations between the Government of India, UNESCO and the Auroville bodies. India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development supports Auroville, gives some money, but has little to say. The Aurovillians maintain a self-governing system based on the consensus principle. An ongoing experiment.

They cannot come and say: ‘That’s the way it will be. We’re taking the decision. Because we then say no, you can’t do that. It’s not your decision, it’s ours.“

  • Krishna Mckenzie presents the Organic Farming Gardens of Solitude © David Klammer
    Krishna Mckenzie presents the Organic Farming Gardens of Solitude
  • Evening atmosphere in the Center Guesthouse © David Klammer
    Evening atmosphere in the Center Guesthouse
  • Red dusty road in Auroville © David Klammer
    Red dusty road in Auroville
  • A volunteer at the Sadhana Forest © David Klammer
    A volunteer at the Sadhana Forest
  • Tree planting in Sadhana Forest © David Klammer
    Tree planting in Sadhana Forest
  • Excursion into the wood of Deepam's "Children with special needs" © David Klammer
    Excursion into the wood of Deepam's "Children with special needs"
  • Red dusty road © David Klammer
    Red dusty road


What helps people in the future?

Much like a company’s research and development department, the Aurovillians, on their vast grounds, test what can help people in the future. Reforestation, alternative energy, gentle healing techniques, small-scale sewage treatment plants, different types of schools, construction techniques, organic farming, integration and music. And living together in solidarity.
How does one live and plan together, how does one resolve conflict? Frederick believes that what takes place on a small scale in Auroville, affects the greater good:

If for instance you can develop a kind of self-governing system on a small scale, in which each individual counts and has a say without being judged, then it definitely means something on a larger scale too. The whole world is looking for a really meaningful self-governing system.“

  • Kanika meditates at the Matrimandir © David Klammer
    Kanika meditates at the Matrimandir
  • The Matrimandir at night © David Klammer
    The Matrimandir at night
  • Andy has worked a lot at Matrimandir © David Klammer
    Andy has worked a lot at Matrimandir
 

For his Auroville project, photographer David Klammer made several trips to the utopian village, spending a total of three months there. He met many people who were eager to talk and open to discussion. The photos are published in the coffe-table book Good morning Auroville: Die utopische Stadt der Morgendämmerung (Edition Bildperlen).
David Klammer lives in Cologne, Germany. He has won numerous prestigious awards, including an award for the 2007 World Press Photo contest. His work on the activists at the Hambacher Forst was awarded with the First Price for the best series in the contest for political photography "Rückblende 2018". Besides working on commissions, Klammer also works on personal long-term projects.

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