A glimpse of Franz
Franz was born in a small town in Germany . “I come from a traditional Catholic family so the ‘Mother thing' was always there, although in a different form. However, when the Vietnam War broke out many young people, including myself, opposed it. When we got no support from the Church, this loosened the ties.”
Around the same time, Zen Buddhism came to Germany . “There was a lot of talk about ‘instant satori'(enlightenment) and I wanted it! I was reading books on meditation and yoga, but I soon realized that if I wanted to know more I had to go to India .”
Franz travelled to the traditional pilgrimage places in the north of the country. Twice he wanted to travel to the south but each time something intervened. “Then I met another German on a flight to Egypt . He was going to stay in the Ashram in Pondicherry after receiving permission from The Mother. The Mother? I'd read Sri Aurobindo but I'd never heard of this Mother.”
Franz wrote to The Mother and finally was allowed to come for one year. “It was the most exciting year of my life. I was meeting all these remarkable people – Medhananda, Nolini – and Mother was still there in her body. It was so different then. We never went out, we were absolutely concentrated on Mother.”
The night Franz flew back to Germany , Mother left her body. “I left with the expectation, which many of us had, that she would not die.”
In spite of this, Franz made up his mind to return and within nine months he was back. But this time in Auroville. “The Ashram was no longer encouraging people to join. The future, we were told, was Auroville.”
Franz had trained as a graphic designer and had been art director of a big advertising agency in Germany , so it was logical he would find work at Auroville's press, Auropress. However, when the troubles with the Sri Aurobindo Society began he left to supervise a workshop in Fraternity. Some time later he joined Aurelec.
“It was a very difficult period. First of all a French group took over the Fraternity workshop, then they threw us out of our community kitchen because we didn't want to put all the money in a common pot. It was a clash which you still see happening today in Auroville between idealism and a more pragmatic position. Then the whole ‘Neutral' thing happened (the ‘Neutrals' took a different view from most Aurovilians regarding how to deal with the Sri Aurobindo Society) and suddenly all my friends were outcasts, and all the outcasts were working at Aurelec!”
Franz became stock manager, but when sales of Aurelec computers took off there was a need for advertising and brochures, and he was back in the job he had left behind in Germany .
“But then the Foundation took over and Aurelec stopped. So three of us started a unit, PRISMA, to offer a design, editing and DTP service to Auroville.” For some years PRISMA just about kept afloat. “But now a whole shift is happening. The West is very expensive, so more and more Western authors and publishers of niche books are coming to us to get them printed here. It's very exciting because we're in the right place at the right time to help make this happen.”
Franz also took over responsibility for the old Aurelec canteen.
Not only did he succeed in improving the dire fare he also, somewhat improbably, turned the room into an art gallery. “I had so much art stored in my house and I wanted others to enjoy it. But I also wanted to expose people to good art, to another way of seeing.”
Over the years Franz had acquired an interesting collection, mainly of Far Eastern art. But he has also continued working as an artist in his own right. During his first year in the Ashram he crafted two beautifully hand-made books which he presented to The Mother. Later, in Auroville, he would go at night to his small workroom in Auropress – his own room had no electricity – to create visual interpretations of passages from ‘Savitri'.
“For me art is one of the most important tools of transformation. Without culture we are nothing, life is misery. That's why I've always been involved with it, that's why I always support it.” So how have his artistic efforts in the Aurelec canteen been received by the I.T. professionals who eat there? Franz takes a deep breath. “I think,” he says, choosing his words extra-carefully, “that I.T. engineers have brains that are differently formatted from those of artists. They eat here every day but they never comment upon what's on the walls. Maybe they don't even notice there's something hanging there!”
Paradoxically, it's precisely this friction with the environment, with the different cultures here, to which Franz ascribes his continued creativity. “If I'd stayed in Germany life would have been so different...
“I'm not interested in repeating myself. I always want to create something new, something better and more beautiful. It's the process of making something new which for me is the adventure. And when I'm involved in this, even if I'm just redesigning a small brochure, I feel like I'm contributing something to Auroville.”
Franz Graphic Design