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History as a chronicle


Hans Winterberg on Hyderabad, its forts, its palaces and its heritage that is disappearing bit by bit. Serish Nanisetti follows the trail

Recognise this?This image with the Golconda Fort in the background is from 1975

At first glance he looks like Heidi's grandfather Uncle Alp come to life. Then he breaks into a warm smile as he begins talking about Hyderabad, its heritage, its architecture and its people. For Hans Winterberg it has been a 40-year affair with the city and its people.

“When I first came here the roads were nearly empty, there were beautiful palaces and houses. Even then buildings were being pulled down as the owners emigrated or could not protect the buildings they had,” says Hans Winterberg sitting in the lobby of a hotel.

It began when Vasant Bawa asked Hans Winterberg sometime in 1974, “What could we do to convince people about the importance of preserving heritage?”

“The answer was, maybe we should have a photo exhibition of very good buildings which will make the citizens aware about the kind of heritage they have inherited,” says Hans who was then the director of Max Mueller Bhavan in Hyderabad.

The result was a team effort with photographer Thomas Luttge. Hans and his driver Bashir Ahmed drove around the city with his Hasselblad-500C to capture vintage Hyderabad and the exhibition was mounted at Kala Bhavan in September 1975.

Hans shows a photograph from 70s of one portion of Nau Mahal (nine palaces complex) in Golconda which had by then been turned into a match factory.

The black and white photograph shows young women and girls sitting on the floor and working and the backdrop is that of wall with spaces in the wall to keep candles and other nick-knacks.

“When we came back in 1996 it was bought over by an Arab gentleman who redesigned it and painted it in bright colours and when we visited it a few days ago it has been completely pulled down and has been replaced by a massive building with strong blue colour,” he says.

Hans' journey through the city and its heritage is indicative of the epochal changes to the city's skyscape.

“The Qutb Shahis axial alignment of the city was perfect and no house was taller than two stories that ensured that sunlight entered most houses. Now we are building without any such considerations,” he says.

“Luckily, the people have not changed much,” he says with a laugh. “Children still want to be photographed. People are friendly,” says Hans who again discovered his trusted driver Bashir Ahmed for taking him around to the same places.

It is not a simple click, click with a digital camera that Hans Winterberg indulges in.

“First we try to discover the place (quite a task, considering that one of the 1970 photograph shows a paddy field where there is an apartment block now), then we take digital photographs that are sent back to Germany and then I discuss with Thomas Luttge what and at what time we should take the photos. He will join me in two weeks and then we can click the images with my trusted Hasselblad,” he says.

The photographs that Hans Winterberg and Thomas Luttge are clicking will be part of the German Year in India in 2012.

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