Rediscovered Sound File of Tagore’s Speech in Berlin

ATT2Rabindranath Tagore visited Germany three times: 1921, 1926, 1930.

On 1st June 1921, he gave his lecture “The message of the forest” in Berlin’s Friedrich Wilhelm University, today’s Humboldt University, for the first time. Because of the overwhelming interest of the public, Tagore had to repeat his speech in front of several thousand listeners at the University on 2nd June.

But as new technical developments already permitted, the final passage of Tagore’s famous lecture was recorded in Berlin’s Hotel Esplanade on 4th June 1921, and the original shellack disc is still preserved in the so-called ‘Lautarchiv’ (sound archive; ‘Laut’ = awaz) of Humboldt University. This archive had been founded by the linguist Wilhelm Albrecht Doegen in 1920. The archive owns some 7,500 historic shellack discs with the voices of important personalities of the early-20th century and also with sample recordings of different German dialects and foreign languages as, for instance, Bengali, Hindi, Nepali, Panjabi, Sinhalese, Tamil, but also Gurung and Limbu (Nepal).

At present, the only publicly visible memorial for Tagore’s connection with Humboldt University is his large bust by Gautam Satya Pal, a present of the Government of India unveiled in the Institute for Asian and African Studies in 2006.

A copy of the recording of the last passage of Tagore’s 1921 lecture travelled to India as a present already in 1959, when the former GDR Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl tried to get support for the official recognition of the East German State from Jawaharlal Nehru. Now, the audio and the transcript of Tagore’s words are available at the German Consulate General website