German visitors enjoying a comfortable stay in Columbia

Burgermeister (mayor) Klaus Bechtold of Gedern, Germany, gets comfortable in Columbia Mayor Kevin Hutchinson’s seat inside the council chambers at City Hall during a tour on Saturday. (Corey Saathoff photo)

When the visitors from Columbia’s Sister City of Gedern, Germany, come to visit, it’s less like going on a holiday and more like visiting a big, fun-loving family.

“The people welcome us in every way,” said first-time visitor Astrid Grundl, who made the trip with her husband, Heinz. They are staying with hosts Mike and Laurie Grubb.

“This is the first time we are hosts for Columbia Sister Cities and we have been enjoying every minute of it,” Laurie Grubb said.

The most recent group of 45 visitors arrived from Gedern on Friday. They kicked off their visit with a Saturday walking tour of Main Street and City Hall. While in Columbia, they will stay with host families and spend 10 days experiencing local and regional attractions, including a two-day trip to Louisville, Ky.

The visitors rode a bus to West County Mall on Monday. Grubb said many of the Gedern visitors were looking for blue jeans “because they are much cheaper here than in Germany.”

The group will head home May 20, following a dinner and dance to celebrate the partnership’s 20th anniversary this Saturday night at Turner Hall.

Since these bi-annual visits back and forth between the two cities began 20 years ago, relationships have developed and grown to span generations.

There are former exchange students making their first trip back since studying here in high school, experiencing the fun along with frequent visitors like Gedern’s Sister Cities President Klaus Bergheinen, who is making his 11th trip.

“The Sister Cities people here do a great job of organizing and preparing so much,” said Heinz Grundl. “There is some difference between our two cultures, between the two countries, but we love (the) USA more and more.”

Specific items on this year’s agenda included a trip to Rock City in Valmeyer, a day in historic St. Charles, Mo., and a joint board meeting to discuss future events.

Sister Cities members from Columbia will next visit Gedern in 2015, with Gedern visitors returning to Columbia in 2017.

“We like it here very much. We would like to come here every year, if it was possible to do so,” Astrid Grundl added.

Members of the public are encouraged to attend Saturday’s anniversary celebration, which will feature The Smash Band, said Columbia Sister Cities President Ingrid Soraghan. Call 281-3931 for tickets.

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