Germans enjoy Columbia visit

Pictured during the recent visit to Columbia, from left, are Sister Cities of Columbia President Ingrid Soraghan, German visitors Bettina Pomberg, Kerstin Bernhard and Sebastian Stroh, Sister Cities of Gedern President Uwe Bergheimer, Gedern Burgermeister Guido Kempel and Sister Cities of Gedern Vice President Kevin Strerath.

Visitors from Gedern, Germany recently returned home following a week of tours and celebrations locally organized by Sister Cities of Columbia.

The group arrived in Columbia on Sept. 16, taking a brief drive through the city escorted by a fire truck and police before meeting with their host families at Immaculate Conception Church.

According to Sister Cities of Columbia Board Member Chris Neumann, the week that followed was a strong success that gave visitors a good idea of the area – including Monroe County weather.

“We have certainly given them a full taste of Midwestern weather as of today, as we sweltered in 96 degrees, and today many of them were chilly,” Neumann said.

Along with getting to experience day-to-day Monroe County life while staying with their host families, Gedern visitors were also treated to tours of both the Fox Theatre and Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Visitors were also given the opportunity to fly in a helicopter and go apple picking. The sister cities group also visited museums in the area and had one night dedicated to a pub crawl that started in Red Bud and wound up at Hopskeller and Stubborn German in Waterloo.

Some of the visit was also dedicated to church and cemetery visits, emphasizing the education of Columbia and Gedern’s shared heritage as a core part of the sister cities mission.

During the visitors’ departure on Monday afternoon, Sister Cities of Columbia board members Jean Marie Conrad and Diane Hanna spoke about the success of this year’s visit as well as the overall goal behind the organization.

“To continue on and have a strong program is our goal. We just want this to keep going,” Conrad said. 

Hanna added: “We’ve made lots of friends, and we’ve learned a lot about Germany.”

Conrad and Hanna also discussed the origins of the sister cities organization and the relationship between Gedern and Columbia.

The very first visit from Gedern to Columbia happened in 1992, when a group came to check out the area – visiting farms and cemeteries during their stay – and celebrate Thanksgiving with their hosts.

In 1993, an official Declaration of Friendship was signed in Columbia to establish the sister cities partnership between the two cities.

Since then, a total of eight groups from Gedern have come to spend time in Columbia, with local groups also traveling to visit Gedern and student exchanges between the communities happening even more frequently.

According to Conrad and Hanna, visits between the communities have been quite regular, with planned trips only being interrupted following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and more recently due to COVID-19.

Last Saturday morning, just before a joint meeting with the boards of the two sister cities organizations, several visitors from Gedern shared their thoughts on the visit.

Many of them made special note of how welcomed they felt, with one even describing how an early morning walk through Columbia led to an extended conversation with a stranger they happened upon.

Bettina Pomberg recounted several of the activities the group had participated in during their visit, also commending all the planning and organization that went into the visit.

“The program is so well organized,” Pomberg said. “Everything goes hand-in-hand. We had a little bit of history … We had culture. We’ve seen the whiskey brewery and made a cemetery tour which takes us on the roots of the immigrants of Wernings.”

For Kerstin Bernhard, this visit to Columbia was her first. She was exceptionally thrilled with her experience over the previous week, unable to think of a single activity that stood out as her favorite.

Regardless, a standout experience for her seemed to be the time she spent with her host family. Bernhard was briefly brought to tears as she recalled the connection she had felt develop over such a short amount of time.

“I can’t imagine that we came to this host family, and you sit together, you laugh together, you eat together,” Bernhard said. “You talk about your family and how you feel, and we speak about the next day we spend together. And within one day, I never felt like this. It matches.”

Gedern Burgermeister Guido Kempel and Sister Cities of Gedern Vice President Kevin Strerath expressed a similar sentiment.

Kempel specifically noted that, as enjoyable as the main group activities were, many of the more private side moments proved unforgettable.

“As a mayor, it’s only his second time here, but he has the feeling that he has been here forever, so many times before as if you know each other for decades,” Strerath said, translating on behalf of Kempel.

Like Conrad and Hanna, Strerath also spoke on the importance of maintaining the sister cities organizations so future generations are able to enjoy them as well.

“There’s a very special thing about this relationship, this sister city association. And we should keep attention to keep it alive to give it to the next generation to make them be interested and curious about coming,” Strerath said.

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Andrew Unverferth

HTC web