German-Russian town twinning – a contribution to international understanding and peace

30th anniversary of the partnership between Volgograd and Chemnitz

by Eva-Maria Föllmer-Müller, Klaudia Kruck-Schaer and Tankred Schaer

As part of this year’s Leipzig Book Fair, two events focussing on German-Russian town twinning took place on 16 and 17 March, one in Chemnitz and one in Leipzig. The two events were designed to commemorate the importance of town twinning and to encourage establishing and intensifying such partnerships also to cities in Russia – especially in the present day.
    Chemnitz (from 1953 to 1990 Karl-Marx-Stadt) and Volgograd (from 1925 to 1961 Stalingrad) are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their town twinning agreement this year. These cities founded their partnership in 1988, ie in a year when relations between the GDR and the USSR were still close. Fortunately, it has survived the turnaround of the years 1989-1991.

View of the city of Volgograd. Mamayev Kurgan with the
famous statue The Motherland Calls. (picture ma)
Town hall of Chemnitz. (picture Wikipedia)

Prominent panel

The event in Chemnitz was titled, “The twinning of Volgograd and Chemnitz. A contribution to international understanding and peace”. Hosts were the Chemnitz German-Russian Culture and Integration Centre “Kolorit” (see box on page 4) and the Chemnitz city councillors Dietmar Berger and Dr Ing. Eberhard Langer. From Volgograd there were present Yuri Starovatych and Sergey Lapshinov. So with the two founders of the town twinning, the then Lord Mayor of Chemnitz, Dr Eberhard Langer, and the then mayor of Volgograd, Yuri Starovatych, the panel was prominently attended. The anniversary was celebrated together with the other panel participants, city councillor and long-time president of the Mitteldeutscher Genossenschaftsverband (Central German Cooperative Association) Dietmar Berger, head of the administration for international and regional relations of the city of Volgograd Sergey Lapshinov and the deputy chairman of Kolorit Dr Jochen Mette, as well as with around 80 participants from Germany, Russia and Switzerland.
An event took place at the Leipzig Book Fair on the following afternoon, with the same panel composition – at the invitation of Zeit-Fragen and on the topic: “German-Russian town twinning – a contribution to international understanding and peace”. Zeit-Fragen would gladly have welcomed representatives of the other city council factions from Chemnitz at the Book Fair.

75th Stalingrad anniversary – German government officials stay away

75 years ago, from August 1942 to February 1943, one of the largest battles of World War II, and one involving the most heavy losses, raged in Stalingrad. It was a scandal that German government representatives absented themselves from the commemoration ceremonies in Volgograd. It was all the more gratifying that the mayor of Chemnitz, Ms Barbara Ludwig, had visited the Russian twin town of Volgograd on the occasion of the 75th anniversary, at the invitation of its Lord Mayor Andrey V. Kosolapov. According to the “Neue Presse” of 1 February, she said there: “It is a great gesture that we commemorate the Russian and German victims 75 years after the Battle of Stalingrad. As a mayor, I am happy to take this outstretched hand and will keep hold of it.”
In his introduction to the event in Chemnitz, Dietmar Berger pointed out the importance of town twinning as an important contribution to international understanding. He explained that it is very important to communicate in civil society – especially in our day and age. We should all cultivate our personal relationships. This is all the more important, because once again, a bogeyman is made out of Russia. Town twinning can help to counteract this.

Before town twinning: friendship between the people

Dr Eberhard Langer delineated the development of the twinning between Karl-Marx-Stadt and Volgograd. The friendship between the people had been developing for many years even before the official twinning of the cities. There were complex relationships, for example at the company level. The VEB Germania Karl-Marx-Stadt contributed significantly to Soviet petroleum production. There were children’s holiday camps and friendly matches between football teams. In 1979 there was a friendship festival for the USSR and the GDR youth.
Due to Dr Langer’s initiative, the official conclusion of the town twinning between Karl-Marx-Stadt and Volgograd finally occurred in 1988. For Chemnitz, the town twinning with Volgograd was a synonym for its friendship with Russia.

World War II: the experience of history

Dr Langer then elaborated on his personal experiences with Russian soldiers at the end of World War II. He still vividly recalled the bombing of Chemnitz by American and British air raids on 5 and 6 March 1945. He would never forget how, as a child, he spent the night in the bomb shelter on the Kassberg. At the same time the child Yuri Starovatych was evacuated from Stalingrad. For a long time, Langer said, he had lived in no man’s land, which was occupied neither by Russian nor by American troops. When the Red Army finally arrived, the children saw it as the end of the war. There was bread and fruit again, and the children received small gifts.

3500 families with Russian roots

Eberhard Langer described how the founding of the Russian cultural society Kolorit came about. He had given a speech at the Soviet cemetery in Chemnitz to commemorate the end of the war. On that occasion, he recited a poem by Heinrich Heine in Russian, which had been translated by Alexander Pushkin. The fact that a German recited a German poem in Russian in a Russian cemetery touched so many of those present that they approached him with a request to help found a Russian cultural association. There are 3,500 families with Russian roots in Chemnitz, and many feel the need to cultivate the Russian heritage and to pass it on to their children and grandchildren.

Youngsters who love Russian people

He went on to say that the vibrant relationship between the twin cities in the days of the GDR is now almost completely asleep. This is an expression of the current political situation. So today it is all the more important to look for ways to maintain peace and to make friends through town twinning. Young individuals who love the Russian people would have to be found. And it would be the task of the older generation to pass on their experiences to the younger generation.

Common history builds bridges

Yuri Starovatych, who was instrumental in the reconstruction of Stalingrad, began his speech by emphasising the similarities between the two cities of Chemnitz and Volgograd. Both cities were almost completely destroyed in World War II; both cities were rebuilt and are becoming ever more beautiful, both cities are flourishing. In Chemnitz, only one of 64 schools remained after the war. At that time the newspapers wrote: “Saxon Manchester has fallen.” On 2 February 1943, the Battle of Stalingrad came to an end: not one house remained standing. In April 1943, diplomats from 40 countries came and looked at the ruins. In their estimation, the city could never be rebuilt. At that time, they recommended fencing the city and leaving it as a memorial to future generations. However, the Stalingrad population decided differently and decided to rebuild the city. Civil engineer and honorary architect of Russia Yuri Starovatych was visibly moved when he told the audience proudly that 45 years after the battle of Stalingrad, Volgograd already had a million inhabitants. He had personally handed over the apartment key to the 1,000,000th inhabitant of the city of Volgograd in 1987.

Beginning of the international town twinning movement

Stalingrad founded the first city partnership worldwide, with the English town of Coventry, in 1944. In that year, women from Coventry, two-thirds of whose city had been destroyed, raised money and sent it to Stalingrad. In addition, a tablecloth with the embroidered names of 830 women was presented, on which the message could be read, “A little help is better than great pity.” On 10 June 1944 the partnership agreement between Stalingrad and Coventry was then completed. It was the beginning of the international town twinning movement, said Yuri Starovatych, who is honorary citizen of Volgograd and Hiroshima. Today Volgograd has 22 city partnerships worldwide.

Across all ideologies: relationships from person to person

It was, he went on, a great pleasure and honour to enter into a partnership of this kind with Karl-Marx-Stadt. After all, 1988 was only the year when the contract was signed, but there had been manifold relationships, friendships and projects, youth exchanges, pioneer camps, and economic exchanges since the seventies. And a few months after the signing of this contract, after four attempts, Yuri Starovatych succeeded in winning Cologne as a twin city. There are also lively contacts with this city. He also mentioned the Partnerschaftsverein Köln-Wolgograd (Cologne-Volgograd partnership association), which does a very good job at the local level. He had to work hard to establish the partner relationship with Cleveland (US), where 100,000 Ukrainians lived just after the end of the Soviet Union. Now, for reasons of age, he would have to pass on the work to good hands, in order to intensify the town partnerships. They should be run more actively again and filled with new content – and that is achievable, we can do that, said Starovatych.
These examples show that town twinning is not about ideological harmony, but about relationships and friendships from person to person, across all ideologies.

“Do you want something like what happened then to happen again?”

To the great applause of his audience, Yuri Starovatych thanked the participants of the event for their coming, especially in this turbulent time with its questionable developments on an international level. “We have great respect for the Germans, great respect. After the war, the writer Simonov said that he had no hatred towards the Germans. But we cannot understand why the members of the German and the European Parliament agree to the sanctions. Do you want us to die or something like what happened then to happen again?”

“... a chance to counteract the madness”

Dr Jochen Mette, deputy chairman of the German-Russian Cultural Centre Kolorit, emphasised the importance of direct human relations between Germans and Russians. He had himself visited St Petersburg’s Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery as a student. It had been an indelible experience for him to see the graves of hundreds of thousands of victims of the Leningrad blockade. This is still the motivation for him today to pass on all his experiences with Russia to the younger generation. Only through direct contact, when people talk to each other and exchange views, looking each other in the eye, understanding and friendship can grow. Russians are people like us, with whom we can and want to live together, and he would strive to carry this idea foreward. This important work should be in young active and strong hands. Then there would be the chance of counteracting the oncoming anti-Russian climate, this madness.

Town twinning event Chemnitz-Volgograd at the Leipzig Book Fair with Dr Jochen Mette, Sergey Lapshinov, Juri Starovatych, Dr Eberhard Langer. (picture cc)

Many projects successfully completed

Sergey Lapshinov, who is in charge of 45 town twinning arrangements in his office, praised “the child that both these senior mayors gave birth to and raised”. Many projects were carried out successfully as part of the city partnership between Chemnitz and Volgograd: In the area of sport, the swimmers, the boxers and the footballers met. In the cultural field, folklore groups visited each other. The occasion of the 20th anniversary of the partnership in 2008 was festively celebrated both in Chemnitz and in Volgograd. There were mutual visits. A jazz band from Volgograd visited Chemnitz, and in 2004, a year specially dedicated to German-Russian exchange, Egon Bahr and other high representatives travelled by ship from Moscow to Volgograd.
Student exchanges with a high school in Chemnitz had taken place since 2014. If there were more funds available, these exchanges could take place every year. A task group of members of the municipalities of Chemnitz, Dusseldorf and Volgograd was founded after the turnaround. Officials from the municipalities of the participating cities met at the end of the nineties. Mr Lapshinov hopes that soon, the representatives of the cities will come up with a lot of ideas to keep up their exchange and to realise many projects.
Eberhard Langer added that in recent days he had visited numerous companies in Chemnitz and had campaigned for an expansion of contacts with Russia. These efforts were successful.

How to improve relations between Russia and Germany?

In the ensuing discussion, there were many suggestions on how to improve relations between Russia and Germany. One participant described her experiences with adolescents who worked on a military cemetery as part of a programme initiated by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission). She held personal relationship between the people to be an antidote to the anti-Russian smear campaign. By staying in the host country, the young people were motivated to also engage more intensively with history. The present event she also held to be an example of a successful cooperation between West and East Germans. She emphasised how important it was for people in East and West to get really close to each other after the reunification, and how important an honest analysis of GDR history would be.

Switzerland and Russia connected by a long-lasting friendship

A Swiss participant stated that the history of town twinning as an important and central component of international understanding was still insufficiently recollected and reappraised. Town twinning as a permanent peace movement is an invaluable contribution to international understanding. As a Swiss, he was proud that relations between Switzerland and Russia have not been broken off, even in the current situation. Switzerland and Russia have a long friendship. The smear campaign should not be allowed to drive a wedge between the two friendly nations. This might be prevented by people arranging their relationships personally.

“Here we need something like that, too”

A participant of the Stiftung West-Östliche Begegnungen (Foundation West-Eastern Encounters) suggested that the two founders of the Chemnitz-Volgograd partnership go to schools as witnesses. She claimed that historical education was lacking, and the accounts of contemporary witnesses would be of enormous importance. On 6 May, the anniversary of the signing of the town twinning agreement, the existing contract should be confirmed in the town hall of Chemnitz. Twinning conferences like the one in Krasnodar in 2017 should be held again increasingly. Even from the German side unexpectedly many participants had signed on there. She brought to mind that the German-Russian Year of Local and Regional Partnerships had been proclaimed for the year 2017/18 (see Current Concerns No 17/18 of 25 July 2017). After the German reunification, many initiatives had collapsed and should now be revived.
Another participant from southern Germany said that when the mayor of his village saw the note about the events about German-Russian town twinning, he spontaneously said: “We need something like that here, too!”
A mayor, who had come to the event from Lusatia, congratulated the organisers of the successful event and congratulated the city of Chemnitz and the city of Volgograd on the anniversary of their twinning. Every year, her municipality offers recreational holiday breaks to the children of Chernobyl, with growing participation of its citizens.
But she had not yet got over that day’s news, that the German Chancellor had sided with Theresa May in the Skripal affair. Merkel had spelled it out so very sharply and had condemned the Russian President Putin without paying any attention to the principle of presumption of innocence.

We are experiencing a historical moment

One of the participants said, visibly moved, that those present were experiencing a historic moment. The historical images presented at the event were extremely significant and had to be further thought through. It was shameful that the politicians who represent our democracy are unable or unwilling to adequately appreciate German-Russian history, and turn away from it instead. The speaker was very thankful to the people who consistently work for a good partnership with Russia with such extraordinary strength of will.
In the summary of the event, the concrete results achieved by the two delegations from Volgograd and Chemnitz were also appreciated. This kind of work for partnership relations with Russia can be done everywhere. Often, suggestions for such a partnership come from individual citizens. Often these are people who already have a personal relationship with people in the other country. Other people join in, and they can all walk the path together. Anyone can make this important contribution.    •

On the importance of town twinning

ef. The idea to contribute to international understanding and peace through town twinning dates back to the years immediately after the end of World War II. Among others, it were three Swiss professors and authors, whose initiatives then led to the establishment of the Internationale Bürgermeisterunion für deutsch-französische Verständigung (IBU) (International Mayor’s Union for Franco-German Understanding and International Cooperation). It was the objective of Hans Zbinden, Eugen Wyler and Adolf Gasser to strengthen the commune as the nucleus of democracy, in order to prevent another world war. That is how the first German-French town twinning between Montbéliard and Ludwigsburg arose in 1950, from the contacts of French and German mayors during the IBU conferences. In the following years, more and more cities in Germany established friendly relations with cities in other states, so as to create and maintain international understanding from the bottom up.
Since then, many more town twinning projects have been arranged in many countries of the world – and also between German and Russian cities there are now about 100 examples. The oldest German-Russian twinning arrangement has been in existence between St Petersburg and Hamburg for 60 years now.
German-Russian relations are currently very tense. These tensions do not correspond to the will of the vast majority of the people of both countries. Town twinning is a way to counteract this. It is an important building block for the continuation of a German-Russian dialogue and can point out alternatives to confrontation at the level of civil society – from person to person. It offers the possibility of creating a broad base of equivalency, trust and mutual respect.
At the 14th German-Russian Town Twinning Conference in Krasnodar, June last year was the first time for two high-ranking ministers to participate: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his then German counterpart Sigmar Gabriel. With their visit, German-Russian town twinning was raised to a political level. Among other things, their joint statement says, “We want to raise public awareness of these partnerships and use the momentum they generate to promote further partnerships between Germans and Russians, thus fostering greater trust. We firmly believe that municipal and regional partnerships are an indispensable and fundamental component of Russia and Germany’s bilateral cooperation. […] We are united by a common desire to increase the number and intensity of direct contacts between Russians and Germans through numerous municipal and regional partnerships, thereby strengthening dialogue and understanding between our societies. Visible signs of cooperation are important especially in politically difficult times.“

Kolorit e.V.

ef. Around 3,500 families with Russian roots live in Chemnitz. The Kolorit e.V. was founded in 2006 on the initiative of Russian-speaking emigrants from Russia. Kolorit is a cultural organisation, which also operates in the social sphere. It strives to cultivate both Russian culture and tradition, offers integration opportunities to Russian-speaking immigrants, introduces them to the culture and life in Chemnitz and gives them social support.