Little Heiskell led the mayors of Hagerstown and its sister city Wesel, Germany, on a short volksmarch from the Academy Theatre through the streets of downtown Friday evening to Discovery Station.
Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and Burgermeister Ulrike Westkamp, the first woman mayor in that city’s nearly 800 years, were accompanied by four of that city’s councilor and more than a dozen of its citizens.
The delegation is on a four-day visit to mark the 60th anniversary of the sister city relationship, which began in 1952, just seven years after Wesel had been reduced to rubble by an Allied bombardment in the final months of World War II.
Westkamp recounted how the city manager, Dr. Karl-Heinz Reuber, reached out to Operation Democracy Town Affiliation to begin a relationship with an American city.
“At that time the terrible events of World War II still left a deep impression,” Westkamp said. In that Cold War era, the city was anxious to “secure the freedom which had just been achieved,” she said.
“There will be friendship where there is understanding,” Westkamp said. “There will be peace forever where there is friendship.”
Bruchey presented Westkamp with the key to the city and they exchanged gifts, including depictions of their respective cities from earlier times.
“It is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in,” Bruchey recalled of his 1997 trip to Wesel. “It’s a very walker-friendly city ... There’s a lot of retail in the downtown core area and that’s important to us as we try and improve our downtown.”
Musket in hand, Little Heiskell — aka Chaz Rittenhouse — led the visitors and members of Hagerstown Sister City Affiliation from dinner at the Academy Theatre to a dessert reception at Discovery Station.
Beyond official delegations, there is also an annual student exchange, said GeorgiAnn Breichner, co-president with Connie Lenhart of the Sister City Alliance. American students visit Wesel in even-numbered years, while German students come here in odd-numbered years.
The student exchange began in 1987 and Lenhart said they soon begin looking for ninth and 10th-grade students whose families will host 20 students from Wesel’s Konrad Duden High School next spring.
Stops Saturday include the Jonathan Hager House, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, the Antietam National Battlefield, the Washington County Agricultural Center and St. James School.
The Zion Reformed Church and Maryland Symphony Orchestra are on the itinerary for Sunday.
Five Hagerstown mayors have visited Wesel since the relationship began, said Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau President Tom Riford.
The relationship predates the official Sister Cities International program, which began in 1956 under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Riford said.
Hagerstown and Wesel mark 60th anniversary of sister city relationship
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