One Day Europe Will be One, for Real (part 1)

“Eens Wordt Europa Werkelijk Eén” is a heading in an article by the Foundation Schiedamse Gemeenschap dated March 1, 1964. The town of Schiedam had just started to connect to other European towns.

”There is no future for the people of Europe other than in union” Jean Monnet had said. In that same spirit, exchanges were organised between Esslingen in Germany, Neath in Wales, Schiedam in Holland and Vienne in France, expanding to more towns later on.


Connie was 20 year old in 1970 and had started to organise youth-exchanges for the Foundation Schiedamse Gemeenschap. The participating youths were of a generation that had come to its own in the roaring sixties. However, international travel was still special for most and the Second World War was not yet forgotten, at least not with the parents of the youths.


Friends in a Cold Climate is an oral history project that traces the young travellers of then in a Europe that was becoming ever more united. The interviews are archived and published by DANS, the digital archive of the KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences).

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screenshot-2024-04-16-at-14.17.00-1024x654.jpg

From Vienne, France to Schiedam, the Netherlands

Jean-Francois: “when I was young, we don’t speak about Germany, we speak about Bosch. The war was still in the mind of my grandfather and grandmother, because they have lived so terrible period, terrible moment. What they have done during the last war. 

Now everything have changed, 70 years after the war. But I remember always, and when I made the first exchange in ’72 in Schiedam. I was in my host family, and in this host family we are two from two different countries, one from France, myself, and in the same room slept someone from Germany. And at this period, of course in ’72, no mobile phone, nothing. I phoned sometimes to my family, to my mother, and I said to my mother, “I am in the host family, I am with the German people. 

I remember, I have cried. I have cried. I am 16, I am very young. It is my first time outside Vienne, outside France. And I say to my mother, “Mom, can you imagine that I am with a German in the same host family? She said, “But you are in the Netherlands, you are not in Germany. You can imagine in ’72, we are in ’72, and still, and the idea of my grandmother my grandfather and also my mother. You are with German people in a host family from the Netherlands. It is very curious. I said it was the choice of the organization. Then of course this German, who was leader of the group of Esslingen, was fantastic. We connect all together. 

Since the year ’72, I’m engaged in a lot of associations. Popular education, like Club Léo Lagrange, which is also a member of the Twinning Committee. It is, in fact, a group of associations and the International Exchange Committee. So I am very, very engaged in this association and I know a lot of people.” 

After the razzia of Rotterdam and Schiedam, after the war.

Schiedam established relations with Esslingen in Germany and with 6 other cities in Europe.

As a 20-year-old young woman, Connie worked at the Schiedam Community Foundation and organized youth exchanges between the cities.

“My father had been in the resistance and my mother worked at a voucher distribution office during the war and extra vouchers always had to be arranged for people in hiding. So they were not very pro-German. We went on holiday to Italy, for example, but not via Germany, we then went through other countries. But through those exchanges they felt like yes, this is important: that we never have a repeat of that situation again. That, bring it on! So we always had two guests at the same time, one from one country and one from another country. We are from the third country, so you always had at least those three countries at the table. And that led to many, often fanatical conversations. Germans were very driven to make things better and never make the same mistakes again, as they often called them. And the Italians and the French were all very driven by that. But you shouldn’t exaggerate it either, because during the day on the bus to activities it was of course about completely different things, they were busy with each other and love arose. There are also people from those different countries who married each other. Of course that all happened and that was part of the process of living together I think!”

“Once Europe will be real!”

A trip from Esslingen to Schiedam

The children who accompanied us were all 16, 17, 18 years old and they are being prepared. We informed and looked after the children two or three evenings over a period of weeks. Even once for a weekend in Obersteinbach, which is a camp, a house, about 70 or 80 kilometers away from Esslingen, where the Esslingen district built a house where the young people could stay with them over the weekend.

And we tried to show the young people who traveled with me to Holland, to Neath, to Udine, what we are there, namely ambassadors. Ambassadors of Germany in foreign countries who want to look at us with curious eyes.

And I thought I had prepared the young people well and then got off the train in Holland to Schiedam and was very surprised when a man with a microphone ran up to me and asked me, he recognized that I was the head of the circle and me asked what I felt as a German in a country that Germany invaded.

And I wanted to lead with good courage and a good example, but the question totally surprised me because I didn’t feel like a guilty German. I was just over 20 years old at the time and knew nothing about the war. I was born in 1944, so I knew that Germany was heavily responsible here and had invaded Poland, Holland and other countries. But I personally didn’t feel responsible for it.

But I said, that’s why we’re coming to Holland, to show that the younger generation is not the generation that invaded Holland, that invaded the other countries. The reporter was somewhat satisfied with this.

But it was an important encounter for me because I noticed that it wasn’t that easy to go abroad as a German and then I didn’t understand that many of my other people of the same age didn’t want to know anything about the war and even then I was there. In hindsight, I’m a little less surprised that my history teachers in high school history classes kept stopping at the First World War and then the school year was over and we usually didn’t get any further.

When I was a teacher myself, I tried to cover the year 1945 whenever possible so that my students would at least find out what was happening in the world in the German name.

Richard from Esslingen

Friends in a Cold Climate about the position of Germany in Europe.

I remember some discussions with my French friends when Germany wanted to be united together. I feel when I speak with them I feel there is something. There is something they speak, don’t speak about.

Jutta studied Civil Service, in Stuttgart. She worked in Esslingen as the leader of the office of International Relationships. “My work was mainly with twin towns, Esslingen has a very good tradition in Town Twinning. And I also worked with European programmes, foundations etc. I worked directly for the mayor, no other chief above me so that was very good because I only had to ask one person. If I wanted to do something.“

The friends asked: how do you think about those this big Germany East and West Germany together. How do you think about it, I say, oh yeah, it’s okay. For me it’s okay. These are Germans and we want to be together. And we are very happy that the wall fell down. And Jean-Francois said to me: yeah I understand but do you understand that we have, we are a little bit anxious about that. I couldn’t understand why anxious. Why? He said because I think it’s not so good that Germany is whole, is together and I say: do you think about what happened in the Second World War? Yes he said, I think Germany should not be as big as it was. That was hard, hard for me to to understand and we talked a lot about that and I don’t know what why they were anxious about. This, I could not believe. Do you know why?

Friends in a Cold Climate in Sweden

“When we were in Norrkoping, that society turned out to be so much more emancipated than with us. I immediately thought I would like to live in Sweden. That’s how equal men and women are there. We went there too, that was funny, because Sweden of course did not participate in NATO, we went to the army, the air force as an outing. They just had, they were proud of that, the new planes they had purchased. We went to that army base and got a tour and then we were allowed to view the inside of those planes. And there were male pilots and female pilots, I’m not very familiar with ranks in the army, but those women also had quite a lot of those (stripes) those things on. So I thought that was great that it was so easy there, that was not possible with us at all!” (Connie from Schiedam)

Bråvalla Wing, also F 13 Norrköping, is a former Swedish Air Force wing with the main base located near Norrköping in south-eastern Sweden. In the 1970s they flew with the Swedish developed Saab 37 Viggen. Youths are still able to experience of Swedish Air Force’s capabilities, this time by flying in the simulator of the Saab JAS 39 Gripen at the Swedish Air Force Museum at Malmen Airbase in Malmslätt, just outside Linköping, Sweden. 

An Honorable Membership

Stane lived in Velenje, Slovenia, and hitchhiked in Europe since he was 17 years old. Due to his extensive travel experience he was asked to become a group leader for a Yugoslavian youth exchange organisation. Velenje had been a town twinning member of a circle of towns since 1970.

Whenever I wanted some sources like getting buses or getting money for lunches and things like that, I always had to go to the committee chief. He wanted to know details and he was trying to persuade me that we should do more political. Yes, I did it once. When the group from Schiedam was in Velenje in ’77. They were invited to the town hall. And I said to this politkomisar, I said, “Let’s do a special thing. Give these kids an Honorable Membership Cards for the Socialist Youth Union. He was proud that, and later on, he was speaking about that, that we have now new members of the Yugoslav Socialist Union from outside the country. It was fun for me. It was the biggest fun for the Dutchmen. Otherwise, no, as I said, I never accepted that politics would interfere with this kind of exchange, exchanges.

1970, Velenje (Yugoslavia) visiting Esslingen

Friends in a Cold Climate: on youth exchanges and Europe.

Esslingen, Germany. Participants unknown (as yet).

In 1970, the town of Velenje from former Yugoslavia took part in a youth exchange. From that moment, Velenje was part of a small circle of towns from all over Europe who where twinned with each other. Connie, an organiser from Schiedam, a Dutch town that also took part: “Everyone thought that was special. Look at Sweden and England and Germany and France: you liked meeting each other, but that was not unusual. But a group from behind the Iron Curtain, that was something, of course. Those people from Velenje, those participants had the feeling: we are now in Esslingen and in Schiedam, we Yugoslavs are free because we are now allowed to do this. But there were so many restrictions that applied there that we just thought, what is happening here?”

Backpack Ambassadors

How Youth Travel Integrated Europe

Richard Ivan Jobs

Even today, in an era of cheap travel and constant connection, the image of young people backpacking across Europe remains seductively romantic. In Backpack Ambassadors, Richard Ivan Jobs tells the story of backpacking in Europe in its heyday, the decades after World War II, revealing that these footloose young people were doing more than just exploring for themselves. Rather, with each step, each border crossing, each friendship, they were quietly helping knit the continent together.
            From the Berlin Wall to the beaches of Spain, the Spanish Steps in Rome to the Pudding Shop in Istanbul, Jobs tells the stories of backpackers whose personal desire for freedom of movement brought the people and places of Europe into ever-closer contact. As greater and greater numbers of young people trekked around the continent, and a truly international youth culture began to emerge, the result was a Europe that, even in the midst of Cold War tensions, found its people more and more connected, their lives more and more integrated. Drawing on archival work in eight countries and five languages, and featuring trenchant commentary on the relevance of this period for contemporary concerns about borders and migration, Backpack Ambassadors brilliantly recreates a movement that was far more influential and important than its footsore travellers could ever have realised.