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.

Schiedam in Europe

Jan, former city official, Schiedam, the Netherlands

Those cities had a conference with each other every year. That meant that all those mayors and everything around them, civil servants involved, they then went to a certain city, they had a certain subject there, and a conference was held about that. Often with a theme. Well, that had been going on for years, but yes, Schiedam was slowly involved and then, of course, Schiedam was asked: “Wouldn’t you also like to organize the conference in Schiedam”? That was in 1980! And then it actually started to bloom because then Schiedam really had to organise a conference. I was closely involved in that. That was actually one of the first things that I became closely involved with. We really got a period when I thought now we really can to do something about it. That was actually the impetus for more further cooperation. Esslingen had a whole philosophy behind it. You also tried to transfer that to people who participated in exchanges at some point. In the first instance those people are concerned with: isn’t it nice, we’re going to play a football tournament in Slovenia or we’re going to give a singing performance in Esslingen. If they are working with each other then, those choirs, then you will notice that they come into contact with each other and so on.

Second World War, Italy and the new generation

Giuliano, Udine, Italy

The kind of reflection on the WWII, began later, during those years. During the 50’s you couldn’t hear anyone remembering, but during the 60’s it started to be discovered, to recall what had happened. The first time in Italy I was 14 years old in the first class of the grammar school, it was 1960, no, it was 1965. It was the twentieth anniversary of the Liberation. What we called the Liberation of Italy, that is, the end of the war in 1945 the partizan movement had won. And the Germans had been thrown out and so. But that year, twenty years later, it came from, there was a new government in Italy, a centre-left government. And the Ministry of Education sent a message, it was rather a directive: “In every class it must be remembered the anniversary of the resistance movement.” In my class, we where together, the teacher didn’t want to speak about it. He said: “I have nothing to say about it. Nothing good to say about the resistance movement. And so, if anyone of you want to speak about it, you can”. And I raised my hand and said “I will like to say something about it.” 

From Udine to Schiedam (and Esslingen and back)

Anna, Udine, Italy

Anna, pensioned professor Italian Literature: “We all knew the same songs, the same singers, we all liked, loved the Beatles. I remember that a Swedish girl wrote to me “Blowing in the Wind” on a towel, a paper towel. The lyrics. So we could sing all together in the bus when we went to the city, the town, the factories, coal we visited during the period of our exchange. I remember I laughed all the time! There was always something funny to laugh about! And I was very curious, especially the first time. I was very curious about the family who hosted me. The father was a worker in a factory. But he seemed a gentleman, with a pipe (laughs). He spoke slowly with a fine voice. It was very different from a factory worker, an Italian factory worker! I imagined me because I never knew a factory worker at the time. But it was so kind, so eh, ospitale, that I felt really friendly…”.