Friends in a Cold Climate

PREFACE: THE TRAVELOGUES

Friends in a Cold Climate is a journey back in time and examines the phenomenon Twin Towns or Jumelage in order to establish what hides behind the signposts welcoming visitors, stating the names of foreign cities at the town’s borders. Signpost which signify official ties with Twin Towns in Europe and beyond. Ties that are shaped by exchange programmes for citizens and officials in order to encourage and inspire peace, safety and prosperity after the Second World War.

The project Friends in a Cold Climate reflects upon the 1960’s, a time when each country still had its own currency: Pounds, Dutch Guilders or the Deutschmark. Foreign travel was still special, borders were heavily guarded by Customs Officers. An era dominated by the Cold War and the wall between Eastern and Western Europe. What were the hopes, dreams and cares of the youths who participated in exchanges in the 1960’s?

Han, 19 years old, had just finished grammar school in Rotterdam. The next semester he would start reading history at the University of Amsterdam. As a reward for his good school results his parents gave him the money for his first foreign trip, a youth exchange with Esslingen, Germany. Later Han would develop strong friendships in Udine, Italy and became heavily involved with the counter-culture movement back home. Han’s father would alway stay silent about his experiences as a forced labourer in Germany.

Anton was a student Tropical Forestry at the University of Wageningen who wanted to change the world. Taking part in youth exchanges from his home town Schiedam opened up his eyes to travelling the world and meeting people. He changed course at his university and shifted to theatre production as another way of engaging with people, travelling ever since.

Joop, a beginning journalist and broadcaster, was involved with the Foundation the Schiedamse Community (SG). This cultural organisation strongly advocated co-operation and unity, at home as wel as in Europe. Despite the fact Joop’s father had been a prisoner in Germany, his family had no lasting animosity against Germans and Joop organised many exchanges for several years , bringing together youths from many countries.

These young men, between 17 and 24 years old, lived in the town of Schiedam, the Netherlands. In the late sixties they started to travel to places like Neath in Wales; Esslingen in Germany; Vienne in France; Norrkoping in Sweden and Udine in Italy. They where hosted with local families for two weeks, immersed in in foreign lifestyle. In return they received their hosts in their hometown. 

How did these young people moved about in a Europe trying to forget the second world war? What ideals were they supposed to uphold? What idealism did they share among themselves?

Rein’s family lived in with his grandmother as there was still a housing shortage in Schiedam. Her husband had died in Germany as a forced labourer. Rein’s grandmother therefore strongly objected against having German lads in the house, Rein’s mother however wanted to move on, not looking back. Rein took part in several youth-exchanges, also as an organizer of activities, becoming proficient in German, English and French in the process.

Friends in a Cold Climate is a documentary project which consists of two parts. Firstly participants of Twin Town exchange programmes are interviewed about their aspirations and experiences. The filmed oral-history interviews will be sustainably archived and published by a leading scientific digital archive. Part Two of the project Friends in a Cold Climate will be a catalogue, a visual interpretation of Jumelage in the 1960’s. The book will consist of historical photographs of exchanges, official documents and archive material, current photographs and segments of interviews. 

Together the book and digital collection will form a travelogue of journeys through an emerging European Community.

THE ESSLINGEN CONNECTION 

After the Second World War a number of friendship ties were established between cities in Europe. Citizens, council-officials and church representatives were looking for peace and prosperity in a fragmented Europe. “Once Europe will become a reality” vowed the Schiedam Foundation “De Schiedamse Gemeenschap” in 1964, about establishing friendship ties between Schiedam (NL), Neath (UK) and Esslingen (GER). 

The connections expanded and in 1970 a circle of friends was established tying the towns Esslingen, Schiedam, Udine (IT) Velenje (SL) Vienne (F) and Neath together. Each town in this so called “Verbund der Ringpartnerstädte” had to keep in touch with at least 3 towns within the network. 

In 2010, after 35 years of friendship the town Schiedam decided to leave the “Verbund” because developments within the European Union had enabled “different pathways”. Another factor was the perception that travel to a partner town was suffering from a decline in interest. The modern Schiedam generation had already travelled to foreign countries on a regular basis. That citizens carried a responsibility to form a unified Europe, where wars would be unimaginable, was a past notion. The new council strategy was aimed at gaining access to practical foreign skills and EU subsidies. 

In 1984 the town of Neath had entered a competition for the most inspiring Twin Town. Answering the question of The Council of Europe on motivation the Council stated it had made a true effort “To Foster European Unity”. Despite all this the town of Neath Port Talbot left the “Verbund” in 2015. The importance of Twin towns had lessened. After all, the European Union had come into existence and also, it was argued, the Second World War had ended 70 years ago.

The “Verbund der Ringpartnerstädte” (Brotherhood Alliance of Towns), however, has always managed to survive the political, economical and social movements of the past fifty years such as the Cold War, the rise in prosperity as well as the growing pains of the European Community. As told by citizens, officials and organisers from Esslingen, Schiedam, Udine, Velenje, Vienne, Neath Port Talbot and later the Polish town of Piotrkow, the story of the”Verbund” can be regarded as a small history of Western Europe. Together these towns witnessed the development of the EU, something that did not just happen as a matter of course. 

The project Friends in a Cold Climate begins with recording and archiving the experiences in the town of Schiedam. We examine the early days after the war, the time of the “Wederopbouw” – the rebuilding of the Netherlands, followed by the Cold War and the ever increasing globalisation. We hope to hear from members how the Schiedam Male Choir “Orpheus” was welcomed in Esslingen in the year 1963. We are curious about youths and the international encounters they had in the turbulent years of the late sixties.

Han’s first trip to a foreign town was to Esslingen. Later that year he housed his German hosts in Schiedam. The following year in 1969 Han took part in an exchange trip to Udine. Het stayed with Giuliano, whose parents had been active in the communist resistance in WWII. With Giuliano’s girlfriend, Anna, the three marched in demonstrations for better working conditions in Italy. Giuliano states: “It was a time of great hope and strong ideals, most of which were, inevitably, to remain unfulfilled. But they couldn’t be totally wiped away, as I understand also from what Han tells me about his present (2021) engagements and activities.”

After the departure of Neath Port Talbot and Schiedam, the remaining mayors of the “Verbund” gathered together in Esslingen in May 2017 to discuss the future. The meeting was intended to provide a counterbalance towards eroding developments of that time and to – as yet – present an example “for a communal and peaceful Europe.“Der Ring soll wieder geschlossen werden” –  the Esslinger Zeitung declared after having interviewed major Ziegler.

Friends in a Cold Climate is about the journeys and encounters brought about by a transnational peace movement that flourished after the Second World War. It questions if jumelage is as relevant now as then.   

For this project we effectively examine the reasons for the participation of Schiedam in the “Verbund”. It is our intention to mix the stories and images of all partner towns with those from the partnertowns and thereby establish a chart or blueprint of the “Verbund der Ringpartnerstädte” as it was in the late sixties and the beginning of the seventies. 

HISTORY AND RELEVANCE 

Friends in a Cold Climate is part of an epic story about citizens looking for common ground in a divided Europe. After the Second World War around 11 million people roamed about Europe as so called  “displaced persons”. It was a time of chaotic movement. Freed forced labourers, prisoners of war, refugees and the stateless were all heading home or attempting to find one. Shortly after 1945 an opposite outward movement occurred. Civilians left home and hearth in small groups to travel to and from Germany and other European countries. Small circles of people assembled to prevent Europe falling into battle again. Appeasement was seen as an important instrument. 

“The post-national, welfare-state, cooperative, pacific Europe was not born of the optimistic, ambitious, foreward-looking project imagined in fond retrospect by today’s Euro-idealists. It was the insecure child of anxiety. Shadowed by history, its leaders implemented social reforms and built new institutions to as a prophylactic, to keep the past at bay”. (Tony Judt in ‘Postwar, a History of Europe since 1945’)

Originally driven by the fear of repetition of animosities between countries, post-war Town Twinning can – however multifarious – be seen as an institution, following the definition historian Tony Judt offers in “Postwar a history of Europe since 1945”. Since that time Town Twinning has provided many reference points on the mind map for many European citizens. Not only because of the many welcome signs placed at the towns borders. Rather it were the many friendly encounters with foreigners ‘abroad’ which are engraved in peoples’ memories. 

Anton: “I thought Norrkoping was very special, but that was also because it is, I felt, relatively the furthest away. Literally, I don’t really know, but the Swedish world was a completely different one for me. Scandinavia was very left-wing and maybe that also influenced me. Norrkoping I found, yes maybe because I have a very positive… how it was with the people and so forth.”

We carefully examines practices, customs, patterns and symbols, both formal and informal, which are frequent during the Partnership City exchanges of the sixties and seventies. 

It was the intention to form long lasting and formal friendships between towns. In 2018 there were about 20.000 Twin Towns or Jumelage connections or Städtepartnerschaften listed across Europe. Of which 2200 between towns in France and Germany. Although each tie between cities has its own character, they have a common ground or modus operandi; the face to face connection between citizens on the basis of reciprocity and mutuality. It is all about the other and to be able to engage in understanding, peace building and the improvement of mutual well-being. 

Rein: “It was mainly about travelling, having fun, learning to speak the languages, recognising different cultures and not so much about: we are European and we therefore have to work together collaborate. That wasn’t really an issue at the time, and I can’t remember having any really serious conversations about, say, future European politics. We did talk about yes, how can we bring all those people who were at war with each other fifteen or twenty years ago, how can we bring them together and let them talk to each other so that a better environment is created. A much more peaceful environment than existed twenty years ago. Yes, for the English that was not a problem at all, for the Germans it was a problem. And I think that in particular, also coming back to my mother: she did make an effort. Se says, yes, that’s over, even if she herself suffered enormously. But that’s over now, we have to move on! And that’s what happened.”

Friends in a Cold Climate investigate if jumelage practices are a possible exclamation of “civic agency’’, the capacity of the individual citizen to, in one way or another, work with others on ideological and cultural differences and issues. 

In the course of 75 years Town Twinning has evolved. The initial partners had to digest the aftermath of the Second World War and grasp the threats of the Cold War or conflicts within the European Union. Later, from the 1970’s on, municipalities were also engaged in exchanges with cities in the Third World.  After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 friendship ties expanded eastwards, anticipating the EU’s enlargement. However, not all partnerships lasted.For some municipalities it was not evident to keep in touch with other Twin Towns as the European Community was regarded as having reached its boundaries.

Presently the old East/West contradiction is playing up again and nationalism and populism threaten the unity of the European Community. “Lock-downs” and “Social distancing” due to Covid-19 have dramatically narrowed down the freedom of movement in both literal and metaphorical senses. The high infection risk makes it impossible to organise international exchanges and expand one’s horizon.

Conducting interviews on a face to face basis also suffers under the current restrictions. This implies that a number of interviews will be held via the internet.This specific form of “social distancing’’ will become a visible element within the project, referring “in situ” to the role of media as a substitute for personal encounters. 

“Even in a time when satellite television, internet and social media liberates individuals from the state monopoly in international relations, it is the proven scheme of Twin Towns which can properly unite athletes, schoolkids and dance companies more than anything and can liberate citizens from stereotyping and half truths cherished about one another..” States social geographer Virginie Mamadouh. 


Friends in a Cold Climate looks into how the ideology of a peaceful and united Europe was married to the emerging youth culture of the sixties


(c) 2022 Stichting Reis van de Razzia

(Translation Jeanette Tierney)