On March 11, 1960, a group of active and internationally thinking people got together at the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations at Charlottenplatz 4 in Stuttgart and set up a partnership association for cooperation with St. Louis.
Previous to this, there had been a similar formation in St. Louis and meetings in the course of 1959, bringing forward an organizing committee, “The Thousand Citizens” to promote the envisaged town-twinning with Stuttgart. However, the shared history had begun a few years earlier.
Lyda Krewson, Mayor, City of St. Louis
Stuttgart is our oldest sister city and numbers among our strongest sister city relationships.”
History of town-twinning
Since 1956, the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa) had been making efforts to find a North American twin town for Stuttgart. On February 27, 1956, Dr. Kloss, ifa’s North America advisor, wrote to Mayor Klett asking whether he could “test the waters” as to acquiring St. Louis as a twin town: St. Louis was very similar to Stuttgart in many respects. It is an inland city of approximately the same size, with various industrial and commercial interests and a highly developed education system including a university.
The tasks of ifa included “twinning” West German and North American cities. In this respect, a 15-page brochure was published with “Proposals for cooperation between German and American sister cities”. This was also aimed at the City of Stuttgart, where the Foreign Office organization had its headquarters. St. Louis was an obvious choice for many reasons. First, Stuttgart and St. Louis as cities were considered to be very similar. Second, in 1955 Mayor Raymond Tucker had got to know Stuttgart on a trip through Germany he had made with US municipal politicians.
However, it was to be several years before the town-twinning actually became ‘official’. In St. Louis, the key people in the Council of World Affairs (an organization for international understanding founded in 1948) had backed out after their initial enthusiasm, and in Stuttgart there was also a general skepticism as to whether the relationship across the Atlantic could last at all. There were people who feared there would be too much “clubby behavior” and that no long-term relations with the USA would be possible beyond a mere profession of friendship.
The citizens actively involved in St. Louis, when they founded the association in 1959 (under the chairmanship of Prof. Erich Hofacker and the German lecturer, Frederick Kern from Washington University in St. Louis), were able to present facts so that in the following year, more than 20 people from the fields of culture and business in the city, representatives of religious communities, universities and the press came together in Stuttgart to found the town-twinning STUTTGART – ST. LOUIS.
Live partnership actively
In Stuttgart, the cooperation with St. Louis is organized and molded by a large number of associations, organizations and active individual persons, who get advice and financial support from the city’s International Relations Department.
The partnership association St. Louis Stuttgart Sister Cities (SLSSC)
In St. Louis, the town-twinning relations are among the tasks of the “World Trade Center St. Louis” (WTC St. Louis). There are civil society associations for each of the 16 twin towns of St. Louis, which are responsible for maintaining, shaping and supporting partnership contacts and connections and are supervised by the WTC St. Louis. From the very beginning “St. Louis-Stuttgart Sister Cities Inc.” – SLSSC has been a good, reliable, original partner and co-architect for Stuttgart.
SLSSC is run by volunteer members who often have a personal link to Germany and want to make a contribution to international understanding and cultural exchange. What is most important to the SLSSC is that these connections also lead to life-long friendships, for instance by placing exchange partners with host families, where they can gain an insight into everyday life and the culture of another country.
The goals of SLSSC
- to promote understanding and cooperation between the cities of St. Louis and Stuttgart,
- to bring together people of all ages who are interested in raising an awareness for German culture, promoting friendship and peace and creating opportunities for civil society and economic growth in both cities,
- to promote trade and tourism as a member of Sister Cities International and the WTC St. Louis,
- in particular, to support educational exchanges at high school and university level, as well as internships in the business world and teacher exchanges,
- to intensify links in the fields of sport, culture and music through performances by adult and youth symphony orchestras, sporting exchanges and exhibitions.
Susanne Evens: Translating between cultures
Growing up in a small German village, my lifestyle was focused around riding horses and learning about different countries and cultures. Studying English in school was part of the curriculum, which led me to watch old American shows on German TV, which were dubbed, but also AFN (American Forces Network), which helped me with my English skills. Studying British English in school and listening to American TV raised my interest in American culture. That’s how I realized that the key to understanding other people and their culture is to study and speak their language.
In school, we not only had English conversations, but we also had to translate different kind of texts, which I really enjoyed. When I was sixteen years old, just for fun and because it was free, I put an ad in the local newspaper, offering English-to-German translations. To my own surprise, I received a phone call from a local businessman who needed an official letter translated. He came to my parents’ house, I translated for him, and he was pleased with my work and even paid me! From that moment, my fate was sealed. Translating felt exactly like what I wanted to do for a living. Fast-forward a few years, and I left my job as a translator at Hewlett-Packard Germany, sold everything I owned, and embarked on a journey around the U.S. for a year.
During that trip, my English— classroom English, TV English—got richer because I gained something priceless: a real connection to actual people who grew up speaking it. My English got grounded. It was also getting richer every day by traveling through the many parts of the U.S. and learning new dialects. That’s what learning a foreign language is all about: a constant effort of improving and learning more. Immersing in foreign languages (I also studied Italian, French, Spanish, and Russian, a totally new alphabet!) was probably the most exciting adventure of my life. It means so much more than just getting to know another system of signs, its words, and its grammar. It means getting to know different ways of thinking, since the language really does shape our minds. That’s why I always considered translation an important task and wanted to facilitate this understanding by translating for others.
A good translation is about getting to the bottom of things. One is not merely translating or switching the words from one language to another, as many people think of a translator’s task. You’re translating the context and the culture. You need to know what the people’s world is to really know what they’re talking about. It’s also about the tone, the cadence of the sentences. There are so many things that can go wrong, especially in literary translation.
In 1994, I started German Language Communications, which later turned into AAA Translation, offering over 100 languages. We work only with experienced and certified in-country translators who know local culture inside and out, because translating between languages is translating between cultures. Learning other languages and cultures is a crucial part of the humanities. In some way, humanities are equivalent to the translation: it’s all about seeking common ground and finding a connection between humans.
When I moved to St. Louis, I was surprised how European its architecture looked, and I fell in love with it. I studied St. Louis’s history and learned how much the Germans contributed to St. Louis’s growth, how many German newspapers were available into the twentieth century, and how many industries are still available today. In the 1880s, one St. Louisan in four claimed some ethnicity; Germans accounted for slightly more than half. The Germans established their own neighborhoods, churches, schools, and businesses. I felt at home!
In order to get back to my roots, I got involved with St. Louis–Stuttgart Sister Cities, of which I have been the president since 2006. I love showcasing the St. Louis region to visitors from Stuttgart, and in turn, they keep coming back to explore it more and more, as they like it as much as I do. As an active board member of the Missouri Humanities, I embrace learning even more about my ancestors and help promote Missouri’s rich cultural heritage. If I had stayed in Germany, I’d probably be doing something equivalent there, connecting my local community with another one across the world. It really doesn’t matter if we speak different languages; deep down, we’re all the same.
Susanne Evens, President St Louis Stuttgart Sister Cities (SLSSC), in: Missouri Humanities Magazine (Spring/Summer 2019): Celebrating Women: The Centennial of Women’s Suffrage in America; pages 46 – 47.
Jan Elm: St. Louis, a city with two sides
After a childhood spent in a Waldorf kindergarten and then 13 years in a Waldorf school – also known as Rudolf Steiner School – it was time for me to get out into the real world, forget all the finger painting and pentagons. With the Youth Exchange Organization IJGD I went to St. Louis, Stuttgart’s twin town right in the heart of the USA to do volunteer service work for a year.
At my school I had already gained some experience with the Circus Calibastra. But now I was to be a part of one of the best youth circuses in the USA, spending a year with various new host families, leaving my own family and friends behind: learning, teaching and performing in a youth circus for a whole year.
The remains of racial segregation
100 years ago, St. Louis, the only town where you could cross the Mississippi on the trek to California in the days of the Gold Rush, was one of the richest and largest towns in the USA. There were even plans to make St. Louis the capital of the United States because of its central location, its function as a commercial hub and its progressive attitude. In 1904, St. Louis hosted the EXPO and the Olympic Games. Here was the largest railway station in the world, a tobacco industry with the highest turnover in America, the most spacious warehouses and the most gigantic shoe factories. Today the old railway halls are now home to a hotel, an extensive carpark and shopping mall and a boat hire company. And not to forget: the Flying Trapez Center, which our Circus Harmony built up last year. Where before travelers would wait for their trains on 22 platforms, now artistes are swinging through the air of the loftiest railway concourse, past a Hard Rock Café and an artificial lake to catch the hands of their partner just at the right second. The timetable of the new main railway station close by is, with its two platforms, not so complicated. Every day five trains travel to Chicago and two to Kansas City. The Gate to the West, as St. Louis is also called, has changed a lot. In 1892, the Mississippi steamer city could boast one of the first skyscrapers ever, these days there is little of that glory left.
St. Louis is a leftover of racial segregation. When I go through the city center on a Friday evening I rarely meet anyone who is white. Since the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement most of the white residents have moved into the suburbs. Not even a third of the original population from 1950 still live in the city. Deserted blocks of houses, burnt ruins and loads of overgrown spaces are the result. When I go by bus, I’m often the only white passenger. If you have money, you buy a car. It sounds unbelievable, but I’m not exaggerating: public transport in St. Louis is worse than in all the developing countries I’ve visited. Buses that don’t come, buses that don’t stop – that’s normal. You soon get used to it and after a while you don’t get upset that the next bus won’t come for half an hour or even an hour. What you can do by car in twenty minutes often takes more than two hours by bus.
You would like to think that a lot has changed since the Civil Rights Movement, that the color of someone’s skin is no longer a big deal. This is not the case in St. Louis. As for discrimination, things may have improved since the Dred Scott trial in 1857, when the United States Supreme Court in St. Louis denied a freed slave his legal freedom. But in August 2014 in a St. Louis suburb something happened that certainly made you think again: a white police officer fired six bullets at an unarmed teenager. Michael Brown lost his life and the Afro-American people lost their patience in waiting for justice. When the white police officer pleaded self-defense before the predominantly white justice system and was acquitted, violent riots broke out all over the USA, some of which could only be stopped by the deployment of armored vehicles and soldiers. Only eleven percent of Ferguson’s police officers are Afro-Americans. Amnesty International also corroborated the suspicion of a prejudiced justice system in a report which states: “The probability that the murderer of a white victim will receive the death penalty is eleven times higher than the probability of the murderer of a black victim receiving such a sentence.”
However, one should be aware that there is discrimination and racism everywhere, no less in Germany. The longer I live in St. Louis, the more I realize why there can be no effort too high for a respectable integration of people fleeing the war in Syria. This is also confirmed by the notorious “Delmar Divide”. You can take a pencil and draw a straight line along the Delmar Boulevard and you have a city divided into predominantly rich and poor, whites and Afro-Americans. In the Internet, social differences and income levels can easily be determined just by using local postal codes. These figures show the creditworthiness of a person who can make decisions as to education and future opportunities. After all, higher education is not financed by taxes and it costs between 100,000 and 300,000 dollars. I cannot say that St. Louis is one of the twenty most dangerous cities in the world. However, this may also be due to the fact that my host family does not live in a northern district, but close to one of the top ten universities in the USA, on a private street with its own security services. So, it is easy to enjoy a life of affluence in the suburbs, where one villa is next to the other, and you never get wind of the shootings and poverty of the other fellow citizens. And so, some citizens may not even have noticed that 188 people were murdered in their town last year.
I had one particularly touching encounter: I was leading a warm-up training in an elementary school in the north of the city, which will soon be closed due to lack of funding. There a small skinny girl with a serious face asked me: "Do you eat every day?” I was kind of dumbfounded and asked her the same. In a low voice, looking down at her feet, as if she were ashamed, she replied, “Not every day. Sometimes there’s nothing in the fridge!”
Circus and crazy people
But there is another St. Louis. I sing in one of the most progressive and open-minded Catholic choirs you can imagine. Before the service there’s pizza for everyone, afterwards chocolate chip cookies, hot chocolate and lemonade around the campfire. The priest speaks openly with his young congregation, not shying away from issues like suicide or sex. I also play clarinet – Klezmer music in a synagogue – where the rabbi wears high heels while reading the Torah and welcoming everyone. I get to know students from one of the best universities after Harvard and Yale, where the building looks more like a Gothic castle than a place of knowledge and education. I have been received warmly by the German community, which cultivates German culture more so than many a community in Germany. I have been welcomed into a Jewish host family. I have been offered the use of a new car by Holocaust survivors for a few days, although I’d only visited them twice. And I consider myself so lucky to work in one of the most successful social circus projects.
Circus Harmony is open from morning to night, seven days a week. Many students want to become professional circus performers. Some of them train at least six days a week. Amazingly many of them do actually make it and are allowed to tour with Cirque du Soleil around the world. The younger artistes also tour in many states of the USA, Canada and even Israel. At Circus Harmony I also work with students from the St. Louis Waldorf School. The school is in an Afro-American neighborhood because of the low-cost real estate prices there. The neighbors in the hood don’t know much about Waldorf education, which leads to some tension with the “crazy people on the hill”. In recent years St. Louis has become a lively city with many art studios because of its reasonably priced housing. More and more artists, but also small start-up companies are finding their ideal location here.
Thanks to the support of the St. Louis-Stuttgart Sister Cities Committee, some 530 students from the St. Louis and Stuttgart regions have been able to participate in exchange programs since 1960. At the same time, with the support of the State Capital Stuttgart and SLSSC, around 2,600 school students and young people have been able to participate in one of the many exchange programs.
Böny Birk: A jazz ensemble from the Stuttgart Music Academy in St. Louis
As part of the town-twinning between St. Louis and Stuttgart, four Swabian jazz musicians travelled to St. Louis from January 19 to 28, 2005 to show the people at Webster University what kind of jazz is being played in our part of the world. They also performed at the Winter Ball, a gala evening of the St. Louis-Stuttgart Sister Cities Inc. to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the town-twinning.
Yeah! The City of Stuttgart asked our bass teacher at the Hochschule für Musik, Mini Schulz, to organize a jazz ensemble for a visit to St. Louis. He chose me and my three fellow students, Steffen Dix (saxophone), Sebastian Schuster (bass) and Konrad Nitsch (drums), to bring Stuttgart jazz to St. Louis.
We felt a bit uneasy about the whole thing in any case, I mean, how would we go down in the city of jazz, the birthplace of Miles Davis? Doesn’t every twelve-year-old there play better jazz than us? And a completely different question was: what kind of music do you play at such a gala evening?
Well, we asked our teachers and people who had spent time traveling through America, and remembered a few American films... and what do you know, we had kind of guessed right – it was all about “Good Luck”.
But we had underestimated the jet lag – this plagued some of my fellow musicians until the flight home. And we also underestimated that St. Louis is pretty dignified due to the public smoking ban and strict alcohol controls, compared to the image you have when you think about “Ol’ Man River” Mississippi steamers. However, we had lovely, decent, friendly people all around us and here a big thank-you to our hosts, Bob and Laura Roeder, who mainly organized our stay. Shortly before our arrival they agreed to accommodate our complete band at their place, which was just what we wanted.
Not only did they have to take care of their very well-behaved and witty kids, they drove us all over St. Louis, to jazz clubs, museums, the Arch, the university and finally to the supposedly hippest clubs in town. But after what we saw, Stuttgart can culturally still keep up quite well.
And when it comes to the jazz we heard at Webster University and in clubs, we were just as surprised. Everything was very prim and traditional. With our fusion jazz and original compositions we went down very well with the students, but not so much with the lecturers.
“Be flexible!” said the Sister Cities President, Wilma Prifti, a motto we had to follow. But we were geared up for it, because nobody could tell us exactly what music they wanted to hear at the gala evening in the Sheraton Hotel. We did the right thing, going with traditional mainstream jazz and jazzed-up German hits. And apart from us, there was Larry Haller, who provided entertainment with midi-accordion and a potpourri of fun. Apart from that, there was very fine food, a somewhat restrained carnival parade and endless speeches.
All in all, our stay in America took place in a family circle, which was just right for me, because this way – as my host parents joked – I got to know the “American way of life” very well and very quickly. We were so grateful for the trust and empathy that was shown to us.
60 years Stuttgart-St. Louis Sister CitiesPDF-File 1,52 MB
„What St. Louis Tell Us About America“
Jane Smiley finds her hometown of St. Louis perhaps the most insightful place in America to explore what America really is. Join the author on a walk through your city, published in 2019 in the New York Times.