Visit in Columbia

Trip to our sister city Columbia Oct 14 through Oct 24, 2005

On Oct 14th, 2005 we left Gedern at 3:30 a.m. in a group of 44 persons, 14 beginners included. Everybody was happy and enthusiastic. We departed Frankfurt airport on time at 8:50 a.m. to reach St. Louis via Chicago. Sixteen and a half hours later a bus took us into Columbia city limits. At the outskirts of Columbia the Columbia Fire Department expected us with their biggest truck, accompanying us to the Immaculate Conception gym

We were received with a lot of sunshine and temperatures in the 70s. For many the long awaited reunion was there. After Ingrid Soraghan, president of Sister Cities of Columbia, Mayor Kevin Hutchinson and his predecessor Lester Schneider had welcomed us, each of us was given the itinerary, a name tag and a T-shirt. Then we were invited for buffet dinner with St. Paul UCC Orchestra playing German folk music. Two hours later we went to our homes, having had a lot of conversations. Everybody was happy but very tired after 24 hours without sleep.

The following day the majority of the group could sleep long. At ten o’clock German and American board members came together in city hall for their traditional joint meeting to start planning the official visit to Gedern in 2007.

The evening saw a grand reception with music and dance in Turner Hall. After dinner Ingrid Soraghan and Kevin Hutchinson as well as Klaus Neunert, president of Sister Cities of Gedern, and Kurt Heusohn, president of Gedern’s city council, gave their speeches and exchanged presents.

Monday, Oct 17th, 2005 was a day we spent in St. Louis. Having departed from the fire house at 8:15 a.m., we visited Botanical Gardens. After lunch at Union Station, the former train station of St. Louis, we had a closer look at the building and did some shopping. We returned to Columbia at 4:00 p.m. – the end of the official program for that day.

Tuesday had beautiful weather with temperatures in the 80s. In the afternoon the firehouse was decorated for the big cowboy party in the evening. At about 6:00 p.m. everybody arrived to be equipped with a cowboy hat, a sheriff’s star and a neckerchief. Both fire departments exchanged presents and had a little competition to entertain the guests. The buffet food, prepared by members of the Columbia Volunteer Fire Department, tasted outstanding.

Then Don Voelker, owner and boss of "Tiny’s Restaurant", and Björn Schäfer, a member of our Gedern group, played American and German CD-music. The evening ended at about 12:30 a.m. and was a big success in international understanding. A great number of Columbia citizens came to talk with us and sought friendship with “the Germans” for the first time.

On Wednesday, Oct 19th, 2005 we took another day trip. Our first stop was at the Cahokia Mounds, the largest prehistoric city of the Mississippi Indian culture. Its area encompassed up to 6,000 square miles, housing about 20,000 persons. Today some grave mounds and residential mounds can be viewed. From the top you can see the skyline of St. Louis in the distance. Since 1982 Cahokia Mounds has been part of UNESCO’s world cultural heritage. For lunch we stopped at the Père Marquette Lodge. To get there we followed the Mississippi River, realizing how wide it is. A width of two miles and more is not uncommon. One can imagine what happens when in times of high water the river leaves its bed. After lunch we went for a little walk and then we went back home, passing through little ports and seeing a huge lock. At about 4:00 p.m. we were back in Columbia for a free evening.

The next day the group split: 30 members took to Memphis for a two day visit. They left at 6:30 a.m., accompanied by several American friends. The others could have a good rest. For the evening they organized a ride on a paddle steamer with blues music and dance.

On Friday, Oct 21st, 2005 a part of the second group went to see Grant’s Farm, property of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. In the evening they met the group returning from Memphis for a drink and a snack in Legion Hall.

On Oct 22nd, 2005 there was a big farewell ball at The Falls, starting at 6:00 p.m., with lots of music and a rich buffet. Again presents were exchanged before the ball ended at 10:00 p.m. Some suitcases still had to be packed as the next day was departure day.

At 5:30 a.m. we all met at the firehouse and were amazed, how many of our American friends had come to say goodbye. Before getting into the bus we shook a lot of hands; tears were shed and many hugged each other. When we had stowed away our baggage, we started for the airport. Of course the fire department bid us farewell professionally and befitting at the city limits of Columbia – respecting the early morning hour without sirens, but with a lot of flashing lights. The check-in at Lambert was relatively smooth.

We were promised a quick reunion, maybe as soon as next year. After the security check we went to our gate. We had a calm flight back to Germany, with a four hour stopover in Chicago. On Oct 24th, 2005, at 5:44 a.m. we landed at Frankfurt airport. At about 8:00 a.m. we reached Gedern, very tired, but happy. This was the end of a long journey.

Translation by Andreas Heuser