Visit in Columbia

Columbia 2009 - a reflection from Kevin Strerath

Dear members of the sister city of Columbia, dear friends…

For me, this is my second visit to Columbia and my wonderful hosts Carol and Les Schneider. And although it is only my second visit, the board meetings in Gedern, the nice excursions and tours we do together and hearing about news and meeting visitors from Columbia have become a constant part in my daily life and moments I’m looking forward to.

In a time, when things change fastly from today to tomorrow, we need such fix points. Like a currency, for example. Yours has never been changed, ever since you have it. Lucky you! In Germany we had Taler, Reichsmark, Deutschmarks and now the Euro. A lot of wars have destroyed families, buildings and constitutions throughout whole Europe.Where you have sinkholes we’ve got bomb craters. Many people escaped from a disastrous life and a hopeless future on their farms and immigrated to foreign countries such as the US. We would not be here together, if all the Müllers, Meyers, Schneiders and Heusohns had not taken the risk of starting something new somewhere in a – for them - unknown world. Members of those families can be proud of their ancestors. So, keep on celebrating it, trying to keep the traditions alive. Even for US President John F. Kennedy the proudest post in 1963, while he visited Germany’s old capital, was: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Everybody knew what he wanted to say, but no German would ever say: ”I’m a donut, filled with jam.”

At least, everybody quoted him for decades. Because it took more than 40 years until there was a new phrase born. No, it ‘s not “I did not have any sexual relationship with Miss Lewinsky".  It is “Yes, we can!”. Like Bob the builder, Uwe Bergheimer had asked us, whether we could imagine, being a group of more than 40 guests, travelling to Columbia to celebrate with you your anniversary; and we shouted out: “Yes, we can!”

The tough itinerary the Sister City comitée had worked out for us this year, started with making us part of the great audience of the baseball game St. Louis Cardinals against Milwaukee Brewers. We learnt about pitchers, catchers, infields, homeruns, strikes and outs, and found out, that if we thought we understood one rule, we had new questions on it after the next ball was hit. I have asked several people to explain to me what an inning is, and I still don’t know. All I know by now is that inning seems to be a part of winning --  a game. At least you get something for your entrance fees. Our football games only last 2 times 45 minutes – and that’s it. This was a great experience and we thank you very much for reserving the tickets for us.

After a quick change of clothes, we met again at Turner Hall to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Columbia, the 20th anniversary of Germany’s reunification, our visit to our sister city friends,  good food, nice weather and wonderful music. We danced to "Dickebacken-Musik" and Polkas and sang along with the “Sängerbund” after  enjoying Sauerkraut and Bratwurst. Sometimes inbetween I had to step outside and read the plate signs on the cars to make sure, I really was in the States.

By the way:

Wisst ihr eigentlich, wo der Name des Maskottchens Fritz Schnickel herkommt? Die Großeltern unserer etwas älteren Freunde nannten die Kinder, die etwas angestellt hatten, „Schnickelfritz“ – so ähnlich wie Lausbub… Der Ausdruck ist durch die Generationen in Erinnerung geblieben, und als man im Jahr 1961 ein Maskottchen für das Columbia Straßenfest suchte, hat jemand so einen Lausbub – natürlich typisch deutsch in Lederhosen – gezeichnet und man gab ihm den Namen Fritz Schnickel.

Let me tell you, you are more german than we are.

On Sunday Loretta Stemler took us into the woods and along sinkholes and honeysuckles for a nice walk through nature. We were talking, laughing, reading the signs, taking pictures and enjoyed a wonderful walk after all the calories we had the night before. Then we were part of the Festifall, with Indian dances, Cloggers and the superb Smashband. And again: wherever Germans come to, they show their winning attitudes. On Sunday the jury had to proclaim the King of Twist  … and – what shall I say? Nix geht ohne Wenings! (Nothing works without Wenings!)

On Monday we had our great shopping day! Shopping – some people – especially women – seem to be addicted to spending money. They have to shop, they have to buy. If they can’t buy, you’ld better be out of their way. Have you all heard the sentence once .. ”There’s nothing for me. I just have a curious body ..”? At this point, gentlemen: Shut up!

But I think we didn’t have any problems like this, because I saw almost everybody coming out of the mall with a big bag full of goods for the extra suitcase they brought along.

Mexican evening! What a surprise! Suddenly there was Tequila’s restaurant filled with Mexicans, which you could tell from the hats and mustaches. Pitchers full of Margarita drinks  made us speak Spanish almost fluently; tacos, refried beans, fruit salad – it was all oh so good. I would love to have the receipt of the fruit salad – habt ihr gemerkt, dass da Marshmallows drin waren? Auf die Idee kämen wir nie im Leben, also  irgendwie hat’s geschmeckt.. pappsüss, aber saugut!!!

Early in the morning next day, we left for a tour to Nashville – The  Music City USA in Tennessee. As large as the building of the Grand Ole Opry Hotel, was the experience six of us had made. Two guests from Gedern and 3 from Columbia got lost on another bus. The sixth one was their friend “cellphone” who could  get in contact with the rest of us. I don’t want to imagine, how rich we could be today if we had only left them behind… Stories like this, that’s what Country music’s made of. Just imagine this picture: somebody sitting on the pavement, his feet in the pouring rain, his bus and wallet out of sight and his only friend guitar on his knee, singing  country roads, take me home – to the place I belong… After this “lost and found” story  thanks to Jean Marie Conrad, who again picked a perfectly located down-town hotel for us. Just a few steps from famous White Horse Saloon, Hard Rock Café and many other pubs on so called Broadway, we were in just walking distance even from the Ryman Auditorium, from where broadcasting country music started, and the tour’s highlight: the Country Music Hall of Fame.

After this great trip, beer, wine, Coke, chips and dips, and some (what?) 50 pizzas were waiting for us at Dan and Donna Duffy’s house. Big thanks to you and your family for this wonderful invitation and evening.

We took a lot of pictures with a lot of clouds from the highest point of the St. Louis Arch next day. And because our hosts are always afraid, we could die of hunger, they took us to the Irish restaurant of Seamus McDaniels in Dogtown. You might have asked yourself, where the name is coming from: Here’s the answer: founded in 1875 as a small mining settlement, Irish, Welch and German settlers, mainly clay miners, had dogs for protection. They always nipped at the heels of the tradesmen’s horses, when they were on their way to the riverfront. That’s where the name originated. Later, in 1904, during the World’s Fair, a tribe of Philippine Indians came to participate in the fair. One of the delicacies of the people was dogs. So, the Indians would sneak over to Dogtown at night and snatch the dogs from their neighbor’s yards and … You can imagine the rest of the story. I just didn’t want to tell you before  or during your  lunch there. I was afraid you might ask for a dogburger…

In the evening we returned to St. Louis again, this time we were invited to join a Mississippi River Boat Cruise. After all the rain flowing into the river, I was afraid, the boat could only cruise between two bridges..

But, thank God, the water wasn’t that high, and we passed the illuminated St. Louis Skyline and the huge Budweiser brewery, while some of us were dancing to the great music, the 3-men-band played. And again, we heard “Oh, guests from Germany. Welcome to the States, welcome to St. Louis and the Mississippi River”.

Another invitation took us to the most wonderful scenery of a former quarry, which the Herbeck family has turned into a wonderful green spot. A lake, wooden huts with fireplaces, barbeque meals and a trailer with draft beer made us forget about the low temperature. The Sofa Kings played a lot of songs, we could sing along with – to make it short: it was a great idea and night and much nicer than our Seefest in Gedern.

Tonight we have come together to look forward to your visit to Gedern in 2011, to celebrate a big beach party and to start saying good-bye to all of our wonderful friends and the new ones, we met throughout the last week. Wherever  we came to, we heard the words of welcome and we could feel, they were spoken from the heart. We all can be proud of this wonderful relationship and should do everything to keep it going. In the beginning, there always is a vision.  All of us today are living this very close friendship between two cities on two different continents. But to be honest – some of us wouldn’t survive being closer to each other.

So – if we say "Auf Wiedersehn" tomorrow morning, we are looking forward to having you in Gedern in 2011, when it is 20 years ago, that somebody from Wenings travelled to Columbia to search for the gravestone of one of his ancestors and found a city of relatives and friends.

Thank you very much for this wonderful week, for having us here and for the next 2 years until we will meet again.

God bless you all!