WORTHINGTON -- In his first visit to Worthington and his inaugural trip to America, Gerald Sturm was struck by the "heart of the people" here, saying his family has encountered a lot of "warm," friendly individuals during their stay this week as guests from the community's sister city, Crailsheim, Germany.
Sturm was one of nearly two dozen German guests to participate in an agricultural tour in Nobles County Wednesday. Today marks their final day of sightseeing in the area, as they leave early Friday morning for the Twin Cities and a flight west to Albuquerque, N.M., and Las Vegas, Nev. They are in their final two weeks of a U.S. tour that included visits in New York City, Toronto, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
The group split up Wednesday, with more than half of them choosing a day of tours to JBS, Widboom Farms, Ocheda Orchard and Ocheda Dairy; while the others visited downtown shops, the Dayton House, Memorial Auditorium, St. Mary's and the Lutheran churches.
Two hours were set aside Wednesday morning for the JBS tour, marking for many the first time they had stepped foot inside an animal processing facility.
"It was impressive to see JBS. I hadn't been in a meat packing plant up until now, so it was very interesting to see," said Ralf Schnabl, traveling with his wife, Carola, who is president of the Worthington-Crailsheim Committee, and their three sons, Jannik, 17, Cedric, 16, and Sandy, 12.
While the Schnabls have made several treks to the United States, this was the first time their two younger sons have visited Worthington.
"My sons very much like to be in the States," Schnabl said. "We have a lot of friends over here."
Citing the importance of seeing old friends, he said the family visits the U.S. often because they like the "American way of life," with more space and bigger farms. They are also enjoying the American fare -- on Wednesday it was grilled burgers and baked beans for lunch at Widboom Farms.
"Thank you to the Worthington people for everything," Schnabl said, adding that he hopes to make a return visit to the U.S. with his family in another year or two.
Several children and teens are among the Crailsheim contingent in Worthington this week, among them 14-year-old Tom Hanselmann, who is traveling with his uncle and sister. The trip to Worthington means he gets out of school, but he's preparing to give a report -- complete with photos -- to his fellow students when he returns home in a couple of weeks.
Saying the farm visit was his favorite experience thus far, Hanselmann said "the farms, the machines, are much bigger than in Germany."
While at Matt Widboom's farm north of Worthington, the guests saw the cattle feedlot, learned about the feeding equipment, tractors and planters, and several of the kids and adults were even treated to a ride in a John Deere tractor.
David Etzel, the 2010-2011 German exchange student to Worthington, saw many things during this visit that he hadn't seen during his year-long stay in the community. Still, it was reconnecting with his friends that he has enjoyed the most.
"I wanted to see all my friends again and teachers," said Etzel, who now studies structural and architectural engineering in college. He helped with some of the translation during the tours.
Else Hinterkopf, one of a few women to choose the farm tours, was joined by her husband, Reinhold, on this, their second visit to Minnesota.
"Worthington is our partner town, and I like to see how the families live here," she said, adding that Crailsheim also has a sister city in France that she and her husband have visited.
"It's very interesting to see the way of life in Worthington," she said, adding that it's "not so different" from German life.
"My parents had a farm, but it's really different. In Germany, farms are really small. We have not so many cows, pigs or animals," Hinterkopf said.
After leaving Widboom Farms, the group had afternoon tours at Ocheda Orchard and Ocheda Dairy, both south of Worthington.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.