Tradition, bond strong with Crailsheim visit
WORTHINGTON -- For 66 years the sister-city relationship between Worthington and Crailsheim, Germany, has been going strong. That bond -- the first made between the United States and Germany after World War II -- is a source of pride for both cities.
This week, 47 visitors from Crailsheim have come to southwest Minnesota spend a few days sightseeing, touring and strengthening the friendships between the two countries.
"This is my first time in the United States," said Rudolf Michl, Lord Mayor of Crailsheim, at the Elks Club Pancake Breakfast Sunday morning. "We arrived after 1 in the morning, and I was very impressed to see the young people playing in the band so early in the morning. It was great music, and they had to be so tired."
Despite 29 hours of traveling and just a few hours of sleep, Michl and his entire group were smiling and happy to be in the U.S.
Franz Kasimir, City Administrator for Crailsheim, is in the midst of his fifth visit to Worthington.
"I am very glad to see a lot of my friends from previous visits," Kasimir said. "My first visit was in 1986, and this will be my last -- at least as a city official. I am retiring.
"I have worked with organizing the sister city relationships for Crailsheim," he continued. "We have four sister cities -- Pamiers, France, since 1969, Jarburkas, Lithuania, since 2000, and Bilgoraj, Poland, also since 2000. And, of course, our oldest one, Worthington. It is very good to have these relationships."
Kasimir, along with many others in the Crailsheim contingent, couldn't help but notice one change in Worthington's landscape on the first day of their visit.
"The trees are so sad to see," Kasimir said.
"I had seen the photos of the ice storm," added David Etzel, an exchange student at Worthington High School in the 2010-2011 school year, explaining that he felt prepared for the damage he saw. He was also impressed by the new Events Center, as well as the new fire department building.
"It's great to see everybody again," Etzel said. "Really good to be back."
Elke Koehnlein was also back for a repeat visit to Worthington.
"I was here 30 years ago when I visited with my high school," Koehnlein recalled. "It took me 30 years to return, but I always wanted to come back. When I walked into St. Mary's church this morning, I recognized the windows and remembered singing there with the choir all those years ago."
Koehnlein brought her daughter, Carolin, with her.
"We are on two weeks holiday from school," Carolin, an 11th-grader, said. "Otherwise, I could not have come."
Koehnlein looks forward to showing her daughter the town, to seeing how things have changed, and especially to stopping by one place in particular she has never forgotten in 30 years.
"I remember The Cow's Outside store," she said. "I loved that shop. I am excited for the tour when I can go there again."
Reinhold Hinterkopf, here with his wife, Elsa, came to Worthington 15 years ago with a choir from Crailsheim.
"I am happy to see my friends again, and to see the city and the country," he said.
Hinterkopf was a part of the team of Crailsheimers who welcomed and helped the "Amazing" Worthington City Band on its tour of Crailsheim two years ago.
Didi Christopherson, of rural Worthington, spent one year in Crailsheim as an exchange student. She and her parents are hosting a family out at their farm.
"I am excited to see the farm operation," said Ernst Muller of Crailsheim, "to see how it works in the United States compared to Germany. I have a small farm -- some sheep, a sow -- I used to have cows."
"He got up at 7 this morning to help milk," said Christopherson, smiling. "That was more important than sleeping."
Muller's wife, Waltraud, and their daughter, Barbara, are looking forward to touring the bakery downtown later in the week.
"German bread is very different from American bread," Waltraud said, laughing. "There it is very dark. Here it is white."
All three Mullers were impressed by the welcome from the high school band.
"It was very touching," said Muller, "that they would do that for us. And then the police escorted us. It was a big welcome."
Meredith Moore, a student in the band, explained the decision to play so late at night.
"Mr. (director Jon) Loy gave us a choice -- to either play here at the Elks Club breakfast, or to play at their arrival. Almost everyone voted to do it this way," she said.
"It was a really good experience," Moore continued. "Especially having gone to Germany two years ago with the City Band, I remember how nice they were to us, welcoming us with a band. So we returned the favor."
Worthington mayor Alan Oberloh also praised the high school band for their performance.
"The band was great," he whispered -- with an explanation. "My day on Saturday began with the prayer breakfast, continued on with several graduation parties, the Event Center opening, and then the welcome at 1:30 in the morning, so I lost my voice. There were lots of good things in one day."
Oberburgermeister Michl, officially introduced to the crowd by Lonnie Lien, a member of the Crailsheim Sister City committee, joked about Oberloh's loss of voice.
"I often use that same excuse when I'm not ready to give a speech," he said.
Michl continued on a more serious note.
"It is so good to be here in this great country," he said. "I have been mayor of Crailsheim for three years, and I am very happy to see our sister city here in America. I hope the sister city relationship with Worthington will grow for a long, long time. Thanks for the invitation to come to Worthington."