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Oberlohs travel to Crailsheim, spend time in German sister city

Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh rides a motorcycle through the Volksfest parade during his recent trip to Crailsheim, Germany. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)1 / 3
Worthington City Clerk Janice Oberloh (center) rides on a float with current exchange student from Worthington Jaron Sternke (left) and former exchange student Sophia Dull during the Volksfest parade recently in Crailsheim, Germany. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)2 / 3
A group of people wear Worthington Trojan attire during the Volksfest parade. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)3 / 3

WORTHINGTON — Alan and Janice Oberloh were sitting in a small restaurant in Crailsheim, Germany, when a gentleman approached them.

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“He said, ‘I have to tell you a story. I am a man of 75 years. When I was a little boy, a man rode his bicycle throughout Crailsheim ringing his bell and hollering to get to the hospital, the plane is coming in from Worthington with coats and supplies. Everybody in town went there, and they handed out coats and clothes. You always knew it was going to be something good when it came from Worthington,’” Alan Oberloh related.

“Here this guy was about 10 years old, and he said he would never forget that. That really tells you what this whole exchange is all about.”

Representing the city, Alan — Worthington’s mayor — and his wife, Janice — the city clerk — visited Germany for 10 days in late September.

“It’s amazing all these people that you meet once, and I said from the first time I went over there, the number of long-time friendships that have been made from people coming back and forth is amazing,” Janice said.

The Oberlohs were in Crailsheim for German city’s Volksfest celebration.

“Volksfest is like a family reunion,” Alan said. “All of your generations of your family that have moved maybe to Berlin or to Munich or to Potsdam or some German community, they all come home. Generations of family members come home. It’s a time for them to be with their family members, not be hosting people from America, because it takes so much time.”

As part of the celebration, the Oberlohs participated in the parade. Alan rode through the parade on a motorcycle, while Janice was on a truck that included current Worthington exchange student Jaron Sternke.

“I think I saw more Trojan jackets in their Crailsheim Volksfest parade than I do in Worthington,” Alan said. “It was an impressive sight to see all those kids wearing that. There was Minnesota West shirts, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Vikings, Wild — there had to been anywhere from 25 to 30 kids. Paycheck and Ruby Begonia were both there in full costume.”

There were two days of parades, and one of the days was special for Alan.

“It was my birthday on Saturday over there,” he said. “They stopped the parade on four different occasions to sing me a happy birthday.”

Both enjoyed the trip, with only one minor hiccup. Their connecting flight was late arriving to Chicago. The Oberlohs made their connection to Germany — but their luggage didn’t. 

“It was a reason to shop,” Janice said. 

The luggage appeared the next day.

A group of German delegates visited Worthington last year, and the Oberlohs were invited to make this trip. Before they left this time, there was already an invitation for next year.

“Their Burgermeister, this was his first trip over in May. He’s relatively new,” Alan said. “He invited us over when they were here and sent an official invitation to come to Volksfest and come and visit. We talked about the exchange. We did bring back an invitation to come back in July. It will be during their cultural fest.”

One of the points the two mayors discussed was an expanded exchange.

“What they would like to do is get groups of youths — maybe around 15 to 20 — from Germany who would come here for three weeks to a month, and likewise, the German kids would come here, we would send a group over there,” Alan said. “They would live with families and get a taste of what their life is like.”

During their time in Germany, the Oberlohs experienced how much that program means.

“I had exchange students coming up to me who were here in the mid-’60s coming up to us and visiting with us about their experiences,” Alan said.

Throughout their 10-day trip, the Oberlohs were able to see and do many things. One they both found impressive was an operation that specialized in juices.

“The guy found out his apples and whatever else he has produce better if he has bees with them,” Alan said. “He said he does 18 percent better. By having those bees there, he gets honey. He gave us some honey, and it was just excellent. He gets the honey, plus the bees pollinate those trees. It’s just crazy.”

But, the gentleman who runs the operation does much more.

“The beekeeper, he was one of them who also told us about the city exchange and how much it meant to him,” Alan said. “He’s doing the same thing. He said, ‘When I was young, the Americans came and took care of us. Now it’s our turn to give back.’ They’ve adopted Chernobyl. Once a year, they spend two weeks there helping rebuild and they bring supplies.”

“I had sent a text message to Marnie McCarthy, telling her about it,” Janice said, referring to the former Worthington woman who initiated the partnership between the two cities. “I said, ‘See what you’ve started?’”

The city’s work on renewable energy was another area the Oberlohs were able to tour. Built inside a berm within the city was a multitude of renewable sources. 

“In this berm, they built a real deep well with geothermal pipes in it. They have heat pumps going and they have solar on the side of it,” Alan described. “They have people that work for them who are so brilliant in their public utilities arena that work for the city. They basically have developed this technology there and have been piloting it, and now they have people from all over Europe and China and Japan looking at their system to try to replicate what they are doing because it has so much success.”

Before going to Germany, Alan said he talked with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who told him to keep a look out for industries that could partner or expand to Minnesota. 

After the trip, Alan said renewable energy would be a great place to start.

“I think at the very least, the next time there’s a trade mission to Germany with U.S. business people, there should be a visit to that renewable site,” he said. “It is just that impressive.”