How cycling and music are ensuring bonds remain strong between twin towns South Tyneside and Wuppertal in Germany

Cyclists and musicians will help celebrate 70 years of South Tyneside’s links with Germany after events were postponed by the pandemic.

Wuppertal has been twinned with South Tyneside since 1951, and over the decades many friendships have developed through music, education, sport and cultural exchanges.

Among the strongest are links the Green Route (Der Grüne Weg) cycling exchanges, which began 25 years ago when a group of cyclists from South Tyneside came up with the idea of riding to their twin town.

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That led to the formation of a similar group in Wuppertal the following year in 1998, when Der Grüne Weg was started.

Tom Fennelly (right) and Wolfgang Mohrhenn (left) pictured on the last visit in 2019 at the Green Route Oak Tree of Friendship planted outside the Littlehaven Hotel in 1999 to mark the start/finish of the Green Route between the twin towns.

Since then, Der Grüne Weg has made cycling links with other twin towns across Europe and South America.

There have been numerous exchanges in both directions between South Tyneside and Wuppertal and with hundreds of cyclists pedalling thousands of miles in both directions.

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Organisers say many great and lasting international friendships have been forged along the way.

Some of the cyclists from the twin towns are also involved in music groups, and on Saturday, August 20, the popular Wuppertal community band Knapp Daneben will makes its first public performance since lockdown with an open-air fundraising concert – with visitors from South Tyneside there to enjoy the day.

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Bob Olley with his Knapp Daneben work.

Knapp Daneben are well known to South Tyneside audiences, having visited three times in recent years.

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They have taken part in the South Tyneside Summer Festival with performance on the South Marine Park and on the seafront as well as in schools, shopping areas and community centres.

And the group have helped raise funds for South Tyneside Youth Orchestra, South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade and local community groups.

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Former Town Hall press officer Tom Fennelly has been closely involved with developing the town twinning links with Wuppertal for over 30 years, and has taken part in official civic visits and music and cultural exchanges as well as being part of the cycling exchanges since the beginning.

Tom and his wife Una, who worked to promote commercial links between the twin town during her career with Marks & Spencer and as chair of the South Shields Chamber of Commerce, are visiting Wuppertal to take part in the concert which is raising funds for the Wuppertal Relief Fund for Ukraine.

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They will be taking an official message of congratulations to Knapp Daneben from the Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay, and presenting a special friendship greeting from South Shields artist Bob Olley who himself has been part of cycling exchanges to Wuppertal.

The pair will then travel to Berlin to meet up with three Wuppertal cycling groups who are riding to renew links with Schoeneberg in the German capital and another group from the city of Schwerin which is the capital and second-largest city of the north eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

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Tom, who is also chair of the South Tyneside Green Route, and Wolfgang Mohrhenn of Der Grüne Weg, said in a joint statement: “Through our cycling exchanges we aim to promote peace and understanding of different cultures across Europe.

"Cycling is a healthy and sustainable way of travelling, crossing borders and boundaries, meeting people. We also enjoy music, learning different customs and experiencing the fruits of twin town friendships and strengthening such relationships.”

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Tom added: “On previous visits to Wuppertal we have met with cyclists from their other twin towns in Poland, France, Israel, Slovakia, Russia, Nicaragua and other cities in Germany.

"There is a really strong sense of peace, friendship, understanding and solidarity between people.”

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Next year to celebrate their 25th anniversary, the Wuppertal Grune Weg group is organising a massive Cycling for Peace Project: Global Friendship Tour 2023.

The event starts in Wuppertal in June and over the summer months will visit all their European twin towns starting with South Tyneside, Schwerin, Berlin, Legnica, Kosice and St. Etienne. Cyclists from South Tyneside have been invited to join in.