South Tyneside celebrates 70 years of friendship with German twin town Wuppertal
South Tyneside is celebrating 70 years of friendship with its twin town in Germany.
In the years immediately after the Second World War, an initiative was launched encouraging young people to join in exchanges to promote better understanding between the two countries.
This sparked a long-standing friendship between South Tyneside and its German twin town of Wuppertal, which has continued to develop, extending exchange opportunities to thousands of people from all walks of life.
To mark the anniversary, the council has developed a special virtual anniversary tribute sharing stories and memories of town twinning on its YouTube channel.
The Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Pat Hay said: “We are extremely proud of our excellent links with Wuppertal – the borough’s oldest twin town.
“What started out as youth exchange back in 1951 has grown into an extraordinary town friendship and the development of a vibrant programme of youth, education, sporting and cultural exchange events which has endured for seven decades.”
The twin town links were established in 1951 when Oliver Nicholson, Youth Officer with the British Zone administration in Germany, contacted Percy Hudson, then Youth Services Organiser for the former South Shields Borough Council.
South Shields-born Mr Nicholson arranged two-way links between young people from Wuppertal in the North Rhine Westphalia region of Germany.
And after the first exchange in 1951, the civic visits followed, setting a pattern for youth, education, sporting, cultural and official visits for the next 70 years.
Mollie Robson, of South Shields, was among the first youngsters to visit Wuppertal, enjoying a two-week stay with a German family in 1956.
She said: “It was quite daunting to be only 16-years-old and away from home for the very first time.
“Our group were strangers coming together, but some of us are still friends with each other to this day. We got to know each other on the long journey which took around 24 hours to get there by boat and by train, before being introduced to our German host family at the station and taken to their home.
“During the visit we enjoyed organised trips in the area and long after that, the girl that I stayed with – Dorle, and I, remained firm friends until her death and that of her husband. I have lovely memories that I treasure.
“When the German group came over here for the first time, they saw the coast, the sea and the beach, which was completely different to the city and something that they thoroughly enjoyed.
"There was also a reception in the town hall and trips around the area. It’s wonderful that those experiences continued on for so many others.”
One of the borough’s thriving connections is through regular Green Route cycling exchanges, which have been taking place since 1997.
As a symbol of the strong friendship formed between the twin town’s cycling groups, the Friendship Oak Tree was planted outside Littlehaven Hotel in 1999.
It marks the start and finish of the established 250 mile ‘Green Route’, on which hundreds of cyclists have pedalled in each direction over the years.
In previous years, cyclists from both towns have come together as one group to form part of the annual South Tyneside Festival Summer Parade.
Exchanges have also included Wuppertal students visiting to learn more about life growing up in South Tyneside, as well as many more visits between various groups, including churches, music, schools and sports.