Mayor tours Delmenhorst, Hasbergen, Bremen by busWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | email@example.com
BREMEN, GERMANY — Walking down a residential street in rural Hasbergen, Germany, Toledo Mayor Mike Bell appeared relaxed yet engaged with his surroundings.
Some of the houses along the short walk featured thatched roofs while others had solar panels installed. Farm animals, farm equipment and hay bales could occasionally be seen — or smelled — in the yards. Windmills spun in the distance. A friendly dog came out to say hello from behind a wooden fence.
“Wouldn’t you like to just move here and get away from it all?” Bell said.
The walk in Hasbergen, which also featured a visit to a 13th-century Protestant church and a mill, was part of an April 14 bus tour of the northern Germany region to which Bell and a group from Toledo have been traveling.
The tour guide was Anke von Wittke-Grothenn, a former Delmenhorst City Council member and former honorary mayor. She and her husband, Heinz Grothenn, were instrumental in helping to establish a sister cities relationship between Toledo and Delmenhorst. The couple have homes in both cities.
After a packed schedule of foreign direct investment business meetings April 11-12 at the Hannover Messe, one of the world’s largest industrial trade shows, Bell’s weekend was spent with activities related to Toledo Sister Cities International. Toledo and Delmenhorst have been sister cities for 10 years.
Over lunch at Hofbräu Bremen, Bell said promoting Toledo is the main purpose of the trip.
“We’re selling ourselves,” Bell said. “If you’ve got the option to go anywhere in the world, where do you go?”
When all factors are equal, a company will tend to go with personalities they’ve enjoyed and felt comfortable with, Bell said.
“If all is equal as far as the market, then we give ourselves a foot up, we give ourselves half a chance,” Bell said.
Although Bell’s weekend was more lowkey, he seemed to have Toledo always near the forefront of his mind, at one point discussing the trees along Collingwood Avenue and later pointing out a building that reminded him of the steam plant along the Maumee River. Bell also called in live from Bremen Marktplatz to Clear Channel’s German-American Hour in Toledo.
The tour started from the mayor’s hotel in Delmenhorst, where Von Wittke-Grothenn pointed out hospitals, schools, apartment complexes and other buildings of interest in the city of about 77,000 residents.
Many of the buildings in Delmenhorst and the surrounding cities have been repurposed from their original use, including a former power plant that’s now a community college and a police station that’s now a public library. The number of soldiers stationed at a military base near Delmenhorst has decreased from 5,000 to about 1,000 and former barracks are being used as apartment housing and shopping centers, von Wittke-Grothenn said.
“I like how they take former government buildings and turn them into something different,” said Mark Schroeder, University of Toledo associate director of undergraduate admission. “It’s so hard to do that in the States.”
“Delmenhorst and Bremen both have limited space,” von Wittke-Grothenn said. “You have to be able to reuse if you want businesses to expand.”
First stop on the tour was the Fabrikmuseum Nordwolle in Delmenhorst. The museum is housed inside a former factory where wool was processed into fine yarn for suits, von Wittke-Grothenn said. A set of original railroad tracks still lead into the building and a locomotive sits outside along with some of the posts that once held huge conveyer belts.
The building was built in the 1884. The company went bankrupt during the Great Depression, but fought back before finally shutting its doors in 1982, von Wittke-Grothenn said.
“All the textiles were going to Asia and to automation,” she said. “They kept it up for a while, but had to close.”
During the factory’s hey-day, there weren’t enough workers in Delmenhorst so people came from nearby countries, including Poland, to work at the factory, von Wittke-Grothenn said.
“We still have a lot of -ski names around,” she said, pointing out another similarity to Toledo, with its large group of Polish inhabitants.
Among Delmenhorst’s current factories are a linoleum plant, a meat plant, a plant that makes dough, margarine and doughnuts, and a building machinery plant.
A jute plant closed in the 1970s. Both closures were hard on the town’s unemployment rate, von Wittke-Grothenn said.
Toledo and Delmenhorst have similar economic development backgrounds, said Delmenhorst Mayor Patrick de La Lanne, who met with the mayor April 13. De La Lanne visited Toledo last summer and invited the mayor to come visit him.
“Delmenhorst has a very industrial background and history. Nowadays we are mainly service sector and so I see there are similarities,” de La Lanne said.
Issues with a partially vacant downtown and shopping centers drawing residents to suburbs rather than downtown are also similarities between the two cities, de La Lanne said.
“Our challenge is how to redevelop the city center, or the downtown area,” de La Lanne said.
The two cities also both have residents who grumble about nothing to do, said von Wittke-Grothenn, who was born in Bremen and has lived in Delmenhorst for decades.
“We have inhabitants that always say, ‘Oh, this city is so dull,’” she said. “I find the same with Toledoans. They say, ‘Yeah, it’s nice to live here, but there’s nothing much going on.’ But we have so much going on. You just have to go out and do it.”
Driving over the River Weser into Bremen, a port city similar to Toledo, the group passed Beck’s Brewing located near the port, with cases of beer stacked hundreds high waiting for shipment at the port. Bremen is a big distributing and shipping area, von Wittke-Grothenn said.
“I think that’s very interesting,” Miko said. “Toledo is a port city and here we have a port city.”
After lunch, Bell and the group walked around the Bremen Marktplatz, or city center marketplace, which is surrounded by historic buildings, including the town hall, built in the 900s, and the massive St. Petri church.
Bell dropped a coin in the “Bremen Hole,” a slot in the street outside the parliament building for the state of Bremen. The coin elicits a donkey, dog, cat or rooster sound from the Brothers Grimm story about the Bremen Town Musicians. Money goes toward tourism, von Wittke-Grothenn said.
There is also a sculpture featuring a rooster, cat, dog and donkey from the story and wooden statue that is symbolic of Bremen. Bicycles and trams passed regularly while street musicians featuring a guitar and clarinet could be heard nearby.
World War II bomb shelters are scattered throughout the city, too expensive to tear down, so some are now used for other purposes, such as for concerts.
“Many are still standing because they cost too much to tear down,” von Wittke-Grothenn said. “Some are used for bands to play. They are very well insulated, but there’s not much lighting in there. They are all over the city. You just can’t get rid of them.”
Also on the trip from Toledo are City Finance Director Patrick McLean, Public Information Officer Jen Sorgenfrei, Regional Growth Partnership Vice President International Development D. Paul Zito and private individual Christine Luttmann.