Mayor answers Toledo critics during dinner toast with sister city mayorWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
DELMENHORST, GERMANY — Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and Delmenhorst Mayor Patrick de La Lanne met for dinner April 13 in Delmenhorst, where they toasted each other and the Sister Cities partnership the two cities share.
Bell’s speech addressed his critics in Toledo who feel he shouldn’t be traveling.
“For the people back home in Toledo, you know, we have sister cities and we have friends all over the world, but how can you really claim to have sister city relationship when you’re not prepared to visit your brother or your sister?” Bell said.
“What I said when I left Toledo is that it was extremely important to continue to develop relationships, to be able to come and to be able to help put seeds in the ground that maybe even as a mayor I might not see it, but that for the future of the people we are trying to help, those seeds will grow and turn into something that could be very, very positive for both sides of the world.”
Bell and others traveled to Germany April 10-15 to attend business meetings at the Hannover Messe, one of the world’s largest industrial trade fairs, as well as visit Toledo’s sister city.
Such visits are important for creating economic growth, Bell said.
“In order to create economic growth, you have to have relationship,” Bell said later in his remarks. “I know I have a friend here. I know every time I come here I’m going to see two smiling faces.”
When de La Lanne visited Toledo last summer, he invited Bell to visit him in Delmenhorst.
“There are lots of things we have in common; we can learn a lot from each other,” de La Lanne said. “I took many inspirations and ideas from Toledo to Delmenhorst. I think it’s important to establish closer economic ties, links between our two cities.”
De La Lanne’s teenage son was part of a student exchange program between Delmenhorst and Toledo and attended Bowsher High School for several weeks.
“He had a very good time and liked it very much,” said de La Lanne’s wife, Irene de La Lanne. “I’m really convinced that it’s a good idea to have these sister partner cities and to have this exchange of young people, but also adults.”
De La Lanne said he has visited Delmenhorst’s six sister cities, which Delmenhorst calls partner cities, and enjoyed his visit to Toledo the most. The others are Alones, France; Kolding, Denmark; Lublin, Poland; Borisoglebsk, Russia; and Eberswalde, Germany.
De La Lanne said the most striking aspect about Toledo was its hospitality.
“I was very, very warmly welcomed,” de La Lanne said. “To have received such a warm welcome, to be shown that one is liked [was nice].”
He said he was most surprised to find an American radio station broadcasting in German.
De La Lanne also said he was interested to witness the differences between the two city councils during his visit to Toledo. Delmenhorst has 43 council members from nine political parties. Toledo has 12 Council members. De La Lanne said the format is different as well.
“Commencing with the national anthem, praising the flag, the oath of allegiance, we would never, ever start a council meeting with that. But that’s American. You have your American ways, we have our German or European ways,” de La Lanne said. “A sister city relationship is all about learning from each other. It is interesting to see how it works.”
Bell commented on how de La Lanne is continually stopped by constituents when walking around.
“I’ve definitely met my counterpart in being a mayor,” Bell said. “He couldn’t walk two feet without somebody stopping him and talking. People love him here.”
Bell said his trip has been a learning experience and he was most surprised at how diverse Germany was.
“I would say Germany is actually turning in — just like America — into a melting pot,” he said.
A group of Turkish German government employees who met Bell earlier in the day expressed interest at coming to visit Toledo in the near future, Bell said. He met them at the opening ceremony for Delmenhorst’s spring festival, Kramermarkt, where he was a honored guest.
Future of Toledo
Former Delmenhorst City Councilman Olaf Dabels, who attended the dinner with his wife, said he also saw similarities between Toledo and Delmenhorst.
“We have things we can learn from each other,” Dabels said. “Your mayor and the mayor of Delmenhorst have a lot of things common. We are both cities that are situated between larger cities. For us its Bremen and Oldenburg; for you, it’s Detroit and Chicago. So in some aspects we have the same problems or the same challenges. But we should not look at the disadvantages you have in such a situation, but figure out what the advantages are and what can we do to improve the situation.”
Dabels said he was interested to discover the Future of Toledo initiative, which he has been following via the Internet.
“Something similar has been done here,” Dabels said. “That was pretty interesting to see we are sharing the same problems, no matter how far away from each other.”
The Delmenhorst version of Future of Toledo is called Bürgerideeubörse, which roughly translates as the process of collecting and exchanging ideas.
One part that surprised Dabels was Toledo’s discussion about whether bike lanes were a good idea or not.
“As a citizen of a city where bike lanes are normal, that this was a topic in Toledo now was interesting to see,” Dabels said. “I’ll be following the news and the clips on YouTube in the future to see how that is going to evolve.”
De La Lanne opened his remarks with a comment regarding the meal’s Italian wedding soup that garnered a hearty laugh from the table at the Hotel Thomsen.
“My friend Mike was a bit surprised when he heard wedding soup,” De La Lanne said. “They tell me he is a dedicated bachelor.”
At the end of the speeches, Bell presented de La Lanne and his wife with a Toledo Mud Hens cap and “You Will Do Better in Toledo” T-shirts from JupMode.
About 20 people attended the dinner, including Anke von Wittke-Grothenn and Heinz Grothenn, who helped establish the sister cities relationship, Toledo Sister Cities International Executive Director Susan Miko, Deputy Mayor of External Affairs and Economic Development Paul Syring, City Finance Director Patrick McLean, Public Information Officer Jen Sorgenfrei, Regional Growth Partnership Vice President International Development D. Paul Zito, University of Toledo Associate Director Undergraduate Admission Mark Schroeder, private individual Christine Luttmann and several other special guests.