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Donkey teaches culture

Sister cities exchange gifts at anniversary celebration

Sister cities exchange gifts at anniversary celebration

October 21, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A gift of a donkey turned into a cultural learning experience for both Germans and Americans on Friday at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Sister City Affiliation between Hagerstown and Wesel, Germany.

The donkey, the Germans explained, has become the unofficial symbol of Wesel because of an old German proverb. Loosely translated, the proverb says that if you shout "Wesel" at the mountains, the echo will sound back, "Esel," which is the German word for donkey.

"We hope you will like it," Wesel Burgermeister Jorn Schroh said just before the 4-foot high metal sculpture was wheeled onto the stage of the Maryland Theatre.

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A burgermeister is the equivalent of mayor in Germany.

Donkeys, as Schroh would learn, have a significance in American political culture as the symbol of the Democratic Party.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, told Republicans attending the ceremony, "Not to worry, the elephant's up in the balcony."

When the audience laughed, Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner leaned over to Schroh to explain that the elephant is the GOP symbol.

Hagerstown officials haven't decided where they will display the donkey, Breichner said.

It was a festive occasion, with Breichner presenting Schroh and about 40 other German visitors two Sister City banners of the kind that are hanging in downtown Hagerstown.

But at times it was a solemn gathering, as the two mayors reflected on how important it was that the two cities formed such a bond shortly after ending a bloody war.

"With all the changes the world has seen over the last 50 years, one thing that remains the same is our friendship," Breichner said.

In light of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Breichner said he wondered why other countries couldn't form similar bonds.

"We only learn by personal contact," said Schroh, who gave his speech in English and German, shifting between the two languages.

"I'm convinced the relationship between our two countries is better than ever," he said.

Pastor Albrecht Holthuis, president of Wesel's Sister City Affiliation, said before they arrived in Hagerstown his group had a chance to visit Ground Zero in New York City and pray for the victims.

"The world that we live in is not the world we lived in before," he said.

While in Hagerstown, the group will visit the home of city founder Jonathan Hager, who was born in Germany not too far from Wesel, said Stephen Lenhart, president of Hagerstown's Sister City Affiliation.

Other plans for the five-day visit include a formal dinner, a Maryland Symphony Orchestra performance, museum tours and a visit to Prime Outlets at Hagerstown.

The Germans will dine on a variety of American foods, ranging from barbecue to crab cakes, Breichner said.

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