When Christoph Profitlich, head of the Bonn district administration, called me and asked whether I could contribute a little story or two on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Bonn-Oxford city partnership – after all, with my election in 1994, I was the longest-serving Member of the Bonn district council – I didn’t have to think twice. There are actually many wonderful encounters and events that one could talk about. Of course, the unforgettable visits to Oxford, where we were always received with great joy and a varied program. Or the boat tour on the “Rhine in Flames” with Elise Benjamin, the first female Mayor of Oxford representing the Green party. Or my visit to Ms. Katja Bayerwaltes on her 90th birthday, formerly secretary to Colonel Brown (from Oxford), commander of the British occupation zone in Bonn, who was able to tell me firsthand the exciting story of the start of town twinning, in which she was significantly involved. Or attending the concert with the German Ambassador in London as part of the Beethoven Year – just before the pandemic situation – with the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, to which I was invited as District Mayor. All these events – and many more – will be remembered.
But I would like to highlight one incident because it shows many aspects of our town twinning, especially the encounters that become lasting friendships.
For the 50th anniversary of our town twinning in 1997, as a delegation from the Bonn district, we first travelled to Oxford for a grand anniversary event. Contrary to the usual practice, council members from Oxford came to Bonn in August the same year for the special occasion. We enjoyed the time in our home with Deborah and Michael, a young married couple who had previously been our kind hosts in Oxford. Late in the evening, when the extensive festival program was over, we talked for a long time and realized that we shared many views and that we were particularly concerned with the need for a sustainable future.
On the last day, Sunday 31 August, we were preparing breakfast for our guests when we heard from the radio that Diana, Princess of Wales, had died in a terrible accident that night. Since neither of them knew anything about it, I was the bearer of the sad news. Although neither of them was a strong supporter of the monarchy, they were very upset, and our breakfast talk was dominated by this topic. They valued Princess Diana as a personality of great character who had used her status in the Royal family to do a lot of remarkable things.
In the afternoon there was a jubilee party on the market square. Shortly before the delegation’s departure we had to take the obligatory photos right from the old town hall´s balcony. A camera team from German television WDR became aware of us. I was asked whether I could speak to the British Embassy in Bonn straight away to report on the visit to Oxford and the reactions of the guests to the death of Lady Di.
When I got there the sight was overwhelming and I stood in front of the camera in a lush sea of flowers. In addition to the common mourning for the death of Lady Di, I had the opportunity to report on our wonderful city partnership, which was one of the first in Germany when it was founded shortly after the Second World War. I am now looking forward to the upcoming 75th anniversary celebration and, in the future, to many more wonderful encounters with friends from Oxford.