We are Ludwigshafen! We flew from Helsinki to Frankfurt and waited for transportation that was to arrive from the mayor's office. Suddenly there was a blur of activity. It was Marcel Jurkat, who was among our Ludwigshafen guests in Pasadena last month.
Marcel works in the office of the mayor of Ludwigshafen and is the chief of protocol and town twinning. (Town twinning is the European term equivalent to sister cities). He seems to do it all, and with great efficiency.
He greeted everybody quickly, pointed to Mayor Bogaard, Judy Kent, Karin Warner and me, respectively, and said, "Come with me." To the rest of our group he said, "A bus will be here shortly to pick you up."
We got into two Mercedes Benzes parked nearby, the drivers fired them up and then away we drove to Ludwigshafen at speeds that I clocked at 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles per hour) on the speedometer (I was in the front passenger seat). The Autobahn's country of origin has the need for speed!
Ever since I came to work for the City of Pasadena and learned about the Sister City program, I have known that Ludwigshafen is situated on the Rhine River, immediately across from Mannheim.
So when we began to see less countryside and more civilization, I kept my eyes peeled for a big river. And there it was, in all its glory. Crossing over it gave me goosebumps.
We arrived at our hotel and about an hour later were whisked away again by Marcel, this time on foot, and this time to an outdoor cafe in a beautiful park right outside the hotel door, and this time just Mayor Bogaard, Judy and I.
When we had finished with our lunch of salads and Pellegrino, we walked a couple of blocks to the Ludwigshafen Rathaus, which is their City Hall. It's a modern, 16-story building, all of which contains city offices with the exception of the first floor, and that's a modern shopping mall with lots of upscale shops.
We took the elevator to not quite the top floor and the office of Dr. Eva Lohse, whose title is Oberburgermeisterin (loosely translated, that's Lord High Mayor). When Dr. Lohse led the Ludwigshafen delegation to Pasadena a couple of months ago, we were all impressed by her combination of charm and savvy. When Marcel entered her office to announce us (we waited in the hallway), she let out an excited shriek and gave us all big hugs and sincere expressions of welcome. She pointed to the conference table in her office, where scads of index cards were laid out in rows, each with a name on it, and explained that at that very moment she and two of her assistants had been making decisions for seating at a concert that is on the itinerary for our visit here.
The view from Dr. Lohse's office is spectacular. The Rhine River cuts across the middle of the photo and Mannheim is on the other side of the river.
I moved toward the window to snap a couple of photos, and Marcel announced that he would take us to an even better vantage point.
We took the elevator as high as it would go, went up what seemed like 47 flights of stairs, and emerged on the roof, with sweeping 360° views -- a benefit I took full advantage of.
Then it was back downstairs to one of the lower floors, which has the obligatory city offices and a back door that leads out to lots and lots of roof gardens. Marcel explained that the Marriage Bureau is on this floor, and many couples exchange vows in this setting.
After a couple of hours of much needed rest back at the hotel, we got gussied up and went to a beautiful building called Das Gesellschaftshaus, which is owned by BASF and used for social engagements. Locals refer to it as the Casino, although there's no gambling there.
We joined about 150 other people at an outdoor reception followed by a beautiful formal dinner, entertainment and presentations in a room that reminded me of the Gold Room at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.
Like Pasadena, Ludwigshafen has several sister cities, and delegations were in attendance from all of them. Dr. Lohse gave a brief background and acknowledged the mayors of each of the cities. then at various intervals she called them to the podium to say a few words about their relationships with Ludwigshafen (these were presented in languages ranging from German to French to English). There was a lovely exchange of diplomatic gifts, and to top it all off, Germany won 3-2 against Portugal in the first of four games of the European soccer playoffs.
OK, it's 3:36 a.m. and I'm officially getting punchy. But I don't want to sign off for the night without mentioning the three gentlemen who sat closest to me during dinner, and with whom I enjoyed sparkling conversation.
Mr. Winfried Ringwald is president of the Ludwigshafen Sports Federation, which oversees everything from soccer to basketball to bowling, and he is president of the Ludwigshafen Rowing Club. He was on the German rowing team in the 1972 Olympics. He's standing in the center in the photo below.
Jean-Paul Solaro is vice mayor of the City of Lorient, France, one of Ludwigshafen's sister cities (pronounced Lor-ee-AWN). His actual title is vice mayor for economics and international affairs.
Wolfgang van Vliet is Ludwigshafen's vice mayor for sports, social affairs and immigration. That's him below with his hands folded. We lost him early to the soccer game!
I also had a nice visit with Jo Ellen Powell, the U.S. consul general stationed in Frankfurt, who is passionate about education and doing everything she can to rally German educators around the concept of helping to improve the lives and hopes of immigrant Muslim teens so they will be able to aspire for higher goals than cleaning houses and going on the public dole.