(From left) Rebecca Viagran (D3), Essen Deputy Mayor Rudolf Jelinek, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor in Essen, Germany. Photo by Jean-Luc-Mette.
(From left) Rebecca Viagran (D3), Essen Deputy Mayor Rudolf Jelinek, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor in Essen, Germany. Photo by Jean-Luc-Mette.

A delegation of San Antonio officials led by Mayor Ivy R. Taylor, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3) traveled to Bonn, Germany to attend the 39th Session of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee. During the conference, the San Antonio’s Spanish colonial Missions and the Alamo were declared as the first World Heritage Site in Texas. While witnessing this historic designation, the delegates also took advantage of being in Germany by conducting meetings with elected officials and business leaders of three cities, culminating in the signing of a letter of intent with Darmstadt, Germany’s number one city for cybersecurity.

The San Antonio Trade and Investment Strategy 2015, a comprehensive analysis the City compiled in partnership with the Brookings Institution’s Global Cities Initiative program, lists Germany as a focus country. Germany is Europe’s biggest economy and the third largest export nation in the world, surpassed only by the significantly more populous China and the Unites States. More than 30 German companies are located in the San Antonio area, and only the United Kingdom invests more in Texas.

Targeting German partnerships, corporate investment and markets in areas like aerospace, cybersecurity and biosciences “can bolster the already significant 70,000 jobs in the San Antonio area that are tied to international business activity, and help us shape the San Antonio of the future – global, growing, highly-skilled and cutting-edge,” as Mayor Taylor remarked on June 10 during the announcement that German biotech company Cytocentrics is relocating to San Antonio.

Against this background, Mayor Taylor, Judge Wolff and Councilmember Viagran paid a courtesy visit to Bonn City Hall on July 1. The former West German capital had to cope with drastic changes when the government and parliament were transferred back to Berlin after the fall of the Wall in 1990. Although some federal ministries including the Department of Defense remained in Bonn, approximately 10,000 government employees left the city. Nevertheless, Bonn managed to stay relevant and today is best known as Germany’s sustainability leader and the unofficial “City of United Nations” with 18 different UN institutions.

City of Bonn Meeting - Dr Chiscano, Viagran, City Manager Wolfgang Fuchs, Taylor, Wolff, Richard Perez, Stefan Wager (Bonn Intl Rel), Sherry D
. City of Bonn Meeting – Dr Chiscano, Counilmember Viagran, City Manager Wolfgang Fuchs, Mayor Ivy Taylor, Judge Nelson Wolff, Richard Perez, Stefan Wager (Bonn Intl Rel), Sherry Dowlatshani pose for a photo.  Photo by Jean-Luc Mette

The successful transformation of Bonn – which today has the highest GDP per capita in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and boasts the global headquarters of DHL, gummy bear-maker Haribo and T-Mobile – was one of the topics discussed during the July 1 exchange. Other items included education (the University of Bonn consistently ranks among the world’s top 100 higher education institutions), science and the city’s growing information technology sector.

A visit to Essen on July 3 was motivated by the fact that both San Antonio and Essen are members of the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Cities Network (TCN), an initiative that promotes the exchange of local policy challenges and best practices. Leilah Powell, Mayor Taylor’s Chief of Policy, is the San Antonio TCN representative and has been in contact with Essen for several years. Following a long-standing invitation, the San Antonio delegation traveled there for an exchange of common sectors and a tour of the World Heritage Site Zeche Zollverein, the epitome of Essen’s industrial past and newly-found cultural relevance. Once the largest coal mine in the world, the 247-acre Zollverein has been carefully redeveloped into one of the most exciting mixed-use projects in Europe, and now features museums, bars, restaurants, offices, shops, concert venues, a pool and an ice-skating rink.

The ongoing change of Essen is remarkable in many regards. Once Europe’s steel and mining center, the city lost more than 100,000 inhabitants due to underlying economic changes starting in the ’60s, and faces financial challenges to this day. Now, however, Essen’s population increases contrary to Germany as a whole. The economic growth is the strongest among Germany’s 10 largest cities and the prognosis is promising. Essen was named the 2010 European Capital of Culture and last month received the Green Capital 2017 designation from the European Commission.

Much of this recent success and positive outlook is credited to the Zollverein’s UNESCO World Heritage designation, which increased its annual visitors from 100,000 to 1.2 million from 2001 to 2009, before peaking at 2.3 million in 2010 when Essen held the European Capital of Culture designation. Experts believe that the city’s investment in its own heritage has had a massive economic impact and attracted new businesses.

A day prior to the Essen visit, the San Antonio delegation met with officials from the city of Darmstadt. The connection between Darmstadt and San Antonio dates back to the 1840s, when a group of freethinkers called the Darmstadt Society of Forty immigrated to South Texas. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the Darmstadt Forty were recruited by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, who promoted Texas to Germans as a utopia for intellectuals. They tried (and failed) to establish several settlements in Llano County, Comal County and Kendall County, of which only Castell, Texas still exists. Several of the settlers from Darmstadt, however, eventually moved to San Antonio where they left lasting legacies.

Gustav Schleicher, one of the founding members of the Darmstadt Forty, became the surveyor of the Bexar Land District, which included most of the area between San Antonio and El Paso. He published the San Antonio German-language newspaper Texas Staats-Zeitung and was elected to the Texas House of Representative, the Texas Senate and U.S. Congress. Although Schleicher died in Washington, D.C., he was buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery. Schleicher County, Texas was named in his honor.

Following the unsuccessful settlement efforts in the Texas Hill Country, Darmstadt-born Dr. Ludwig Herff established his home and medical practice in San Antonio and became the personal physician to Richard King, founder of King Ranch. In 1860, Herff was appointed as San Antonio’s Health Officer and nine years later co-founded the city’s first hospital, the Santa Rosa Infirmary, in collaboration with the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Herff was buried in the San Antonio National Cemetery and is the namesake of Herff Elementary School on the near Eastside. His former home at 414 Navarro Street in downtown San Antonio is a recorded Texas Historic Landmark. Today, the Nix Medical Center occupies the site.

Adding on to the shared history, Darmstadt and San Antonio have a remarkable overlap in key industries such as cybersecurity, biotech and aerospace, as the German Honorary Consul in San Antonio, Bernard “Ben” Buecker, discovered a few months ago.

“I thought Darmstadt would be great, as it holds the title City of Science, has interesting architectural offerings, and is known as the City of Poets, Thinkers and Space Explorers. The story about the Darmstadt settlers, which the International Relations Office discovered, makes the connection even more appealing,” said Buecker, who has worked tirelessly to create closer ties between San Antonio and Germany for the past 30 years. However, additional key players helped to facilitate a dialogue between the two cities, as Buecker stressed.

“Lawrence Romo, who is from San Antonio and serves as the director of the U.S. Selective Service System in Washington, D.C., has been instrumental in bringing Dr. Juergen Drescher, Head of the German Aerospace Center in Washington, D.C. to San Antonio twice in the past year. We introduced Dr. Drescher to our unique offerings in cybersecurity, aerospace and research, and connected him with our elected officials and business leaders. He has become a big fan of San Antonio.”

Dr. Drescher then introduced Buecker to Darmstadt-native Dr. Johann-Dietrich Woerner, the former president of the Technical University Darmstadt and since July 2015 director of the European Space Agency.

“After I spoke with Dr. Woerner about Darmstadt being a potentially great partner for San Antonio, he agreed, called the Lord Mayor of Darmstadt and recommended San Antonio,” Buecker said.

Darmstadt holds the official title “City of Science” and due to its industries is often referred to as Europe’s Silicon Valley. Thanks to institutions like the federally funded Center for Advanced Security Research Darmstadt, which houses 300 experts from Technical University Darmstadt, Darmstadt University and Fraunhofer Institute for Secure Information Technology, Darmstadt is considered the number one city for cybersecurity in Germany, if not all of Europe. Parallel to UTSA’s leading cybersecurity program in the U.S., Technical University Darmstadt has the best program in Germany.

The presence of the European Space Operations Centre and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites make Darmstadt the unofficial Aerospace Capital of Europe – a potentially great fit for San Antonio’s many aerospace businesses and research entities.

Darmstadt is a county seat and currently counts 154,000 inhabitants. It is favorably situated in the heart of the Frankfurt Rhine-Main Metro area with 5.8 million inhabitants. Frankfurt Airport, Germany’s busiest by passenger traffic, lies only 18 miles north. The global headquarters of pharmaceutical giant Merck and Germany’s third-largest software company, Software AG, are located in Darmstadt, as are subsidiaries of T-Mobile, Procter & Gamble, Deutsche Post and Evonik Industries.

The South Hesse Energy LLC (HEAG) is, like CPS Energy, city-owned and delivers water, electricity, gas and public transportation. HEAG employs 2,000 people, is Germany’s second-largest green energy provider and winner of the 2013 German Sustainability Award. Up until 2008, more than 10,000 U.S. troops were stationed in Darmstadt and close links were formed between military families and the local community. Interesting exchanges could be fostered between Brooks City Base, Port San Antonio and city planners of Darmstadt, as the city is looking to convert its former U.S. Military bases to fill the growing need for housing and mixed-use spaces near the urban core.

Darmstadt’s biggest cultural asset is the Artists’ Colony on the Mathildenhöhe, which the San Antonio group visited prior to the official meetings. A unique ensemble of different architectural elements and two museums from the early 20th century, the Artists’ Colony is a 2019 nominee for UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

At UNESCO conference in Bonn
The UNESCO conference in Bonn. Photo by Jean-Luc Mette.

These topics and more were discussed during the July 2 meeting at Darmstadt City Hall with the San Antonio delegation led by Mayor Taylor and Darmstadt representatives headed by Lord Mayor Jochen Partsch. Based on the successful exchange, Taylor and Partsch signed a letter of intent to explore exchange and collaboration opportunities in alignment with the mutual sectors of both cities. Specifically, the document lists IT and cybersecurity, aerospace and aviation, healthcare and biosciences, heritage tourism and travel, as well as educational and cultural exchanges.

In addition to visiting the cities of Bonn, Essen and Darmstadt, the San Antonio delegation also met with senior leadership at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Cologne to discuss collaboration opportunities and with the international relations director of Hannover Messe, the largest industry trade fair in the world. As the United States will be the trade fair’s official partner country in 2016, Hannover Messe is inviting U.S. companies and communities with strong industrial clusters to participate as exhibitors.

“Our targeted exchanges with German officials and business executives were immensely productive,” said Sherry Dowlatshahi, the City of San Antonio’s Chief of Protocol and Head of International Relations, who was part of the delegation. “The presence and expertise of our elected officials, including Mayor Taylor and Councilmember Viagran, during these meetings was invaluable, since it really underscored our commitment to create sustainable exchanges. While the Missions’ World Heritage designation was the undisputed highlight of this trip, I also believe we were able to lay the groundwork for a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship between the City of San Antonio and Germany.”

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Featured/Top Image: Left to Right – Viagran, Deputy Mayor Rudolf Jelinek, and Mayor Ivy Taylor pose for a photo in Essen.  Photo by Jean-Luk Mette. 

Jean Luc Mette

Jean Luc Mette works for the City of San Antonio as an International Affairs Specialist. He can be reached at jeanluc.mette@sanantonio.gov.