San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and Darmstadt Mayor Jochen Partsch shake hands after signing the letter of intent as Councilmember Rebecca Viagran and Darmstadt look on. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.
San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and Darmstadt Mayor Jochen Partsch shake hands after signing the letter of intent as Councilmember Rebecca Viagran and Darmstadt look on. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

It’s Mayor Ivy Taylor’s turn to play host in San Antonio.

Ten months ago, Mayor Taylor and a San Antonio delegation were welcomed to the German city of Darmstadt by Lord Mayor Jochen Partsch. The two leaders signed a letter of intent to exchange information about their respective cities. At the time, Taylor suggested to Partsch that he bring a delegation to San Antonio during Fiesta. That won’t happen, but Partsch will lead a delegation here for a visit and series of meetings April 28-30.

Mayor Taylor, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) and others in the San Antonio delegation traveled to Germany last July to be present for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee vote in Bonn, Germany, which formally designated San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions and the Alamo a World Heritage site. While in Germany, Taylor and others visited Darmstadt and Essen.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3), Chief of Protocol and Head of International Relations Sherry Dowlatshahi, Mayor Ivy Taylor, _____ and San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez in Bonn, Germany for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting. Photo courtesy of Nelson Wolff's Twitter account.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3), Chief of Protocol and Head of International Relations Sherry Dowlatshahi, Mayor Ivy Taylor, Dr. Alfonso Chiscano, and San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez in Bonn, Germany for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting. Photo courtesy of Nelson Wolff. Credit: Courtesy / Nelson Wolff

The San Antonio-Darmstadt connecting extends back to the mid-19th century, according to Jean-Luc Mette, a City staffer who was part of the delegation and holds dual German-U.S. citizenship. (Read Mette’s story: City Looks to Germany for Economic, Cultural Opportunities). Mette, then with the City’s International Relations Office, now works in the Economic Development Department.

The two cities are taking it one step at a time, but there is hope that both sides will find its mutually beneficial to establish a formal Sister City relationship. The City of San Antonio has been seeking such a relationship with a German city since then-Mayor Phil Hardberger led a delegation to Dresden in 2009. That also led to the establishment of an exploratory exchange, but ultimately did not lead to formal ties.

Cities often establish sister city relationships to build cultural ties that can then lead to economic ties. Darmstadt is known as the “City of Science” in Germany.

“The people were so warm and welcoming when we arrived last July,” Mayor Taylor said. “Although it was a busy day for the city celebrating its annual summer festival, they accommodated us so graciously.”Darmstadt was celebrating Heinerfest, an annual festival held in the old city center.”They were wonderful hosts and were eager for us to experience Darmstadt in its festive mode while at the same time convening some special people into the meeting with the Lord Mayor,” Taylor said. “Their friendliness and enthusiasm left a strong impression on all of us.”

Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3), Mayor Ivy Taylor, and her daughter Morgan Taylor enjoy traditional music in Bonn, Germany before the UNESCO World Heritage meeting. Courtesy photo.
Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3), Mayor Ivy Taylor, and her daughter Morgan Taylor enjoy traditional music in Bonn, Germany before the UNESCO World Heritage meeting. Courtesy photo.

Now, San Antonio is ramping up efforts to take advantage of that history and last year’s connection. The City’s Economic Development Department noted in 2013 that Germany was the sixth largest purchaser of goods and services produced in San Antonio. In 2010, German customers purchased $300 million worth of local products, with strong growth in business and financial services, and medical equipment.

The German delegation will visit the Southwest Research Institute, the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Spanish colonial missions, the Riverwalk and Geekdom, among other destinations. There will be a signing of a Friendship City agreement, which both cities hope will lead to more formal cooperation in areas such as cybersecurity, biomedicine, aerospace, energy, sustainability and culture. Darmstadt will become San Antonio’s fourth Friendship City.

Mayor Partsch and members of the delegation will meet with members of the local German and German-American community.

The delegation includes: Partsch’s wife, Daniela Wagner, leader of the Green Party of the German state of Hesse; Michael Kolmer, Darmstadt’s director of economic and urban development department; and Dr. Patricia Latorre, city’s director of international and intercultural relations.

Mayor Partsch told the Rivard Report that his trip to San Antonio is important to him and Darmstadt. His remarks were translated by City staff.

“Last July, I had the opportunity to meet Mayor Taylor and her delegation in Darmstadt and to sign a letter of intent that should lay the foundation for a future cooperation among our cities,” he said. “I was very delighted and impressed that the representatives of San Antonio took the initiative, came to Darmstadt and expressed their interest to build up a partnership.”

Shahrzad “Sherry” Dowlatshahi, San Antonio’s chief of protocol and head of international relations, said Darmstadt was specifically sought out during the World Heritage trip as part of San Antonio’s larger effort to form a Sister City relationship in Germany. The City’s International Relations Office helps to maintain relationships with San Antonio’s sister cities and alliances in China, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, and many more countries.

Friendship City is a Sister Cities International (SCI) program. Agreements between Sister Cities and between Friendship Cities foster economic, cultural and technical exchanges between U.S. cities, counties, and states with corresponding communities worldwide.

A Sister Cities designation require a more formal exchange and is larger in scope. San Antonio currently has nine Sister Cities: Chennai, India; Kumamoto, Japan; Monterrey and Guadalajara, Mexico; Gwangju, South Korea; Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain (Canary Islands); and Kaohsiung, Taiwan.

Exchanges can happen in different ways. For example, the non-profit Summer of Service-San Antonio will send a group of 27 local high school students to Wuxi, China, one of San Antonio’s Sister Cities.

Friendship City partnerships are pacts signed by the corresponding mayors and do not require a City Council’s approval. In some cases, having a Friendship City agreement is a first step toward a Sister City relationship. San Antonio presently has three Friendship Cities: Suzhou, China; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Windhoek, Namibia, whose mayor signed a pact with Mayor Taylor in 2015. Taylor plans to visit Namibia this summer.

“There will be an exchange on World Heritage Site best practices and I hope we can share as much as possible about our experience since they have a site on the tentative list up for consideration in 2019,” Taylor said of next week’s activities. “The Lord Mayor would like to discuss immigration since they are dealing with a huge influx of refugees and immigrants.”

‘Immigration society,’ Partsch said, is important for both Darmstadt and San Antonio. “Both of our cities have a high immigrant proportion from which they benefit and which promotes cultural diversity.”

“When the industrial structural change had reached this high point in the 1990s and Darmstadt had to go through a real crisis, this idea was developed further logically and Darmstadt was renamed as a City of Science,” Partsch said.

Despite its smaller population, Darmstadt’s relatively compact size of the city encourages a high degree of cooperating among these businesses and organizations.

Darmstadt is one of the few cities in Germany and Europe that strive to give themselves a clear profile, such as a “City of Science.” Darmstadt’s proximity to the Frankfurt Airport makes it a vital place for activities in spacecraft operations, chemistry, pharmacy, information technology, biotech, telecommunications, and engineering.

The city hosts the global headquarters for Merck, the pharmaceutical giant, and has 30 research institutions, including the European Space Operations Centre.

Like San Antonio, Darmstadt has a thriving startup scene, and is home to the Centre for Technology and Innovation, which alone houses more than 100 professionally coached startups. It, too, has experienced the loss and redevelopment of a military base.

The city hosts institutions such as the Climate Knowledge and Innovation Center (CKIC)-Hesse, Energy Center at Technical University Darmstadt, an Öko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology) office, and the Passivhaus Institute. CKIC is the European Union’s main climate innovation initiative.

Partsch and Taylor are particularly eager to exchange insight on how their cities have fostered the growth of their respective information technology/security sectors. Tagged “Europe’s Silicon Valley,” the Darmstadt area is Germany’s top city for cybersecurity. It’s home to the Center for Advanced Security Research Darmstadt (CASED), a new cybersecurity research facility with more than $50 million in government funding.

Lord Mayor Jochen Partsch of Darmstadt, Germany
Lord Mayor Jochen Partsch of Darmstadt, Germany

“The sector of IT-security that has developed in Darmstadt from a long tradition of the research in the area of informatics,” Partsch said.”The Darmstadt R&D scene needs a worldwide interlinking. San Antonio and Darmstadt share many strengths and main focuses in the economy. Therefore, it is obvious to develop cooperation between the economy and the science in our cities.”

“The Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce is convening some of our experts in cybersecurity, biomedicine and healthcare as well as aerospace to discuss how we can work together in those areas,” Taylor said.

It’s these and other areas of common interest that both cities hope will lead toward a greater understanding of each other’s cultures, commerce and, perhaps, more formal exchanges.

“I would like to see the benefits of an official relationship extend to our community by way of a high school and cultural exchange, economic development initiatives drawing upon the industries we have in common and continued exchange of best practices in different areas of government,” Taylor said. “I do hope that there is extensive engagement on both sides so that we can strengthen further opportunities.”

“As well, this is valid for the educational sector,” Partsch added. “During the last months, several high schools in Darmstadt contacted me because they are interested in establishing exchange programs with partner schools in San Antonio.”

A draft itinerary, furnished by San Antonio’s International Relations Office, lists key highlights. The Darmstadt delegation arrives in San Antonio on April 27. The next day, Mayor Taylor and City Council will welcome the delegation to the Council chambers during the Council’s regular meeting.

Aside from the aforementioned visits to SWRI, the missions and a San Antonio River barge ride, the Darmstadt delegation will be in a dinner and dialogue with the World Affairs Council of San Antonio.

On April 29, the visitors will have a breakfast, hosted by the Greater San Antonio Chamber, with local biomedical, aerospace and cybersecurity leaders. A dialogue on refugee integration, the official Friendship City pact signing and luncheon, and visits to Geekdom and a local high school will follow.

On April 30, the Darmstadt delegation is slated to tour Beethoven Maennerchor Halle und Garten with Ben Buecker, designated attorney for the Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany, and some members of the local German community. Other German community members will join in a tour of live music venues. The delegation will also meet with Nina Jasmin Petrow, San Antonio’s honorary consul of Germany.

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

Top Image: San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and Darmstadt Mayor Jochen Partsch shake hands after signing  the letter of intent as Councilmember Rebecca Viagran and Darmstadt  look on. Photo courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

Related Stories:

For San Antonio, a Rare Head of State Visit

San Antonio’s Newest Friendship City: Windhoek, Namibia

City Looks to Germany for Economic, Cultural Opportunities

San Antonio Celebrates World Heritage Site Designation

Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.