San Antonio and Darmstadt, Germany officials gathered at the Plaza Club on Friday to see their communities become formal Friendship Cities.

Mayor Ivy Taylor and Lord Mayor Jochen Partsch, signed an agreement that may lead to a mutually beneficial exchange of cultural, educational and business opportunities.

But for some in the small crowd at the signing ceremony, such as renowned local business leader Tom Frost, the Darmstadt delegation’s visit this week reinforces a strong connection San Antonio has had with Germany since the mid-19th century.

The signing of the Friendship City agreement is a follow up to a letter of intent that Taylor and Partsch signed in July 2015 when Taylor led a local delegation to Germany for the UNESCO World Heritage Committee session. There, San Antonio leaders celebrated as the committee designated the Spanish colonial missions as a World Heritage site.

The Darmstadt delegation arrived in town on Wednesday and was introduced to the full City Council on Thursday.

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During Friday’s Friendship City signing ceremony, Mayor Taylor spoke of the well-established historical links between San Antonio and Germany, and this city’s contemporary cultural and economic similarities to Darmstadt.

“Darmstadt holds the title of ‘City of Science’ and is also known as the city of poets, thinkers and space explorers,” said Taylor, who was joined Friday by Councilmembers Alan Warrick (D2), Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Ray Lopez (D6).

“San Antonio is a city that is known for its state-of-the art biosciences and diverse and rich cultural heritage. We have much to learn from each other and I am thrilled that our two cities are entering into a Friendship City agreement with one another.”

“I very much hope that the Friendship City agreement will intensify and strengthen the cooperation between our cities, particularly with common fields of interest,” Lord Mayor Partsch said. “Indeed, the reasons for collaboration are obvious — both of our cities have much in common in the fields of economy, science and culture.”

Darmstadt seeks to learn more from San Antonio’s World Heritage experience as it hopes to have UNESCO designate its Mathildenhöhe artist colony designated a World Heritage site.

Partsch also pointed to San Antonio’s culturally diverse population and Darmstadt’s immigrant population, which he has said benefits his city of 150,000 people as a whole.

Senior Chairman of the Board of Frost National Bank Tom Frost is the great great, grandson of Ferdinand Ludwig Von Herff, a Darmstadt citizen who migrated to San Antonio in the 1800s. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Senior Chairman of the Board of Frost National Bank Tom Frost is the great great, grandson of Ferdinand Ludwig Von Herff, a Darmstadt citizen who migrated to San Antonio in the 1800s. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Taylor briefly talked about the German immigration to the San Antonio area in the mid-1800s, an influx that included intellectuals such as Ferdinand von Herff, a Darmstadt resident and great-great-grandfather of Tom Frost, chairman emeritus of Cullen/Frost Bankers, owner of Frost Bank.

Herff was a renowned physician who helped the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word establish what became Christus Santa Rosa, San Antonio’s first hospital.

Partsch said it was appropriate to sign the Friendship City pact in the Plaza Club where on a painting of Herff hangs, high in the Frost Bank tower overlooking downtown San Antonio.

“It shows there are roots for our partnership,” said Partsch.

Tom Frost was recognized in the crowd. He said the agreement with Darmstadt is just the latest of many examples demonstrating San Antonio’s growth and impact on commerce and culture.

“All of us in San Antonio can be proud of the fact that we are no longer a country city. We are a city that really has worldwide connections and interests,” he said.

Frost said time will tell if San Antonio and Darmstadt can grow together from Friendship Cities to official Sister Cities.

“We’ve made relationships with other cities that have blossomed into great things, many of them have not, but none of them have been unworthy,” Frost said.

The Darmstadt delegation continues its visit through Saturday. Nina Jasmin Petrow, honorary German consul in San Antonio, and her predecessor, Ben Buecker, will have the delegation interact with members of the local German community.

Saturday’s itinerary includes a tour of Beethoven Maennerchor Halle und Garten, and a visit to Bandera, where Petrow said the visitors will get a taste of Texas Hill Country life.

Petrow told a reporter at Friday’s signing that, aside from meeting with local business, cultural and civic leaders, it’s important for the Darmstadt delegation to get a firsthand, brief feel for life in San Antonio and Texas. Petrow was born in Switzerland. Being part of an international family.

“I’m hoping the cultural exchange will broaden horizons,” she added.

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Top Image: Lord Mayor of Darmstadt Jochen Partsch accepts a gift from Mayor Ivy Taylor.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

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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.