15 July 2023

This last week has been dominated by my official Mayoral visit to our twinned city of Leer in Ostfriesland, part of the Bundesland of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) in North-East Germany.

The occasion was the bicentennial of the granting of Leer’s City Charter by George IV (King of England and Hanover) in 1823, and I was honoured to have been invited to join the Burgermeister of Leer, Herr Claus-Peter Horst; the President of the State of Niedersachsen, Herr Stephan Weil; the Vice President of Niedersachsen, Frau Meta Jansen-Kucz; along with representatives of the Federal Bundestag, civic dignitaries, and academics, as they gathered in the historic old Rathaus in Leer to commemorate this significant date in their town’s history.

The trip was short; we (my wife, who is a native German speaker, accompanied me at her own expense so that she could act as my translator) were only there for one full day, but we did manage to cram an awful lot into that one short day!

We arrived in Leer at midnight on Monday 10th July, after being picked up from Amsterdam airport and being driven through Holland and into Germany. After checking in to the hotel we were staying at, we went straight to bed.

After breakfast the following morning, we were met at our hotel by the incomparable Mara-Jantje Fuß who we’d first met when she visited Trowbridge in May as part of the Twinning Association. Mara, however, is familiar with Trowbridge, as she spent a few months here back in early 2020 on a placement from Leer Council with Trowbridge Town Council.

Mara gave us a fascinating tour of the old town of Leer. It truly is a beautiful place, full of little winding alleys and old, characterful buildings. We spent some time at a really rather wonderful “museum” above an independent family wine merchant in the old town. It was an intriguing insight into not just that family’s history but the evolution of their business as well.

Then on to the “new” Rathaus to meet Burgermeister Claus-Peter Horst, who took us on a tour of the “old” Rathaus (where Tuesday night’s bicentennial celebration was held), another wonderful old building. He then took us on a walk through the town to meet up with his wife and daughter, and on for a lovely seafood lunch at a local restaurant, Pier 23, after which we walked back into the centre of the town to enjoy a coffee and a chat with Edith and her daughter.

I have to say, the walk through the town with Claus-Peter was a bit like walking through Trowbridge with TTC’s own Ben Deadman; he was constantly waving at random people and stopping for a chat with everyone he knew (and believe me, that was nearly everyone)!

We were shattered by three o’clock and went back to the hotel for an hour’s rest before getting ready for the evening’s main event—the formal ceremony opening what will be two months of celebrations in Leer.

So, back to the old Rathaus at half past four for the opening ceremony celebrating Leer’s 200 years as a Charter City. This status had been conferred on the town in 1823 by George IV, when he was also King of Hanover. It was a fascinating evening, and although the speeches were delivered (obviously and rightly) in German, I did get a profound sense of the pride this town has in its heritage and history. OK, Claus-Peter did make a passing reference in English during his speech to our “dance” together when he was here in Trowbridge for the Coronation in May!

After the formal part of the evening concluded, I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with a 97-year-old survivor of Bergen-Belsen who had been deported from Leer by the National Socialist regime in 1938. This incredible man survived (his family didn’t), went to live in the USA after the war, and was returning to Leer for the first time to be awarded the Freedom of the City. He was so humble—a true inspiration and an example of why evil like that should never be allowed to rear its ugly head again.

After the “social networking” phase of the day was over, we headed back to Pier 23 for a relaxing evening meal (and a couple of beers). It had been so good at lunchtime that we just couldn’t resist giving it a second go!

All in all, it was a real honour and a privilege to have been invited to share in Leer’s celebration, and a real joy to have been able to be there with them. I cannot thank Mara, the Burgermeister, Claus-Peter Horst (and his family), and everyone we met—too many to list individually—for the really sincere welcome they showed us.

That was it. A short visit, but oh so sweet. Less than 36 hours after arriving in this wonderful city, we were being driven the 260 Km back to Amsterdam for our flight home. Leer really is a truly beautiful town, and the people are so welcoming and friendly. We’ve made some very good friends that will stand the test of time. In fact, within hours of arriving home, we booked a return visit this October to coincide with their annual Gallimarkt.

Auf wiedersehen Leer, until next time.

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