Aberystwyth and Kronberg twinning ‘never more important’
Aberystwyth has a long-standing partnership with a small German town – Kronberg. Alexandra Bánfi speaks to those involved in forging such a lasting friendship
IN 1968, a “young and enthusiastic” teacher from Kronberg im Taunus started exchanges with an Aberystwyth school, marking the start of a lasting twinning relationship.
While the school exchanges between Altkönigschule and Ardwyn Grammar School began in 1968, it wasn’t until 1997 that the two towns, Aberystwyth and Kronberg im Taunus, were officially twinned.
The teacher responsible for the successful relationship is Fritz Pratschke, “the father of twinning”.
On top of the school exchanges, Music exchanges began in 1980 and, in the early 1990s, a Friendship Association was formed to foster twinning links.
The twinning activities were originally dealt with by a committee of Aberystwyth Town Council. But in 2003 the committee became independent and known as the Aberystwyth Kronberg Twinning (AKT), composed of volunteers including the current chair Chris Hodgson.
In 2017, the Parc Kronberg skatepark was built by Aberystwyth Town Council, using Big Lottery grant funding. In 2019, an information board about the twinning relationship was placed near the skatepark on Boulevard De Saint Brieuc.
On the twinning, Fritz said: “In 1997, the mayors, W Kress and Elin Jones, signed the official partnership documents.
“Since then, under mayors Kress and Temmen in Kronberg, and the annually changing mayors of ‘Aber’, as well as the Partnership Associations under the chairmanship of Dr Barbara Reimers and myself, there developed a friendship which was cultivated by many people and found its expression in regular visits to the Kronberg Christmas Market and, from our side, the traditional summer visit to our partner town.
“The theme of un-twinning which was spreading around Europe had, thank goodness, no place in Kronberg’s four town partnerships thanks to our active partnership associations.”
Aside from school exchanges, many other local groups, such as Aberystwyth Ramblers, have also built relationships with their counterparts in Kronberg and now take part in exchanges. AKT members also make an annual trip to Kronberg for their Christmas Market in December.
For over 10 years, former chair of AKT and 1996 mayor of Aberystwyth Carol Kolczak has made the annual trip across the continent by car, with her husband, Kris Kolczak.
The pair transport Welsh delicacies, such as Bara Brith, Welsh cakes, Welsh cheese, and local beer, to sell at the market. After years of leaving their home at 2am, to complete the 750 mile journey by 8pm the same day, the couple now stay overnight in a hotel to break up the journey. However, with Brexit and strengthen customs regulations, they have come up against hurdles and have had to change what goods they transport.
While the strength of the twinning relationship was built on school exchanges, this foundation is now unsteady.
Fritz explained: “At the start of the millennium the Westminster Parliament passed a law forbidding British children to live with continental European families in case, at some time, or in some place, a child would be immorally treated.
“After 30 years of successful exchange work I was shocked and sad by the sudden ending of school exchange experience and hoped a letter to the current British Commissar in Brussels, Neil Kinnock, would bring about a possible compromise that would allow the Altkönigschule to continue with exchanges.
“My efforts were without effect and so the official exchanges ended. Subsequently, the two partnership associations, acting on their own responsibility, have been able to exchange small numbers of pupils.”
Chair of Kronberg Committee Dr Barbara Reimer, who took over the role from Fritz in 2011, said she has struggled to get children from Penglais and Penweddig to take part since they stopped teaching German.
But Barbara said the exchanges are about more than just the language: “But it’s not just about the language, it’s about getting to know another country, another culture. I think people are scared, but people don’t have to be afraid of not speaking German. Lots of people speak English.”
Chris said strong twinning relationships have never been more important: “We’ve had two world wars and we don’t want another. But you look at Ukraine and you do worry.
“In Aberystwyth, with Brexit, every single ward voted to stay in Europe. And Ceredigion as a whole voted to stay in.”
For Fritz, the relationship has even more gravitas. Born in 1936, in Czech Republic, Fritz experienced the end of the Second World War.
Fritz was born in Brno as a German. In 1945, Russians defeated the Nazis and arrived in the Czech Republic, where Fritz said they either killed Germans or drove them out of the country. But his father was allowed to stay to continue working as an engineer, wearing a white band with the letter ‘N’ to identify him as a German.
It was this upbringing and his desire to “make friends” across the channel that led Fritz to start up the exchanges and, later, the twinning: “Whenever I cross the channel it always goes through my mind that I’m going to friends. Before 1945, this was not the case. We were enemies.”
Aberystwyth’s other friendships across the world
While Kronberg and Aberystwyth have enjoyed 25 years of official twinning, the German town was not the first to join with Aberystwyth.
St Brieuc, France: The town’s oldest twin town, with their relationship being established in 197, is named after the Saint Brioc, who came from Wales and is the origin of the Breton name Sant Brieg, as the two languages are closely related.
Esquel, Patagonia: Aberystwyth and Esquel were officially twinned in 2009 when a delegation, led by then mayor Sue Jones-Davies visited Esquel, where a formal Act of Twinning was signed. But in 2008, the Aberystwyth and Esquel People in Partnership Association (AEPPA) was established to promote the twinning.
Arklow, Ireland: Aberystwyth’s most recent twinned town is one one the east coast of Ireland, having forged a close relationship through the Celtic Challenge boat race, in which teams from both towns row competitively across the Irish sea, a distance of about 90 nautical miles.
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