STUDENTS from Wiesbaden Germany – Tunbridge Wells’ twin town – were invited to a special reception at the Town Hall earlier in the month by Mayor David Neve.
The visit marked the end of the students’ two-week stay in Tunbridge Wells as part of the two towns’ annual exchange trip.
The Mayor said: “May I thank the host families and employers for making this opportunity possible. This fantastic collaboration has been running for 16 years now, and long may it continue.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank those in the Twinning Association who provide much valuable work behind the scenes.”
One of those was Councillor Julian Stanyer, who is Chairman of the Tunbridge Wells Twinning & Friendship Association, who was also present at the reception.
He explained that the concept of twinning towns came as a result of the Second World War. It was the European mind-set that emerged during the post-war years, with nations who once were enemies ‘taking a step towards one another, to reconciliation and understanding one another’, and ultimately the wish for a united Europe.
It is some 55 years since the two towns’ initial friendship declaration was made, which eventually led to a formal Twinning Charter being agreed in 1989.
The group of young Germans, aged 15 to 17, were all pupils from the Wiesbaden Grammar School [Gymnasium am Mosbacherberg], who were participating in the annual exchange programme and undertook work placements at local businesses such as Larry Tech, Rainbow Nurseries and also some schools, which included St John’s and St James’ primaries.
“I think most parts were really similar to our schools,” commented Lilly Heart, one of the exchange students, after completing her placement at St Margaret Clitherow. She added that she found the experience beneficial: “I would definitely like the idea of teaching over here one day – everyone has been really friendly.”
Laura Brauer, one of the teachers from Wiesbaden Grammar School who accompanied the students on the trip, said the experience had been ‘incredible, from start to finish’ and insisted that the programme ensures the friendship between the two towns is still ‘very much alive’.
In her thank you speech, which she gave at the Town Hall reception on February 10, Ms Brauer said that the young people who participated in the trip stand as a ‘hopeful sign that the bond between Tunbridge Wells and Wiesbaden will carry on for years to come’.
Organised as an opportunity for the German students to learn more about the people in their twin town, as well as their culture, customs and everyday lives, much emphasis was placed upon a determination to strengthen the links between the towns, despite the turbulence following Brexit.
Ms Brauer added that her students had been ‘quite impressed’ by the houses in Tunbridge Wells. “The architecture is charming and different. The little chimneys on the top are really quite sweet.”
She also admitted that some initially had reservations about staying with families they didn’t know, but they had been given the opportunity to have some contact with their hosts before the visit via the internet, courtesy of Skype.
Living costs were noted to be slightly higher in Tunbridge Wells, and most of the students enjoyed the food offered to them – especially the Indian cuisine they tasted on a visit to Mowgli’s.
“We have Indian restaurants in Germany, but they are not the same quality, they are much better in Tunbridge Wells,” Ms Brauer stated.
Preparations for next year’s visit will commence in March and teachers are hopeful they will exceed 20 student placements within the area.