A new wave of partnerships and twinnings are based not only on building friendship and understanding – important as these are – but on a strong commitment to achieve practical results and long-lasting local development.
There is no single agreed definition of “development”. In the words of Mabub ul Haq, founder of the annual Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): “The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives.”
In the United Kingdom, the term twin towns is most commonly used, to town-twinning with Europe, differentiating with the term sister cities, which is used for agreements with towns and cities in the United States.
The first recorded modern twinning agreement was between Keighley and Poix-du-Nord, Nord, France in 1920 following the end of World War I. This was initially referred to as an adoption of the French town, with formal twinning charters not being exchanged until 1986.
The practice was continued after the Second World War as a way to bring European people into a closer understanding of each other and to promote cross-border projects of mutual benefit. For example, Coventry twinned with Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and later with Dresden as an act of peace and reconciliation, all three cities having been heavily bombed during the war.
Many German cities still are twinned with other German cities. The partnerships were established in the last years of former East Germany. Famous examples are the partnerships of Hanover and Leipzig (both having important trade fair grounds) or between Hamburg and Dresden.
Half a century after World War II, there is hardly any European city without one or several twin towns. The role of town twinning in improving international relations on a worldwide scale has been little researched or documented. However, town twinning has undergone a near-metamorphosis in the recent past, reflecting its position in an ever more rapidly changing world. Yet it has also retained all its original values.
Once again it is Germany which is in the forefront of these changes, not surprisingly due to its unique political history and geographical position in Europe. By tracing the development of Germany’s town twinnings from a basic idea into a worldwide network, one may hope to arrive at a clearer understanding of the current situation as well as of future prospects.
The idea spread quickly in the years that followed the second world war. It was thought that if people of different nations got to know and understand each other on a personal level by meeting in their normal environments, even their private homes, then the horrors of war would never be repeated. Also, if one city ever needed help or advice it could be more easily and unbureaucratically given by another city than, for example, by national aid programmes.
To this day, people exchanges stand out as the most universal and important feature of twinning within Western Europe. Be it professional people, school children, the elderly or the disabled, thousands of people have made new friends, gained experience and confidence and, to a greater or lesser extent, broadened their horizons.