WALLDORF, Germany — For the fourth day in a row, the city of Walldorf’s generosity and creative planning has overflowed for its guests from the sister city of Astoria.

On Tuesday, the Astoria visitors learned about the German education system, had a guided bus tour of the city of Walldorf, participated in a groundbreaking ceremony at the newly christened Astoria Circle, and toured a winery, where each guest was surprised with a bottle of wine customized with a photo of the sister city delegation printed on its label.

The Astoria City Council and guests are visiting Walldorf, Germany, the birthplace of John Jacob Astor 250 years ago and its sister city partnership for the last 50 years.

At an evening ceremony, the city of Astoria Mayor WillisVan Dusen and Walldorf Burgermeisterin Christiane Staab unveiled the Astoria Circle, with a tree of friendship and lettering that reads “Astoria, Oregon” at the base.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure and honor to welcome you all on the occasion of the official opening of the future Astoria Circle,” Staab said. “The presence of many city councilors of Walldorf gives a very good sign of the close relationship to our friends in Astoria. And for that reason, it was easy for me and all 22 members of the city council to say ‘yes’ when we were asked to name this circle after our sister city Astoria.

“But we don’t only want to remind people to think of Astoria, we also want to give a lasting sign to show the close relationship between the city of Walldorf and the wonderful city of Astoria, located at the West Coast of the United States of America.” 

Van Dusen and Staab shoveled dirt and watered the tree in the center of the circle together. 

The national anthems of both countries played, as both flags waved freely  nearby.

Van Dusen thanked Harry Steinbock’s family and Michael Foster for the original involvement in forming the sister city relationship. Staab said, “Dear Michael, we think of you.” Van Dusen also thanked the city of Walldorf for its hospiality and generosity, declaring this the best exchange of the two cities yet.

It is the first time the Astoria City Council as a whole has left the United States.

Near the circle, a metal standing plaque tells the story of how it began and commemorates the 50th anniversary.

School system

Earlier in the day, the friendship delegation visited the schools of Walldorf, from the school for 8-week-old babies to 3-years-old, to the high school system.

The German education system differs vastly from the American system. The city of Walldorf, for example, owns the schools. It is a track system, so after primary school which goes through the fourth grade, students, teachers and ultimately parents can choose one of four schools to go to.

Gymnasium school is the most popular, and puts kids on track for college. It also provides a degree called an Arbitur upon completion. It is the most challenging of the four schools.

The Realschule, where the city delegation visited Tuesday, is a school that gives students real life skills, such as cooking, home economics and wood shop. It prepares students for a midlevel business job, but also as an option of sending students to the Gymnasium after completion, and eventually to the university. Students in the Realschule – the reality school – only attend through the 10th grade. 

The Hauptschule only goes through the ninth grade and trains students for jobs in construction, plumbing and other hands-on vocational jobs. Students then go to an apprenticeship.

The other option is a general school that combines a little of all the schools.

Astoria Councilman Russ Warr said when he was a student, America had a track system too, but it was eliminated because of fears education shouldn’t be about jobs, it should be about education. He said the German system is far superior to America’s today.

“I have been so impressed with the German education system from what I have seen,” Warr said. Warr formerly served on the Astoria School Board for 12 years. “The fact that they are trying to give their children a great education and put them where they need to be – because I realize and Germany realizes, but America apparently doesn’t – but college isn’t for everyone.” 

A student has to have the grades to attend, but college is free for students in Germany.

The sister city delegation toured the elementary school in the morning, ate in the Realschule cafeteria, and then toured the classrooms. The schools are very modern and environmentally friendly. The entire school system is outfitted with up-to-date solar and energy efficient materials. 

But the school track system isn’t the only difference from American schools.

Students in the 10th grade chemistry class make their own wine. Each sister city delegation member received a bottle of rose.

“I think the tour of the schools in Walldorf has really been the best trip,” Councilman Drew Herzig said. “To see the amount of time and care and money they’re willing to invest in the children is really fantastic.”

Staab said education is one of the city’s top priorities.

“Education is one of the absolute priorities in our city,” she said. “I think you’ll recognize when you see the buildings and what we do for the kids here. I think this is our future and we have to give them everything we can so they can have a bright future.

“Education is the best thing you can give them.”

Industry

The delegation also visited the industries of Walldorf that changed the community to one of the richest in Europe.

The city of only 15,00 people has 18,000 jobs, and one of the largest business software companies in the world. SAP was formed 40 years ago and has provided jobs and brought in people from all over to train at its headquarters. 

The son of one of the SAP founders has since opened Session, the largest music store in Germany. Session sells every instrument except accordions and bagpipes. It also has five stores in Germany, including its Walldorf headquarters.

A new waterbed business featured a surprise for the visiting delegation. Das Wasserbetten Studio’s owners, the Groners, provided a champagne and mimosa toast, and homemade treats to the visitors.

Staab toasted the couple in their efforts as a new business and thanked them for bringing their business to Walldorf.

Winery

The Delegation visited the Wiesloch co-operative winery Tuesday evening for a tour, wine tasting and dinner after the circle dedication. 

A group photo taken at the start of the tour was printed and presented as a wine label at the end of the dinner as a gift for the delegation.

Former City Manager Jurgen Kamm, who recently retired after 50 years with the city of Walldorf, and two other musicians treated the group to traditional German songs during the dinner. A rendition of the chicken dance – or the duck dance in Germany – was also played.

Wednesday is the last day of the city’s trip to Euurope, and the delegation will visit European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

        

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