It all began in early 1963 with an invitation in German addressed to the mayor of Astoria.

Walldorf was celebrating the 200th anniversary of John Jacob Astor’s birthday and Burgermeister (Mayor) Wilhelm Willinger asked if Astoria city officials would like to attend.

It was the start of a 50-year relationship as sister cities, the first of its kind between a German and?American city after World War II.

The current Astoria City Council returned to the birthplace of the city’s namesake Saturday to celebrate the one-half-century-old affiliation and the anniversary of Astor’s birthday, July 17, 1763.

Mayor Harry Steinbock and the City Council declined the invitation in April 1963 because of a lack of funding, according to a document describing the first trip to Walldorf. The firsthand account, which belongs to the Clatsop County Historical Society, states that a $2,500 check arrived from the city of Walldorf in June to pay for the trip.

According to newspaper articles and the document, the city was contacted in the meantime about setting up a sister city relationship with?Walldorf. The United States Sister City Program and Astoria city officials worked to make the two official sister cities during the first trip to Walldorf in July.

Steinbock, his wife Mary, council members and their spouses made the first trip. After a stop in New York City to stay at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, courtesy of Lufthansa German Airlines, the group arrived in Berlin July 15. According to the firsthand account, a large press conference was held at the Hilton Berlin Hotel where German newspaper reporters interviewed the group and took pictures.

Fewer than two years before the trip, construction of the Berlin Wall was completed, separating East Germany and West Germany. Twenty years before, the two countries had been at war.

Steinbock, Astoria’s third Jewish mayor, added another element to multifaceted trip. But Mary Lovell, who lived near the mayor and who took a trip to Walldorf later, said that the past didn’t seem to come up at all from what she heard of the trip.

“He was very heartily received when he went there,” she said. “They treated him very respectfully.”

The delegation from Astoria took paintings of the city as well as a miniature version of the Astoria Column. The official ceremony declaring both as sister cities was on Astor’s birthday anniversary. The group stayed in?Walldorf for eight days.

After returning that year, there was an effort to continue the connection via mail. Astoria residents baked approximately 300 fruitcakes and sent them to Walldorf for Christmas 1963, according to the historical society document. Gifts such as Christmas ornaments and recipes were also exchanged, and a Cuckoo Clock was sent to Astoria from Walldorf.

In 1966, Willinger and his wife as well as council members from Walldorf came to the dedication of the Astoria Bridge. The visitors were hosted by the Steinbocks and others in town, including Mary Lovell and her husband, Bob, who was appointed the first Sister City chairman.

“People opened their homes to them,” Lovell said. “It was just a very fun time. There was a great deal of entertaining.”

The Walldorf group was also in town for the annual Regatta in 1966 and rode in the parade with the two mayors leading the procession.


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