- Associated Press - Sunday, June 22, 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Tuscaloosa and Schorndorf, Germany, are different, but the two cities have something in common: Mercedes-Benz.

“It all started in 1996 when Mercedes started the factory here. The city of Tuscaloosa wanted to start a cultural exchange sister city relationship with our city in Germany,” said Ralf Beck, liaison between Schorndorf and Tuscaloosa.

Citizens of each city have visited the other ever since.

Approximately 12 people including retired teachers, pharmacists, computer specialists and representatives from Mercedes-Benz, recently arrived in Tuscaloosa to tour the area.

The next trip to the United States for the sister city will be in 2016 to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the relationship.

In 2016, Tuscaloosa Sister City International will also celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the program, which began in 1986 when the JVC plant came to Tuscaloosa from Japan and Tuscaloosa began its first sister city relation with Narashino, Japan. In 2011, Tuscaloosa added Sunyani-Techiman, Ghana, in Africa as the third sister city based on the connection of elephants. Johnny Dyer, a member of the board of directors of the Tuscaloosa program, said the name of the city means “place where the elephants come home to rest.”

“We find something in common,” Dyer said. “(Tuscaloosa does this) to develop a relationship with other countries to cultivate friendships with our fellow citizens in other countries. This leads to business contacts that will assist in bringing potential businesses to Alabama.”

President of the Schorndorf Sister City program Thomas Röder said the goal is to maintain contact with other countries.

“We’re making friends, and we’re meeting old friends,” Röder said.

Members of the group stayed with different host families and visited the Jemison-Van de Graaff Mansion, the Federal Courthouse, the recycling facility, the University of Alabama president’s mansion, the transportation museum, the Black Warrior Brewing Company and the UA Observatory last week.

The group ate breakfast each morning at the Jemison-Van de Graaf mansion and had lunch in downtown Tuscaloosa each day. Beck said the group was most surprised by the food.

Käthe Cherchi said the fast food is the same with restaurants like McDonalds but that there is a major difference in the homemade food between the two cities.

“This morning, I had for breakfast, for the first time in my life porridge, and I like it very much,” Cherchi said. “This is what I bring home to my grandchildren. They must taste it.”

Although the food was a new experience for Cherchi, who was visiting the United States for the first time, the hospitality was the same as in her home country, she said.

Beck, who has visited the U.S. many times since 1986, said hospitality is what he likes most about Tuscaloosa.

“You come here, and you feel at home all because of the warm welcome,” Beck said. “The friendship of the people is the same. It’s marvelous here, and I think all the Americans, when they come (to Schorndorf), say we have a great friendship for them. As people say: ‘On the outside we are different, but by our hearts we are the same.’ “


Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, https://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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