Bromley Town Twinning Association – Twinning history

Bromley logo

Neuwied logo

30 years of friendshipBaronial home

Bromley has been twinned with Neuwied since October 16, 1987. A steering committee was set up in Bromley several years previously to explore possible town twinning links. When it was found that the Rhineland town of Neuwied was looking for an English partner, the committee recommended to Bromley Council that a formal twinning be established.

The recommendation was accepted and since then the relationship has never looked back and has been nurtured by the twinning associations in Bromley and Neuwied.

Some of the members of the original steering committee are still involved in Bromley's twinning activities. Another from the early days was Cyril Rooke, for many years our membership secretary, who died in 2012. His own association with Neuwied went back to 1952 when he and his wife were hosts to a 16-year-old student from Neuwied. They returned the visit to see him and his parents in 1962. As many of us have since come to appreciate, Neuwied is in easy reach of many historic areas surrounding two of Germany's greatest rivers, the Rhine and the Mosel.

In the very early days of our twinning, it was decided to inaugurate the Bromley Shield of Honour which was presented by our association to the Freundeskreis Neuwied-Bromley to be awarded each year to those who have made a lasting and notable contribution to the friendship between our two towns.

Top, the baronial splendour of the 18th century Schloss Arff to which the association was invited by the owner Freiherr Christoph von Geyr during its visit to Neuwied to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the twinning of the two towns. Above, Leutesdorf Vineyaed owner Klaus Mohr, right, receives the Shield of Honour from Wilhelm Köhler. Both have now passed away.

For our 30th Anniversary, BTTA committee member Sheila Brown wrote this Piece

It seems many years ago now that we started with the conundrum of just how do you form a twinning link? After the Second World War there was a strong tide of feeling that Europe must never again tear itself apart in this way, and the idea of town twinning was conceived so that people from different countries might get to know each other at a personal level and to forge links of friendship.

In those days European travel was still seen as something special and exotic, so the idea of spending a weekend in a European town was quite an attraction. Bromley did not immediately get on this particular bandwagon.

In the early 1980s there was an incentive in Bromley to find a twin town. A steering group was formed and contact was made with possible ‘twins’.
The problem was that, by then, those that might have been judged to be comparable towns had already found other partners – so, for example, none of the Paris suburbs or nearby towns in northern France or in Holland was available.

Two members of the Steering Committee – Brian and Susan Taylor – had a daughter who lived in Germany and she had heard that there was a town on the Rhine called Neuwied that was looking for a twin town in England. It was realised that Neuwied was further away than had been hoped for and that the town was much smaller than Bromley so not the close match that had been sought. Neuwied’s then Oberbürgermeister, Karl-Heinz Schmeltzer, was invited over to have a look at Bromley, accompanied by a teacher of English, Wilhelm Köhler (who went on to become Chairman of the Neuwied twinning, named Neuwied-Bromley Freundeskreis).

Ken Paterson, Bob MacIntyre and the Taylors then had a weekend in Neuwied. Bob Macintyre was particularly instrumental in setting up the association, drawing on experiences from another borough’s twinning partnership.

Also on the Steering Committee were Colin and Kate Elliott. They thought they would like to go and take a peep at Neuwied – incognito – to form their own opinion. They checked into their hotel and were quietly having dinner when a ‘deputation’ descended upon them.
The keen-eyed hotel receptionist had spotted that this couple were from Bromley and – hey presto – the bush telegraph went into action, with none less than the Oberbürgermeister appearing (Kate thought at first he was someone from the hotel enquiring if they were enjoying their meal!) accompanied by Peter and Inge Gütler.

Within a very short time everybody was back at Karl-Heinz Schmelzer’s house, being plied with alcohol, and some firm and lasting friendships ensued, especially between Karl-Heinz and Colin Elliott, despite their not speaking the other’s language. Apparently they used to talk for hours, crying with laughter.

The Charter was signed on October 17th, 1987, by then Mayor John Lewis and Neuwied’s Oberbürgermeister. This was the day we woke up to the damage wrought by the ‘Great Storm’. Ken Paterson (Chairman of the Steering Committee and first Chairman of BTTA) recalls:
“The one memory that stands out with me was the Great Storm. Karl and Wilhelm were due to arrive at Heathrow the following day. I hired a minibus and set off to Heathrow at 8 am. The M25 was closed so we had to follow the South Circular instead, with a diversion across Clapham Common, but managed to arrive at Heathrow an hour before they landed.

“We then set off for Bromley. By now the M25 had opened so we had a fantastic view of the devastation around Surrey and Kent. Our visitors were very interested in the clean-up operation and took many photographs. We spent much of the weekend travelling around Bromley and Orpington following diversion after diversion.”

Arriving at the Civic Centre for the signing, they encountered a scene of devastation with trees flattened by the storm. So struck were they by the destruction that a tree was later presented to Bromley and planted in the grounds of the Civic Centre, using water from Neuwied’s two rivers, the Rhine and the Wied, to water it in.

These events were to stay in the memories of everyone involved.Here are some of those memories:

Founder member Peggy Duffin recalls: “There was never any money! Bromley bent over backwards to demonstrate the twinning was not costing the ratepayers. The memories of the generosity of my hosts in Neuwied will always remain – such very good friendships developed. And those wonderful trips down the Rhine. Twinning has enriched my life and the lives of one grandson and one granddaughter.”

Sarah-Jane Durman, founder member and former Vice-Chairwoman, says: “It does take a long time to drive there but everyone seems to enjoy themselves when they get together and lifelong friendships have been made. The Germans love visiting here as we are so close to London and have lots of lovely historical places to visit in Kent. We visited for many years from when our children were small – the poor Gütlers having to put up with three lively young boys running round. They loved the adventure of their garden on all its tiers.We have had several au pairs from Neuwied which was lovely as it helped to improve their English and help with child care. We are still in touch with some of them.”

Founder member Margaret Birchmore has fond memories of the warm friendship with Karl-Heinz Schmelzer.

Derek Powell, Mayoral Attendant, who made numerous visits to Neuwied, both official and personal, was greatly loved in Neuwied and regarded as ‘Mr Town Twinning.’

Ralph Palfrey, long time committee member until his recent serious illness, is the only person known to have cycled from Bromley to Neuwied and back again.

Peggie Bensaid mounted several exhibitions in Bromley Library and the foyer of the Civic Centre to promote town twinning. Publicising the twinning link has always been hard work with the decline of local media. In the early years BTTA several times had a float in Bromley Carnival!

What happened next?
Very soon after the Charter was signed, Bromley presented Neuwied with a red telephone box which was placed centrally in the town and has recently been converted into a mini library. Neuwied’s Chairman Wilhelm Köhler procured a red pillar box as well which adorned the front garden of his house. The BTTA instigated a Bromley Shield of Honour and gave it to the Freundeskreis to be presented each year to persons or groups, in Neuwied or in Bromley, who have made a notable contribution to town twinning.

From the early days, the Ravensbourne Morris Men were firm favourites in Neuwied, dancing at the Rheinlandpfalztag (state festival) and the Deichstadtfest (town festival) and joining us to celebrate our anniversaries. They organised a Barn Dance for the visitors to Bromley in 1997.
There have also been many musical links over the years and at the time of the Bromley Arts Festival in 1990 several choirs came over to join Bromley choirs in performing the Berlioz Requiem Mass jointly in a hangar at Biggin Hill. Bromley Youth Music Trust often incorporate a performance in Neuwied in their summer tour and there have now been two Picnic Concerts in the grounds of Rommersdorf Abbey.

Warren Road School has had a long lasting link with Grundschule an der Wied with pupil exchanges in alternating years. In earlier years, pupils from Bromley schools had work experience placements in Neuwied, but this is now difficult to do with the stringent safeguarding checks now in place. Bromley has equally provided placements for Neuwied youngsters.
More recent has been the link between Tennis Club Neuwied and the Parklangley Club with return tennis tournaments. The Neuwieders love the opportunity of coming over here and playing on grass.

Visitors to Neuwied have enjoyed trips on the Rhine and the Mosel and the spectacular Rhine in Flames firework festival, trips to vineyards and wine festivals, the Maria Laach volcanic lake with gas bubbles floating up, the Abbey at Rommersdorf with its Roman origins, a visit to Trier with its famous Roman black gate, and visits to Bonn and Cologne, and Konrad Adenauer’s house. We have visited the Mohr vineyard in Leutesdorf and the late Klaus Mohr was one of the recipients of the Bromley Shield.

In 1997, the 10th Anniversary Year, a group of 100 or more from Neuwied visited in June. A temporary Beer Garden was set up opposite the Churchill Theatre and there was a ceremony naming the access road Neuwied Way. A number of schoolchildren came on that occasion and enjoyed a barbecue on the Brighton beach.

Later in the year the return group from Bromley filled four coaches taking school football and hockey teams, and the Kentone Barbershop group which performed in Neuwied’s town square. An exhibition of photographs from Bromley was mounted by Bromley Photographic Society.

The 25th Anniversary was celebrated on a boat sporting a specially created anniversary logo for a cruise up the Rhine, and by a commemoration service at the Friedenskirche Heddesdorf which led to a partnership with All Saints’ Church Orpington.

Neuwieders really know how to let their hair down with their riotous Rhineland Karneval (Carnival) leading up to Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. Then each July Neuwied stages its Deichstadtfest – a town festival centred on its dyke which was built to withstand disastrous flooding – with the Neuwied twinning association running a bar.

Great times and great fun.

The death of Nikolaus Roth

In 2017 we experienced a tragic happening in our twinning with Neuwied. Our great friend and consistent supporter Nikolaus Roth, Oberbürgermeister of Neuwied, died whle on a sailing holiday with his family in Greece. He was just 59. His death occurred just before our 30th anniversary celebrations. He is pictured below.

Our deepest sympathies go out to his widow Agnes, his daughter Anke and son Ingo. Among his closest friends in Bromley were David and Lynne Noble. David writes: "As you know, Lynne & I developed a lovely friendship with Nikolaus and Agnes over the past 15 years. Nikolaus was a very wise, knowledgeable and caring man;  he and Agnes and their daughter and son were very close - and, indeed, he and Agnes were still very much in love."

Nikolaus came from Trier. He studied jurisprudence at the Johannes-Gutenberg University in Mainz. A lifelong member of the Social Democratic Party, he became Bürgermeiister (Mayor) of Neuwied in 1997 and Oberbürgermeister(Over-mayor) in 2000.

After a family funeral, a service of celebration was held at St. Matthias Church, Neuwied, on Tuesday, July11. The Mayor of Bromley, Councillor Kathy Bance, and the outgoing Mayor, Councillor Ian Payne, attended.