On Sunday, over fifty people gathered at the Park Farm Hotel in Hethersett for a special dinner, postponed since 2020 by the pandemic. It was to celebrate the friendship between Norwich and its German twin city, Koblenz. Since Roman times Koblenz has stood where the Moselle, flowing down from the vineyards that famously line its banks, joins the mighty Rhine.
We were celebrating the founding in 1980 of the Norfolk and Norwich Koblenz Friendship Association. It was a joyful occasion, under the ever-smiling eyes of the association’s president, Waltraud Jarrold.
Building friendship over a lifetime
Waltraud recalled the beginnings of the association at Sewell Barn Theatre, in 1980. Over the years since, regular visits between Norfolk and Koblenz have built strong friendships. I’m a new member, but I pick up echoes of long relationships: news of Koblenz friends getting married, or welcoming the arrival of children or grandchildren; celebrations of special events; concern for someone who is ill, grief for a friend lost. Some visitors stay in hotels, others have stayed in each other’s homes. The visits include day trips together, and have helped to build up a deep respect for both hosts’ and guests’ way of life and culture.
Partnerships and cooperation
Over the years, the twinning has extended into organisations and institutions, such as Norwich Rotary Club with Koblenz Ehrenbreitstein; and Norwich Philharmonic Society with the Musikinstitut Koblenz. There is a long history of training exchanges with the Koblenz Chamber of Skilled Trades, Handwerkskammer Koblenz.
Norwich is also twinned with Rouen in France and Novi Sad in Serbia. One remarkable fruit of this European network of friendships has been the Triorca Orchestra, a youth orchestra that includes members from all three countries. It was set up and sustained thanks to EU funding, which has done so much to foster friendship between young people and open their eyes to new horizons. The Triorca Facebook page features a moving tribute from Leila Hooton, 2019 winner of the Norfolk Young Musician Competition. She was speaking at a 2019 concert in Brussels on the value of such international cooperation (no Facebook account needed to view the clip).
Looking forward to building supportive friendships
Waltraud is emphatic: ‘We always look forward, build for the future.’ There is great hope that the mutual twin city visits will be able to resume before too long. I have some catching up to do, but I have sampled the warmth of the relationship in a couple of online meetings between members in various churches in Koblenz and church members from the diocese of Norwich. At our July meeting, the appalling flooding along the Ahr was a nearby, recent and raw memory for our friends in Koblenz. The Handwerkskammer is offering committed support. True to the association’s name, it was good to reach out hands in supportive friendship through our online meetings. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to meet them ‘IRL’ (in real life).