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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, June 23, 2004


Simon says, ‘Guten Tag!’

Ketchum mayor pays visit to promote relations with sister city

Express Staff Writer

When Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon traveled this month to the Tegernsee valley, in the south Germany region known as Bavaria, he did more than hike, swim and distance himself from the daily machinations of City Hall.

Peter Rixner, the former mayor of Tegernsee, was an essential figure in helping to establish the sister-city relationship between Ketchum and the German city. Photo courtesy of Ed Simon

He went paragliding with the mayor of Tegernsee, one of several small cities that surround a pristine lake by the same name. Under a waving U.S. flag, he shared beer and words of wisdom with local residents and city council members. And, he accepted an invitation to spend a day in a Bavarian courtroom to promote his understanding of the German judicial system.

Tegernsee residents are known for their hospitality, but for Simon, an extra measure of accommodation was put forth for one simple reason: The small resort city is Ketchum’s designated sister city.

"I looked at it as an opportunity not only to see Bavaria, but also as an opportunity to do a little promoting for Ketchum," Simon said Friday, after he returned from the 13-day trip.

Former Ketchum Mayor Jerry Seiffert in June 1981 signed an agreement with Tegernsee’s former mayor, Peter Rixner, declaring that the two resort cities were establishing a relationship as so-called "partner cities."

With a U.S. flag poised behind him, Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon, center, is introduced to villagers from Tegernsee, during a barbecue to celebrate the sister-city relationship. Photo courtesy of Ed Simon

In 1985, the relationship was formally recognized by the U.S. State Department, which declared Ketchum and Tegernsee as official "sister cities."

Indeed, the two cities, despite their distance and cultural differences, are strikingly similar.

Tegernsee is one of a string of small cities located in the Tegernsee valley, which has a population of approximately 20,000, much like the Wood River Valley.

The Tegernsee area has long been a favorite with wealthy residents of nearby Munich, many of whom have built weekend homes along sections of the lakeshore. The mountainous region is also a popular resort area that boasts excellent skiing, boating and paragliding.

Peter Janssen, the current mayor of Tegernsee, is an attorney and avid paraglider, much like Simon.

Prior to this month, Simon had been to Germany only once, on a brief voyage 11 years ago.

Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon, left, enjoys a laugh with Peter Janssen, mayor of Tegernsee, during a nine-day festival celebrated in the Bavarian village. “Everybody from the community and outlying areas get together to eat and drink beer,” Simon said. “And believe me, their beers are not little beers.”.  Photo courtesy of Ed Simon

This trip, Simon said, was designed to promote the sister-city relationship, with hopes that numerous new relationships can be forged among the residents of the two cities in years to come.

"It is really for cultural exchange. Educational exchange," Simon said.

Last summer, 14 Tegernsee youths were hosted by residents of the Ketchum area.

In return, Simon was hosted on his voyage by the family of Christine Zierer, who sits on the city council of one of Tegernsee’s neighboring cities, Gmund.

In summing up his experiences, Simon said he found that Tegernsee and Ketchum have many more commonalties than differences.

"The one thing I saw there is that we are more alike than different," he said. "One of my first days there, my hosts’ daughter put her hand out to get the car keys, and then put the other hand out to get some money. It’s just like here."

A Bavarian valley. Photo courtesy of Ed Simon

On a grander scale, Simon said, high real-estate prices and a lack of affordable housing permeate the resort communities that surround the Tegernsee lake. Many residents and politicians, he said, believe there are too few hotel rooms to adequately support the tourism-based economy. And, he noted, local city managers feel forever pinched for cash to support public services.

"They are dealing with a lot of the same problems we are," he said. "They are trying to make an effort to let people know that tourists are the life blood of the economy."

In addition, developers are commonly faced with so-called "Not-in-my-backyard" objections, Simon said.

The differences, Simon said, became apparent in looking at German society on a broader scale.

"The one thing that surprised me the most is they don’t have a separation of church and state and the government collects taxes for the church," he said.

After spending a day watching a criminal trial with the support of an interpreter, Simon also noticed differences in the German legal system.

"Unlike here, the judge can basically decide what type of evidence he will consider."

The Tegernsee City Council, Simon said, has 16 members, all of whom are openly affiliated with a political party, Simon noted. In Ketchum, only four residents sit on the City Council, none of whom represent a political party.

The greatest difference, perhaps, is the sense of history procured in the two cities; Tegernsee is approximately 1,300 years old.

Tegernsee area residents expressed no animosity toward the United States, Simon said, but were not shy about criticizing President George W. Bush.

"George Bush is not popular," he said. "I’d say 80 percent of the people don’t like George Bush."

Ultimately, Simon said he believes the sister-city relationship can be used to foster fond relations between residents of the two regions for decades to come. In the near future, the mayor hopes to establish a link with the Tegernsee Internet site and to cooperatively promote tourism in the two cities.

"I saw some spectacular sites, but what I enjoyed most was the people," Simon said. "They couldn’t have been nicer or offered greater hospitality."


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