In my series of blogs about relationships and friendships between Brits and Germans, I’m also looking at twin city connections. You might already know that my home town is Düsseldorf, which is the reason why I was curious to know if Düsseldorf was twinned with a town in the UK.
My research brought me to the Reading Düsseldorf Association website, and then to Anke, who is a voluntary member of the association that has existed since 1947. I had a really interesting chat with her, and I’d like to share some of what I learned about my home town here…
A long-running connection
When I chatted to Anke, she explained that the RDA (Reading Düsseldorf Association) is the oldest link between a British and German town or city. It was initiated by the socialist, trade unionist, peace campaigner and politician, Phoebe Cusden, who was born in Reading in 1887. During the First World War, she taught English and German. She was the founder of the post-war twin towns movement. I was fascinated when Anke told me about Phoebe’s strong belief in helping war-torn, impoverished children in Düsseldorf. Despite having a lot of opposition from the residents of Reading, she did find some people who supported her idea of inviting children from Düsseldorf to spend time in Reading.
Phoebe was shocked by what she found in Düsseldorf
Phoebe travelled to Düsseldorf just after the end of the Second World War to get a first-hand impression of what the city had been through. What she found was a destroyed city with a lot of homeless children. Königsallee boulevard, the south of Düsseldorf and the district of Derendorf had suffered the most.
Coming home with these horrific images in her mind, she was determined to help the children by inviting them to stay with some of Reading’s families. Phoebe organised care parcels, as well as building strong relationships between the families in both places. At first, only around six children came to Reading, which usually happened during the Easter holidays. Over the years, the numbers of children visiting Reading gradually increased. That was the start of a very special relationship between Reading and Düsseldorf.
More than 70 years of friendship
In 2017, the Reading Düsseldorf Association proudly celebrated its 70th anniversary. I was delighted to hear that the connection between these two places is still alive, even after the association’s founder, Phoebe Cusden, passed away in January 1981, at the age of 93.
The RDA has become a recognised link between the towns for sports clubs, orchestras, choirs, schools, and other organisations, which have led to much toing and froing on both sides.
Anke told me that Düsseldorf had invited Reading’s young tennis players to participate in a tennis tournament in 2018. Unfortunately, Reading didn’t manage to get a team together, and lost the opportunity to take part. Perhaps it wasn’t promoted enough amongst Reading’s young people? Or maybe the younger generation wasn’t that keen on travelling to Düsseldorf? It’s a pity because Düsseldorf is a trendy and vibrant city, and has so much to offer the younger generation, with its sports facilities, tourist attractions, the old town with its many bars and cafés, as well as plenty of things to do in the surrounding area.
I’ve created a list with things to do in Düsseldorf. Discover what you can do here.
Although it’s sometimes a challenge to motivate the younger generation to keep this connection going, the society’s volunteers are determined to keep Phoebe Cusden’s ideas alive. I’ve even become an RDA member myself, because I believe the society provides a vital link to my home town. Find out more about becoming an RDA member, and what the benefits are here.
Reading and Düsseldorf are running together
On 17 th March 2019, Reading has organised a half marathon, and have invited some of Düsseldorf’s council officials to come along. Anke informed me that almost every year, a small group of people from Reading participate in the Düsseldorf marathon. This year, Metro marathon will be held on 28th April 2019. It’s a scenic route that passes many beautiful sights in Düsseldorf’s city centre. Participants can choose between a full or half marathon and can also join a relay. If you’d like to participate, you can book your place here.
I was truly moved by Phoebe Cusden’s power, strength and determination when she created this wonderful link between these two towns. Despite them being enemies during the war, she managed to push past the tragedy of war and focus on the human aspect to find a way to help those who had suffered – no matter what side they were on. I truly take my hat off to Phoebe Cusden. Without going into a political debate, I hope that we can continue to keep the special British-German relationship going.
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