What is Coventry famous for

Germany archive

Marianne Howarth

The author

Prof. Dr.; Professor emeritus, was Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Nottingham Trent University until 2010. Her research and numerous publications since 1977 have focused on the relationship between Great Britain and the GDR.

During all stages of the history of relations between Great Britain and the GDR there was a desire on the British side to enter into friendly partnerships with cities in the GDR. But only one partnership that is still current today, that between Coventry and Dresden, dates back to the 1950s. Looking at the history of partnerships between cities in Great Britain and the GDR, it becomes clear that this partnership is a truly special case.

Coventry Cathedral was destroyed by bombing by the German Air Force in November 1940. Today the ruin and the new building are a symbol of peace (& copy picture alliance / Arco Images GmbH)

The importance of town twinning to the City of Coventry

The City of Coventry places great importance on partnering with other cities as the core of its international relations. [1] Coventry is one of the first two twin cities in the world; In 1944 she entered into a partnership with the Soviet city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd). The desire to show solidarity with the Red Army during the Battle of Stalingrad was the main motivation for this step, which found strong support from the people of Coventry.

Today Coventry has partnered relationships with 26 cities around the world - no other British city has shown as much enthusiasm for city twinning. [2] Although some partnerships only exist on paper, others are regularly supported and developed through visits by delegations, sporting and cultural encounters or joint projects.

Regional Bishop Jochen Bohl (left), pastor of the Frauenkirche Stephan Fritz (center) and Provost Dean John Irvine from Coventry in England (right) on the day the cross of nails was handed over on February 13, 2005 in the lower church of the Dresden Frauenkirche (& copy picture-alliance / dpa / dpaw)
When choosing Coventry's town twinning, feelings of solidarity of various kinds often played a role, even if they were seldom the only reason. After Coventry Cathedral was heavily bombed by the German Air Force on the night of November 14, 1940, after the Second World War, large parts of the population wanted to see the ruins of the bombed cathedral, its new building and the city of Coventry as a symbol of the To establish peace and reconciliation. In the first days after the bombing, the cathedral provost Richard Howard initiated a peace and reconciliation campaign that has now become a worldwide organization. [3]

This is the spirit in which the Coventry City Councils acted again and again. The first partnerships after the Second World War were concluded with places that had suffered severe war damage or were even heavily destroyed cities of former enemies. Examples are the Czech village Lidice, which was destroyed by the SS and after which a square in the center of Coventry was named, and the northern German port city of Kiel (both in 1947). [4]

Coventry and Dresden: How did the town twinning come about?

Despite the joint experiences of bombing and destruction and despite the fact that in 1945 the church leaders of the cathedral in Coventry and the Dresden Frauenkirche had expressed their mutual desire for peace and reconciliation, the two cities only signed an official friendship treaty in 1959. Friendly relationships at the local level have been intensively cultivated on both sides since the mid-1950s.

A delegation from Coventry invited to the 750th anniversary lays a wreath on the Heidefriedhof in Dresden in 1956 in honor of the victims of the air raids on Dresden in February 1945 (& copy Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-38793-0001, Photo: Erich Höhne, Erich Pohl)
The impetus for this came in 1954 in the form of a letter from the Lord Mayor of Dresden to the Lord Mayor of Coventry on the subject of German unity and peace. The response to this has been positive; the Labor Councilor Edward Dixon founded a Coventry-Dresden friendship society. As a result, a counterpart was launched in Dresden. These two bodies initially ensured the exchange of literature and information. [5] In 1956 a delegation of Labor councilors from Coventry received an invitation to the city of Dresden's 750th anniversary. Other delegations, including teachers, women's groups and young people, visited Dresden in the 1950s and 1960s; In November 1959 a delegation from the city of Dresden visited Coventry for the first time. A second visit from Dresden did not take place until 1968. [6]

Many factors were responsible for the widespread support of this partnership initiative in Coventry: the Labor majority in the city council, the peace and reconciliation mission of the leadership of the diocese, the role of the Coventry Committee for International Understanding and the commitment of the MP for the constituency of Coventry East, Richard Crossman (Labor). In November 1959 he invited the Dresden delegation to a reception in the lower house; later he campaigned for the recognition of the GDR. [7]

City partnerships with the GDR during the non-recognition phase

This East-West friendship was heavily criticized both in Coventry and outside the city. The conservative opposition in Coventry's city council adhered closely to the British government's policy of non-recognition and refused any contact with the GDR on principle. When the conservatives won a majority in the city council in 1968, the partnership with Dresden was suspended and only revived in 1973 after diplomatic relations had been established.

Outside of Coventry, the criticism of the city council was part of a broader negative assessment of the frequency with which many Labor MPs, mostly so-called backbenchers and other British groups, visited the GDR and, according to GDR press reports, expressed their admiration of the development of GDR society . This criticism was not only published in the West German and British national press - for example in the left-liberal Guardian; in the summer of 1959 it was also the subject of a short series in the prestigious Neue Zürcher Zeitung. [8]

It is therefore not surprising that few British cities followed Coventry's example during the GDR's non-recognition phase. Although the Foreign Office viewed the question of town twinning with the GDR as a communal matter, i.e. did not take any official steps to prevent a partnership with a town in the GDR, it was warned of the likelihood that the GDR could use the partnership for propaganda purposes. For conservatively led city councilors, a partnership with a city in the GDR was out of the question, but even in places where Labor had a majority, there was only interest in it in individual cases.

This interest rarely led to a formal town twinning, despite various energetic attempts on both sides. Examples are the contacts between Oelsnitz and the Scottish town of Buckhaven, Meiβen and the center of the British porcelain manufacture, Stoke-on-Trent. A hindrance for British cities that wanted to take this step was not only the conservative opposition, but also the fact that during the 1960s, in protest against the construction of the Berlin Wall, the Allied Travel Office did not issue visas for GDR citizens, so that Visits could only go in the direction of the GDR.

The town twinning concluded in 1965 between the planned town of Crawley in West Sussex and its socialist counterpart Eisenhüttenstadt was somewhat more successful. Similar to Coventry, there were different interests in Crawley that could find common ground in the Crawley Association for Peace. These included members of the British Communist Party, pacifists, disarmament activists and representatives of the churches in Crawley who came together to convince the Labor majority in the district council to accept an invitation to Eisenhüttenstadt. The visit took place in August 1965 on the 15th anniversary of the city of Eisenhüttenstadt; A friendship treaty was signed during the visit. Over the next few years, three official delegations from the city of Crawley visited Eisenhüttenstadt, including a teachers' group and a youth group. But when the Conservatives had a majority in the district council in 1968, the partnership was suspended and only reactivated in 1972. [9] The partnership is no longer active today.

The GDR government was ready in the 1950s and 1960s to invest considerable resources in developing partnerships with cities in Western European countries in order to gain support for the recognition campaign. In Great Britain, however, the circle of GDR friends remained relatively small and mostly without significant political influence. This was particularly true of the members of the friendship organization BRIDGE, founded in January 1965, the majority of whom were close to the British Communist Party. In the same year, 23 Labor MPs formed a special parliamentary group; Its members played a not insignificant role in questioning the official policy of non-recognition by means of parliamentary questions and motions, but ultimately had no effective influence on government policy or public opinion. [10]

After the establishment of diplomatic relations: (De) interest of the GDR in partnerships

During the non-recognition period, none of the contact networks established by the GDR or by British friends of the GDR led to an increase in the number of partnerships with British cities. After removing the obstacle of non-recognition in 1973, several British cities have shown an interest in partnerships. Most of this interest continued to come from within the ranks of the Labor faction in each city council, and in some cases they continued to come up against the Conservative opposition. At the end of 1973, for example, the conservative opposition from the city of Stockport (near Manchester) warned the Prenzlaus city council against entering into a town twinning proposed by the Labor majority. Because the conservative parliamentary group had taken the prospect of a local election victory in April 1974 and a resolution against expanding Stockport's town twinning, they made it clear to the city of Prenzlau that, once in power, they would annul the planned partnership. [11]

The files of the GDR Foreign Ministry show that the Stockport-Prenzlau case and similar British attempts to forge a partnership prompted the GDR to review its attitude towards partnerships with British cities. The GDR's interest in new town twinning abruptly waned; instead British interested parties were asked to found local chapters of the Britain-GDR Society. Various factors led to the revision of the previous position. This emerges from an exchange of letters between the London embassy of the GDR, which supported the conclusion of a friendship treaty with Stockport, and the GDR Foreign Ministry on the subject of Stockport-Prenzlau. Obviously there had been indecision on the GDR side and the embassy expressed concern about the possible damage to the GDR image abroad.

"The brief delaying tactic shown now is not suitable for strengthening the reputation of the GDR or its local authorities. There may even be a risk that such examples will be found in the ESK talks [meaning negotiations leading to the establishment of the conference on security and cooperation in Europe, CSCE,] be raised by the western side in order to attack the socialist camps in connection with agenda item 3 [...]. "

The letter closes with a request for clarification about the intentions of the GDR government with regard to town twinning.

"Since Stockport-Prenzlau is not the only case in which there have been complaints from the British side, we would be interested in receiving information from you about the general ideas about the formation or establishment of town twinning with British cities." [ 12]

A problem for the GDR was not only the increasing number of interested parties on the British side, but also the lack of continuity in the office of the mayor elected annually by the city council, so that a partnership with a city in the GDR could easily fall victim to a change in political climate. The answer to this letter said: "Events so far show that official partnerships with British cities are ineffective (see Dresden-Coventry). The annual or periodic change of city councils also contributes to this." In the case of Stockport-Prenzlau, it was recommended that "[...] a group of the GB-GDR friendship society be set up to join the national GB-GDR friendship society." [13]

Dresden and Coventry in the 1970s

The references to Dresden and Coventry as well as to the "national friendship society" are both of interest. The remark about the ineffectiveness of the town twinning refers to the late 1960s, when the conservatively led town council put the twinning on hold. But immediately after diplomatic relations were established in 1973, it was enthusiastically revived on both sides. Lord Mayor Schill, director of the German Hygiene Museum, visited Coventry in April 1974. Both sides rated the visit as a great success; a highlight was the festive naming of the "Dresdener Platz" in the city center of Coventry.

In the conclusions of his report on the visit, Schill said: "On the part of the City of Dresden, relations with Coventry should be continued, especially since it is the only official town twinning between an English city and a city in the GDR." He also made a number of suggestions for the development of relations, for the reception of delegations from Coventry, for example on the 25th anniversary of the GDR in October 1974, for further visits from Dresden to Coventry and for relations at school and museum level ]

Despite the mutual will to breathe new life into the partnership, it stalled again in the mid-1970s. The main reason for this was that Coventry had organized a very full international program until 1977 and Dresden was only able to propose a visit for 1978. [15] The visit finally came in April 1979. Before that, in November 1978, during a visit to Coventry, GDR Ambassador Karl-Heinz Kern had spoken out in favor of reviving the twinning, an attitude that in Coventry not only the city council but the Chamber of Commerce and the Coventry Committee for International Understanding also responded positively. [16]

Kern recognized the potential and prestige of the partnership for the GDR and therefore wanted a clear guideline for its further development. He justified this step, among other things, with the fact that among the conservative majority in the city council "[...] economic circles have come to the fore, who hope to gain economic contacts and advantages from a continuation of the town twinning with Dresden." [ 17] This was especially true for the conservative city councilor and mayor and owner of a successful construction company, Kenneth Benfield (1978-1979), who received the Dresden delegation in April 1979.

The role of the friendship society in the development of town twinning in the 1980s

In his report to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (MfAA) on his visit, Kern said it was necessary "[...] to specify the intentions of the GDR in the Dresden-Coventry town partnership and to agree to a cooperation in line with GDR interests and priorities to organize." In the conception for the delegation visit in April 1979 there was the clarity he was looking for: "The delegation is examining the prerequisites for activating relations at the level of the friendship movement. This corresponds to the orientation of town twinning in non-socialist countries more and more becoming one Cause of the League for Friendship of Peoples. "[18]

With the recognition of the GDR, the friendship organization BRIDGE received official status as a Britain-GDR Society. The concept of the League for Friendship between Nations for the Society was to found local groups in all parts of the country and thus to build up a network of contacts that could be mobilized for the cause of the GDR, for example during delegation visits. At the end of the 1980s there were a total of 26 such chapters in England, Scotland and Wales; the six Scottish branches merged to form the Scotland-GDR Society in October 1986. [19]

In the 1980s, members of various local sections of the Society tried to convince city councils to enter into a partnership with a city in the GDR. But the success was very different.Wherever there was a new partnership, for example in 1983 between Manchester and Karl-Marx-Stadt or in 1986 between Blaenau, Gwent and Bautzen, these had little to do with the commitment of the friendship society. In both cases, the GDR seems to have seen the city council's initiative as a major propaganda advantage for itself and was therefore ready to bring about the town twinning extremely quickly. [20]

In Scotland, on the other hand, the Scotland-GDR Society tried hard to establish partnerships between Glasgow and Halle, Dundee and Cottbus and Aberdeen and Rostock, but the attempt failed because of reluctance on one side or the other. In March 1988, Glasgow and Halle signed a "joint declaration", but Glasgow made it clear: "Glasgow [is] not in the habit of twinning regularly with cities in the way that Coventry is [...]". [21] In the case of Aberdeen and Rostock, the Scottish side was disappointed with the slow progress in Rostock. [22] This was all the more regrettable as the Labor MP for Aberdeen, James Lamond, was chairman of the parliamentary group and current president of the Britain-GDR Society. [23]

Town twinning at the time of the change

At the time of the fall of the Wall, the number of official partnerships between British and GDR cities was still small, and - with the exception of the partnership between Coventry and Dresden - mostly more recent. The number of British cities that maintained friendly relations with GDR cities but had not entered into a formal partnership is slightly larger. Then there are the cities that wanted to enter into a partnership, but that did not happen. Other examples are Birmingham and Leipzig and Bradford and Erfurt.

On the British side, it was Labor councilors who were interested in partnerships. Their motivation for this varied: The partnership between Coventry and Dresden is characterized by a mutual desire for peace and reconciliation; Manchester was about the importance of the city for Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as well as the historical importance of both cities, Manchester and Chemnitz (a city that Marx never visited), for the textile industry. For the Blaenau Gwent district it was possible similarities with the Sorbian minority, especially in the area of ​​language policy and the fear that "[...] the exclusion of Wales from the development of communal relations between cities in the GDR and Great Britain was seen as discrimination could be. "[24]

For the GDR, the motivation to enter into a partnership or to reject it was always political. Until 1972, the aim was to gain the broadest possible support for their recognition campaign. Later, in the context of the CSCE and especially in relation to the required granting of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the GDR wanted to protect itself from Western ideological infiltration and therefore refused to enter into new partnerships. [25] Instead, the GDR tried to expand the activities and role of the Britain-GDR Society. In the 1980s, when the GDR's western policy was mainly aimed at image cultivation, it was ready to react very quickly - and very opportunistically - to new opportunities. But there was no strategic concept here. "A long-term foreign policy concept for Western policy [was] not recognizable; persistence in the pursuit of mini-goals is confused with consistency and consistency in the implementation of strategic long-term goals." [26]

25 years after the fall of the Wall: what remains?

Canon Paul Oestreicher (left), cathedral capitular and head of the International Center of Coventry Cathedral, visits the ruins of the Frauenkirche in Dresden in 1994 accompanied by Dresden's mayor Herbert Wagner (right) (& copy picture-alliance / ZB)
With the fall of the GDR, not only the Britain-GDR Society and the Scotland-GDR Society, whose members often provided the first contact with possible partner cities in the GDR, were dissolved; in many cases the interest in a partnership with a city in the new federal states has also disappeared. For example, Stockport today has a partnership with Heilbronn, the German twin town of Stockport's French twin town Béziers. Manchester -1983 entered into a partnership with the then Karl-Marx-Stadt - is still the twin city of Chemnitz. The partnership between Bautzen and Blaenau Gwent, on the other hand, was extremely short-lived; it collapsed as early as 1988. [27] The same applies to the "half" partnership between Glasgow and Halle.

An important new partnership that - according to official information from the two cities - is a very active one is that between the two trade fair cities of Birmingham and Leipzig. It was established in 1992, almost twenty years after the first British ambassador spoke out in favor of it. [28]

And the partnership between Coventry and Dresden is still in force. In 2014 it was sixty years since the Lord Mayor of Dresden sent his letter to the Lord Mayor of Coventry, which led to the formal partnership in 1959. The desire for reconciliation and the participation of both the city and the cathedral remain an important part of the partnership. In Great Britain, Timothy Everard, British ambassador to the GDR from 1984 to 1988, together with Canon Paul Oestreicher, a long-time friend of the GDR and until 1997 head of the Reconciliation Center of Coventry Cathedral, has been very active in the work of the Frauenkirche Dresden Foundation since 1995 and the Society for the Promotion of the Reconstruction of the Frauenkirche. Today the partnership tries to support and develop economic and trade relations between the two cities.

How to cite: Coventry - Dresden, Manchester - Chemnitz, Aberdeen - Rostock. City partnerships in the shadow of the Cold War, in: Germany Archive, May 29, 2015, Link: http://www.bpb.de/207012