Most people probably recognize the German city Stuttgart (pronounced "Shtoot-gart," we looked it up) as the headquarters for Mercedes-Benz and Porsche (it's on the logo). Jason Bourne probably hid out there for a while. Those things are awesome, not gonna lie, but they're far from our closest tie to the city. In 1960, Raymond Tucker, St. Louis' 38th mayor, helped put the city on the Midwestern map by working with international officials to create a sister cities program between the sports car capital and the home of the Cardinals.
Flash forward 51 years: St. Louis' older sister is supported locally by the nonprofit St. Louis-Stuttgart Sister Cities, an organization devoted to fostering German traditions in Missouri through art, cuisine, cultural celebrations and student exchange programs. Since the exchange program began 20 years ago, it has sent 3,000 students back and forth between the two cities.
Recently, the ideals behind that relationship made it as far as Obama, who will present German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the Medal of Freedom Honor at a White House state dinner tonight. The chancellor, who was raised in a communist East Germany, is both the first East German and the first woman to hold her position.
But how does this relate to St. Louis? Just trust us. Because of the city's heavy cultural ties to Germany, it was chosen as one of three in the US (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia also made the cut) to celebrate the event with a closed-circuit broadcast of the medal ceremony. The event, though closed to the public, will take place this evening at the Mayor's office to reinforce the ties between the two countries with cocktails and German appetizers. Note: There will not be any sausage jokes in this story, sorry.
"Not very many foreigners receive an award like this," says Susanne Evens, president of St. Louis-Stuttgart Sister Cities. "I hope events like ours mean there will be closer ties between the countries. Obama is already a huge part of that: He's a hit in Germany, and he's loved by the citizens."
Evens, who grew up in the Stuttgart area, took her position to develop ways for others to experience her home. Although she jokes that the group's staff, all volunteers, does most of its work between midnight and 3 a.m., she hopes to increase the respect of similar programs throughout the country. Since being adopted by Stuttgart, St. Louis has also initiated relationships with cities in Africa, Asia, South America and other parts of Europe.
"Stuttgart is a lot more aware of their sister cities than the people in St. Louis are, but we're trying to improve upon that," Evens says. The citizens of Stuttgart are particularly impressed by mustachioed wonder Mark Twain and the area's Mississippi River ties. In general, the sister cities program is a much larger establishment in Europe, in large part because it's not a nonprofit there. "If you want a volunteer project to be successful, it takes a lot of work that nobody really sees on the outside. There's a lot this country has to offer through exports, and Germany's a great example."
Last year, Mayor Slay and the mayor of Stuttgart toured each other's hometowns to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the relationship. Although Evens doesn't use the cliché, her time with the sister cities program backs up the idea of a "small world," after all.
"I remember being at an event that Mayor Francis Slay attended in Stuttgart, and someone from St. Louis was there, ran up and was like, "Wow, what are you doing here?" Evens says. "It's incredible."