Dr. Wolfgang Müller still remembers the first time he met a group of students from Watertown-Mayer High School.
The mayor of Lahr, Germany, hosts a reception for the Watertown-Mayer students each time they visit as part of a student exchange partnership program. Every two years, Watertown-Mayer students take a three-week trip to Germany to stay with a host family, only to return the favor for their German host several weeks later.
On this particular occasion, Müller said he told the Watertown students that he hoped they wouldn’t be bored in his little city of 44,000 residents.
“They all started to laugh, and I didn’t know why,” Müller recalls.
Müller quickly began to learn more about Watertown — its small size, in particular — and he finally experienced the city first-hand last week. Müller was in town to visit the city as part of a trip that also took him to Canada to visit one of Lahr’s several other sister cities.
Müller was greeted by a small reception at Watertown Mayor Charlotte Johnson’s home on Tuesday, July 16, in which the two mayors exchanged gifts. Müller presented Johnson with a framed coat of arms from his city, as well as a book about the town, and Johnson presented Müller with a certificate from the city declaring him an honorary citizen of Watertown.
“I feel very honored to be made an honorary citizen of Watertown,” Müller said. “I didn’t expect that, and I’m very thankful.”
During the reception at Johnson’s home, Müller got to visit with not just with Johnson, but also with several city council members and city staff members. The visit provided both sides a chance to learn more about city government in each of their towns. In addition to Tuesday’s reception, Müller also visited an area farm during his visit, as well as the local schools and fire station.
Müller said he enjoyed Watertown’s small-town charm, and said it was much as he expected.
“It’s very scenic,” he said. “Everybody is friendly, and there is no rush.”
The partnership between schools in the two towns, part of the German American Partnership Program, started in 2000, when the first group of Watertown-Mayer students visited students from the Scheffel-Gymnasium in Lahr, and later hosted those same students in their own homes. The two schools have been making the trip every two years since that first trip, with the seventh trip for each school occurring last summer and fall.
On Watertown-Mayer’s end, the trips are organized by German teacher Lynn Strom, who last summer took a group of 27 Watertown-Mayer students to Lahr. Twenty-three students from Germany made the return trip last October.
Strom said the partnership between the schools was actually born about 25 years ago, when she herself was an exchange student in the city of Lahr.
“I loved my family, and I loved the town,” Strom said of her stay in the Black Forest town while she was in high school. “When I became a teacher in Watertown, I got the name of someone at the school, and I got a response a few hours later.”
Contact Matt Bunke at firstname.lastname@example.org