by ADAM GRUENEWALD
Type Cologne into a Google search and among the first links, in addition to the large German city, also known as Köln, is Cologne, Minnesota.
It was this discovery a few months ago that prompted German journalist Frank Piotrowski to do some investigating and add the Minnesota city to his recent United States visit.
“I just found it by chance while doing research on another topic,” he said, adding City Administrator John Hendel told him more about the city after he contacted him. “He gave me so much information that I became curious to come here.”
Piotrowski, 48, who works for Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) or West German Broadcasting, which has a main office in the German city of more than 1 million people, recently spent three days in the smaller Minnesotan counterpart to have a cultural exchange and develop German-language television news segments to bring back to his home country.
The television segments and coinciding cultural exchanges could be the beginning steps of a Sister City relationship, or “baby sistership” as Piotrowski jokingly called it, between the two cities.
First arriving at Chicago on Sunday, Piotrowski first spent a few days in St. Louis to visit the St. Louis Brewery which makes Kölsch, a type of beer only allowed to be brewed within the city limits of Köln.
“I was surprised that people here in Cologne did not drink Kölsch,” he said, laughing, adding that he discovered people in Cologne enjoy beer. “And that could also be true of people in Cologne, Germany.”
After his stop in Cologne, Piotrowski took in as much of Cologne as he could in his short stay before leaving for Muenster, Texas, which holds the same name as another region WDR covers. He then returned to Köln on Tuesday.
Piotrowski, who has been the United States several times before and studied in Florida and Seattle, said his impressions of his first visit to the Midwest were positive.
“That was a very interesting this to me, meeting people who were very much straight forward,” he said. “It’s like the people in Köln. People in Köln are also very much straight forward. If they like something, they let you know. If they don’t, they let you know.”
Among his activities were watching the historic 1939 video of Cologne, visiting with members of the Cologne Lions, getting a city tour from Cologne Mayor Matt Lein and Hendel, putting together a segment on security with Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson and even sharing some Kölsch he had brought with him.
While in Cologne, he shared a lot about his home, the fourth-largest city in Germany.
Köln sits on the Rhine River and has roots dating back to the first century. Among its landmarks are the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) the University of Cologne (Universität zu Köln) which has 50,000 students, an Astronaut Center, a major train station, a zoo, an airport and more than 30 museums.
In addition, Köln residents also have a passion for sports, enjoying soccer and the play of FC Köln.
“Everything is very much concentrated,” said Piotrowski. “The density is very high. It’s not a cheap place when you want to live in the city.”
While Köln is much larger town, the most notable differences he noticed in Cologne and the United States were the size of objects.
“Everything is much bigger here,” he said. “The cars, usually coffee cups. The size of the glass in Germany is very small because the people like fresh beer.”
On a positive note, Piotrowski was “very much surprised” at the public services and the relatively new community hall building.
“The school is in such good shape,” he said. “Very good approach to teaching. People in Köln would love to have a school building like this because our school buildings are mainly old. Köln is a rich city but the city government is not rich. They really have to think how they have to spend the money. I wouldn’t think there is one school building that is as new as this one here.”
Above all else, Piotrowski said it was the people that make Cologne special, just like those he left behind in Köln.
“To me the most important things are the people,” he said. “It’s very easy to get along with people here. If you come to Köln, Germany, you will see it’s very easy to get along with the people there.”
Among the gifts he received during his stay was local maple syrup, Cologne Hollanders baseball hat, beer coolers and other items representing the community, including a request for Sister City relationship he will deliver to Lord Mayor Jürgen Roters on behalf of the City of Cologne.
Köln currently has about 25 Sister City relationships across the world, including one with Indianapolis, which just marked its 25th anniversary.
Piotrowski had a chance to visit Indianapolis, but choose to visit Cologne instead, explaining he found it much more interesting.
“I had a really good time. I learned a lot about Cologne,” he said. “I feel like I now know more about Cologne than some of the people that live in Cologne.”
Contact Adam Gruenewald at [email protected]