Part II: Why San Antonio Should Retie the Knot With Germany

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A preserved portion of the Berlin Wall, preserved. Photo via CIA World Factbook.

A preserved portion of the Berlin Wall. Photo via CIA World Factbook.

Robert Rivard

Anjelika Jansen keeps one home in San Antonio and the other in Berlin. A dual citizen and unofficial ambassador of sorts, Jansen is one of those individuals whose passion and forté is connecting people and making things happen.

This month she is in Berlin, where she recently helped four of San Antonio’s most accomplished artists win prestigious fellowships at a renowned art institute there. Next month she will be back in San Antonio, a member of the Library Foundation board, working on the inaugural Texas Book Festival/San Antonio Edition that will be held April 13.

(Today’ story is the second of a two-part series. Click here to read the first story.)

Angelika Jansen

Angelika Jansen

Three years ago, Jansen used her contacts and salesmanship to help introduce San Antonio to Dresden and Berlin.

Mayor Phil Hardberger led a delegation from San Antonio to Dresden and Berlin in early 2009 that included representatives from the Greater San Antonio Chamber of CommerceSouthwest Research Institute, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Port San Antonio.

Hardberger signed a three-year “business and cultural alliance” agreement with his counterpart in Dresden, the magnificently rebuilt capital of Saxony. Famously firebombed by Allied bombers in World War II, Dresden painstakingly reconstructed many of its ruined 18th and 19th century buildings and monuments. It’s now a World Heritage Site. Dresden was also the center of East Germany’s hi tech industry before reunification, and today is a thriving leading-edge city.

Dresden, 1945, view from the city hall (Rathaus) over the destroyed city (the allegory of goodness in the foreground). Photo by Richard Peter (1895–1977) via Wikipedia. (Creative Commons license.)

Dresden, 1945, view from the city hall (Rathaus) over the destroyed city (the allegory of goodness in the foreground). Photo by Richard Peter (1895–1977) via Deutsche Fotothek. (Creative Commons license.)

“As I recall, our accord with Dresden was one step below a sister city relationship, but it was a start,” Hardberger said. “Germany is an important friend and an important economy, and we should do more as a city to strengthen that relationship.”

City officials presented Dresden officials with an elaborate, hand-blown glass chandelier created by  the celebrated San Antonio glass artist Gini Garcia, valued at nearly $250,000, that now hangs in a Dresden castle. But not much else happened.

San Antonio Honorary General Consul Ben Buecker said German officials were more interested in developing the relationship than their counterparts here, but it seems the relationship was the victim of poor timing rather than indifference.

The Dresden mayor fell seriously ill and was forced to cancel a reciprocal trip here,  and then Hardberger’s second term as mayor expired.  Mayor Julián Castro took office with his own ambitious agenda that focused on education, urban transformation, and other priorities. The after effects of  a global recession were still limiting business investment and expansion. Overseas business recruitment was not a local priority.

“There wasn’t any money in the City budget to pursue a relationship with Germany, which as a country moves very deliberately in considering where it is going to invest,” Jansen said. “In time, I got tired and lost steam, and since then have focused more on cultural issues.”

Today the City’s website incorrectly lists Dresden as a sister city, even though the alliance expired before such an agreement was ever seriously contemplated.

This pedestrian street, Prager Straße, connects Dresden Central Station with Altmarkt ("old market") Square.

Modern Dresden. This pedestrian street, Prager Straße, connects Dresden Central Station with Altmarkt (“old market”) Square. Public domain photo.

“San Antonio did have a friendship alliance with Dresden from 2009-2011, but the agreement has since expired,” said Mark Henderson, international relations specialist with the City’s International Relations department. “There are no official ties as of now between San Antonio and Germany.”

Meanwhile, after many invitations, the German ambassador to the United States, Klaus Scharioth, came to San Antonio and Austin in late 2010. He attended a dinner at the San Antonio Country Club with the members of the San Antonio International Visitors Council, a hospitality organization connected to the U.S. State Department, and a breakfast at The Plaza Club that included Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and some 20 others, but Mayor Castro and top economic development officials were not part of the meetings. The next year Germany changed ambassadors and the connection was again broken.

Wolff, himself the descendant of 19th century German immigrants, said county officials believe the economic recovery, coupled with San Antonio’s proven track record as a top-performing Toyota truck plant, positions the region to pursue a relationship with a German automaker.

“There’s  an informal network of officials talking about the appeal of the corridor stretching from Dallas south to Mexico as being an ideal place for more auto manufacturers to locate,” Wolff said. “There are no plans to go see German automakers, but they could develop.”

Maintaining the U.S.-German Alliance

For three years now, I’ve participated in a German-U.S. Journalist Program sponsored by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, one of Germany’s largest and most influential foundations and, here in the U.S., by the Center for TransAtlantic Relations at John Hopkins University.

Bosch officials, I learned, are well aware of U.S. cities with a significant German manufacturing or business presence, but I also learned that even the most engaged foundation officials and German journalists were unaware of San Antonio’s historic ties to their country. Unlike Austin or Phoenix, it hasn’t been a destination city in the alternative years when the German members of the program visit the states.

One reason the Bosch Foundation established the program was to maintain close U.S.-German ties after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, even as Washington’s focus moved away from the former Soviet Union and Europe and, post 9/11, centered on Islamic fundamentalism. Germany, in my view, has made a far greater effort to maintain its friendship and partnership with the United States than our country has made to preserve our ties with Germany.

A preserved portion of the Berlin Wall. The wall was begun in 1961 and completely encircled West Berlin. The beginning of the end of the wall came in 1989 when the East German regime allowed East Berliners to visit West Berlin. The former wall is marked in some places by cobblestones.. Photo via CIA World Factbook.

A preserved portion of the Berlin Wall. The wall was begun in 1961 and completely encircled West Berlin. The beginning of the end of the wall came in 1989 when the East German regime allowed East Berliners to visit West Berlin. The former wall is marked in some places by cobblestones.. Photo via CIA World Factbook.

Program participants have been given a firsthand appreciation of German politics, reunification, its leadership role in the Euro Zone, the country’s culture, technology research and development, and the extraordinary export economy.

We’ve also received a firsthand appreciation of the declining U.S. military presence in Germany since the end of the Cold War. At one time more than 277,000 U.S. active duty troops were stationed in Europe, along with hundreds of thousands of dependents and civilian workers. Countless German families saw marriages to U.S. servicemen, and German towns and cities developed post-war economies built considerable American spending and employment of German workers. For nearly 20 years now, that presence has been shrinking. Multiple U.S. bases in Germany are still slated for closure or downsizing, and by 2017 there will be less than 30,000 U.S. troops in Germany.

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 5th Quartermaster Detachment, 21st Special Troops Battalion, 21st Theater Sustainment Command exit a C-130J Hercules aircraft during an airdrop training mission at the Mannheim drop zone, Germany, April 14, 2011.  The single C-130J aircraft from the 37th Airlift Squadron, 86th Airlift Wing will drop more than forty service members at the drop zone.  U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt Wayne Clark, AFNE Regional News Bureau.

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 5th Quartermaster Detachment, 21st Special Troops Battalion, 21st Theater Sustainment Command exit a C-130J Hercules aircraft during an airdrop training mission at the Mannheim drop zone, Germany, April 14, 2011. The single C-130J aircraft from the 37th Airlift Squadron, 86th Airlift Wing will drop more than forty service members at the drop zone. U.S. Air Force photo/TSgt Wayne Clark, AFNE Regional News Bureau.

Political pressure to close overseas bases before additional stateside bases are shuttered puts additional pressure on the U.S. military presence in Europe.

Perhaps Pres. Obama’s State of the Union speech in January signaled a subtle change in direction, a step toward finding new ways to preserve and strengthen the U.S.-German alliance.  And maybe San Antonio shouldn’t wait for Washington. The city is free now to pursue a renewed relationship with Germany, one that builds on historic and cultural ties, but now aims at a 21st century economic relationship.

San Antonio Has a Lot to Offer

San Antonio’s growing aerospace, automotive, cybersecurity, biosciences and cloud computing sectors match well with Germany’s strengths as a leader in engineering, technology and  high-end manufacturing. San Antonio has achieved impressive economic diversification in the last decade, and more recently, has shown real improvement in workforce development, a key to supplying the trained workers any foreign national investor requires. The city is located in one of the fastest growing areas of the country, yet relatively abundant and affordable land is still readily available. The alignment of various public and business entities in San Antonio simplifies negotiations for interested industries.

Local economic development officials view company recruitment more broadly than was the case some years ago, and a Continental or Caterpillar manufacturing facility in Seguin or an Amazon fulfillment center in Schertz are now seen as economic development wins for San Antonio. One step would be for city officials to commission a sophisticated multimedia presentation of San Antonio’s historic ties with Germany and  its economic ties today, along with other city profile information, for distribution in that country.

In the event that Mayor Castro does develop an interest in exploring closer ties with Germany, there are people in the city that can gain him considerable entrée, although he won’t need much help. Germans watch U.S. national politics closely, and Castro will be a familiar persona and media magnet wherever he goes there. Still, a well-connected delegation with individuals like Jansen and Buecker never hurts.

Castro would not have to start from scratch.

Sebastian Lang-Lessing

Sebastian Lang-Lessing. Photo courtesy of the SA Symphony.

San Antonio Symphony Musical Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing came here from Berlin, where he and his family still maintain a residence. Lang-Lessing enjoys an international reputation as a conductor and artist. Economic development might not be his forté, but his considerable standing in Germany would open doors and give San Antonio an important cultural and personal connection.

Lou Agnese Jr., the longtime president of the University of Incarnate Word, has established “sister school” relationships with three German universities in Heidelberg, Regensburg, and Zweibrüchen. Agnese has used the power of persuasion to elevate UIW from a small college to a thriving Catholic university. His skill as a salesman and dealmaker could prove invaluable.

Thousands of San Antonians  lived and served in Germany over the last 60 years, thanks to the U.S. military’s post-World War II presence there that continues today at reduced levels. Surely, San Antonio’s considerable retired officer class community includes a former commander or two who served in ranking positions there and would make goodwill ambassadors today.

Cathy Cunningham-Little's installation in the University Health Center Downtown Clinical Services Building.

Cathy Cunningham-Little’s installation in the University Health Center Downtown Clinical Services Building – 4,000 pieces of hanging, sculpted glass arranged in an homage to the double helix.

Four San Antonio artists — Ricky Armendariz, Cathy Cunningham-Little, Karen Mahaffy, and Vincent Valdez — also could help welcome a Castro delegation to Berlin, arguably the most interesting and fastest-changing city in Europe. The four artists were selected last month to participate in an artistic exchange program that will allow them to live and work for several months in Berlin, and at the end of each artist’s stay, see their work exhibited at the Kunstlerhaus Bethanien.

The invitation came about in part through the efforts of Jansen, along with the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, the City of San Antonio Department for Culture and Creative Development, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and Palo Alto College all serve as program sponsors. Their collected works from Berlin will be exhibited at the Blue Star sometime next year when the program concludes.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Consul General Klaus-Jochen Guhlcke in Houston “is a big fan of San Antonio,” said Buecker. Giving Guhlcke top-level attention on his next visit here would be a good start.

Germany was important to San Antonio’s development in the 19th century. Two  world wars and the passage of time distanced us in the 20th century. Now, in the 21st century, new opportunity looms if we seize it.

Follow Robert Rivard on Twitter @rivardreport or on Facebook.

3 thoughts on “Part II: Why San Antonio Should Retie the Knot With Germany

  1. Great article regarding the resources and assets the city already has, but one has to ask the question – if the City presented this opportunity, why didn’t local businesses push the relationship forward? Your article rightly points out that government initiatives have the lifespan of an election cycle. Just like when Hardberger left, Castro’s initiatives will become history when he leaves office unless the citizens are engaged and demand that they continue. Does the business community in SA know the value of these opportunities? Are they in a position to take advantage of them?

  2. The business community as a whole supports the projects that matter to them or projects that support their bottom line. Quite a bit of businesses withdrew their support for Downtown initiatives. Was this information documented? Who had the conversations that led to the lack of support? I really don’t know where I can access information on the Internet to provide a better analysis but it looks sparse all across the city.

    Public/Private relationships should span across geographical areas and time. A community or organization around UTSA should speak to a Non-Profit or governmental organization Downtown. Is this happening? Is there a good flow of communication? We need metrics. We need analysis! I’m calling on the Rivard Report to show this information and make it readily accessible!

  3. Since I am mentioned prominently in the articles, I would like to comment. Bob Rivard’s very well researched and compassionate article comes at a cross roads of options where we can and should and most likely will rekindle our relationships with Germany. Since I live in both countries, to be exact in San Antonio and in Berlin, Germany, I am very much interested and willing to work on furthering the existing ties. Dresden is most important as a center of business and culture, actually it is the gate to the Eastern countries. Thus it was with pride that I was able to realize this connection for SA, with the help of our City government and the Honorary Consul Buecker. Furthermore, I helped forge a connection with the Technische Universitaet in Berlin and our UTSA, developed the artist connections mentioned in the article, and I am working on bringing a show of graphic art from Houston to Berlin.
    I do not mention these things in order to shine but to draw attention to the possibilities that exist if someone can connect the cities/countries. So far, I have done all of these and other things as a volunteer with my own funds. If San Antoni wants to become a serious economic player in regard to to Germany, the city has to involve herself officially. I would be happy to be involved or considered, but, I cannot stress this enough, serious results would require serious involvement of the city.

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