Mayor strengthens ties to sister city over mugs of beer

Bell says he’s done defending overseas trips to his critics

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, right, and Patrick de La Lanne, center, mayor of Delmenhorst, Germany, celebrate a yearly spring festival with a mug of beer.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, right, and Patrick de La Lanne, center, mayor of Delmenhorst, Germany, celebrate a yearly spring festival with a mug of beer.

DELMENHORST, Germany — In the quest to make new friends in Germany — for both economic and cultural reasons — one thing that is universally understood is “das Bier.”

Mayor Mike Bell on Saturday morning hoisted a large, goblet-sized mug to his face and took a sip of freshly tapped beer — leaving foam on his mustache and beard. Delmenhorst Mayor Patrick de La Lanne did the same — minus the foam.

After two days of meeting after meeting in Hanover at the world’s largest technology fair, Mr. Bell and his team stayed in Toledo’s sister city, Delmenhorst, in Lower Saxony. They were honored at the city’s historic city hall before the opening of the Krammermarkt, a traditional German festival to mark the start of spring. It began with a parade and tapping a keg of beer — Becks, which is the local brew of nearby Bremen, Germany.

After a parade and the beer, the two mayors strolled through the festival, sampling local desserts and then, a large bratwurst.

“All of this makes a difference and all of this is important,” said Mr. Bell, who has made international relations and foreign direct investment a keystone of his nearly 3½ years in office.

“We are moving as good, if not better, than other cities our size,” Mr. Bell said. “What I am done doing is the dance [with critics]. If it happens, it happens, but at least we know we didn’t stay at home and sit on our hands.”

Mayor de La Lanne, who hosted the Toledo delegation for dinner Saturday night, said he was moved by Toledoans when he visited last year.

“I think it’s most important that cities from Germany and America have a close relationship and we Germans should be extremely grateful, even to America, particularly in these days when there is trouble with Northern Korea,” Mr. de La Lanne said. “We should also always be grateful as Germans for what the Americans have done, particularly after ’45.”

Mayor de La Lanne said Germans should remember the aid that America offered after World War II and the reunification of the east and west at the end of the Cold War.

Delmenhorst and Toledo became sister cities in 2002, and both mayors signed an updated pledge last year when Mr. Bell hosted Mr. de La Lanne in Toledo. The German city of about 77,000 is one of Toledo’s 10 sister cities, which are scattered across South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

“I was very warmly welcomed ... in Toledo and that was very moving to have received such a warm welcome, and to see what a German-American network there is,” Mr. de La Lanne said.

Members of the mayor’s team said Saturday was a pleasant change from the grueling two days in Hanover.

The team, which included Deputy Mayor Paul Syring, Finance Director Patrick McLean, and city spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei, started with a walk through Delmenhorst’s farmers market, which operates twice a week outside Delmenhorst City Hall. Vendors sold fresh vegetables, eggs, meat, cheeses, and flowers. White asparagus, the traditional type of asparagus grown in Germany, was only available from one vendor.

“By next month, you will see it everywhere, and flowers everywhere,” said Greta Wilhelm, a shopper who was buying several pounds of pork.

As with other things he had seen in the city, Mr. Bell said he was impressed.

“We can do this in Toledo,” he said.

Sebastian Koch, left, shows Mayor Mike Bell bales of plastics that will be recycled at the city-owned waste management facility in Delmenhorst, Germany.
Sebastian Koch, left, shows Mayor Mike Bell bales of plastics that will be recycled at the city-owned waste management facility in Delmenhorst, Germany.

The next stop was Delmenhorst’s city-owned recycling facility; Toledo is considering building a new recycling facility of its own with Lucas County as a partner.

“We sent them a list of things we would be interested in seeing and that was one of them,” he said. “It’s interesting to see that we actually do it cheaper.”

The Delmenhorst system gives residents multiple containers for nonrecyclable refuse, biowaste like food, and packaging material. Glass is collected separately. All of it costs about $300 a year for residents. “We charge $8.95 a month and have one person per truck, whereas they have two or three people,” Mr. Bell said.

The cultural exchange was only a portion of the mayor’s five-day trip to Germany, similar to his second trip to China, which included a stay in Toledo’s Chinese sister city, Qinhuangdao.

Paul Zito, vice president of international development for the Regional Growth Partnership, said turning around economic development deals, liked those made at the Hannover Messe fair, usually takes 18 months.

“To come back and have a bricks and mortar deal in six months would be a monumental accomplishment,” Mr. Zito said.

Mr. Bell, who faces re-election this year, is taking criticism from opponents. Councilman Joe McNamara has called the trip a vacation and blasted the mayor for leaving Toledo. He questioned why Mr. Bell would miss opening day at Fifth Third Field.

Mr. Bell always has dismissed that kind of “rhetoric” and points out that his trips to China resulted in Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., buying the Marina District and The Docks restaurant complex in East Toledo for nearly $6 million in total from the city when it needed an infusion of cash. Also, another Chinese company purchased the Park Inn Hotel and the vacant Hotel Seagate downtown.

“What do you do to make these relationships? Do you call them on the phone and hope they will visit?” he asked. “On this trip, we have people who never heard of Toledo, Ohio, before, never knew anything about it, say they will come visit.”

Mayor de La Lanne told Mayor Bell that he too faced critics about the trip to Toledo last year.

“The other part is you get criticized if you do nothing,” Mr. Bell said.

During dinner Saturday night, Mr. Bell gave Mayor de La Lanne and his wife, Irene de La Lanne, a Mud Hens hat and two shirts that read, “You will do better in Toledo.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: or 419-724-6171.