China, Germany and Provo share one thing in common. They’re all sisters.
Provo is one of thousands of cities to participate in a sister city program, aiming to foster international relations by giving communities the opportunity to share information and ideas across the globe.
One of Provos’ sister cites is Meissen, Germany. Meissen is a city of 30,000 located on the banks of the Elbe River in eastern Germany. The city is best known for its world famous porcelain industry and wine.
Meissen shares a special Provo connection as the birthplace and childhood home of Karl G. Maeser, the first official president of what would become Brigham Young University.
“(Maeser) brought with him the traits and cultures he grew up with and you can see it here,” said Scott Bowles, business development coordinator for Provo.
He said it’s important to connect to our city’s heritage, something the sister city agreement has helped Provo to do.
Provo and Meissen regularly exchange high school students interested in experiencing a new language and culture.
The program also facilitates the exchange of ideas and information between sister cities. Bowles said the lord mayor of Meissen asked Provo Mayor John Curtis for advice on being more socially connected to his citizens. Curtis is known for being very active and open with social media with his own blog, Facebook page and Twitter account.
Provo’s other sister city is located on the other side of the world in Nanning, China. The city is located near the border of Vietnam and has a population of over 3 million people. The area is rapidly growing with a strong industrial market, and has reached out to Provo to learn more about American culture.
Mayors from both Nanning and Provo have made trips to the other city, but there have yet to be student exchanges between the two.
Many cities in the program choose to acknowledge their friendships in unique ways, sometimes through festivals, events or symbols. In the case of Provo, the city planted a friendship tree for each of its sister cities near the city council building.
Descendants of Maeser worked to have a statue of him erected in Meissen. The statue was originally meant to be placed in front of a school named after him, but due to controversy among the locals it was instead placed in front of the local LDS stake center.
The city of Nanning has a large friendship garden to symbolize its relationships across the world. Here it has placed a granite statue of a cougar, similar to the BYU statue outside LaVell Edwards Stadium, to represent their its with Provo.
The sister city program was started in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to help build up relations between war-torn countries. It has since spread all across the world, helping to tie communities together.
As for the future of Provo and the sister city program, Bowles said the mayor wasn’t going to engage other cities in an agreement until they learned what Provo could bring to the table. “It’s a continually maturing program,” Bowles said
The Mayor of Meissen will be in Provo from Oct. 19–24 and there will be a re-signing of the sister city agreement during the city council meeting on Oct. 20.