Fifty years of twinning with Worms am Rhein was celebrated in 2007. Worms lies on the Rhine, south of Frankfurt, and is the oldest city in Germany. With a population now of 80,000? it has a Celtic and Roman heritage, but takes special pride in its medieval history, having been the location for much of the anonymous saga of the Nibelungen. A statue of the legendary Hagen stands on the banks of the river, the treasure held high above his head, before it is hurled into the river. Worms was also the location of the famous Diet in 1521 where Martin Luther defended his doctrines.
Celebrations for this golden jubilee included reciprocal visits by civic delegations. Oberbuergermeister Michael Kissel paid his first visit to England and St Albans in April as guest of Mayor Alison Steer, and Mayor Kate Morris led a delegation from St Albans to Worms at the end of June. This visit coincided with the annual Jazz and Joy Festival in Worms which made the whole event even more festive. As a former Chairman of the St Albans Worms Partnership and regular friend and visitor to Worms, Kate Morris was able to speak of the wide range of friendships which have been made over the 50 year link, which was forged in the postwar spirit of reconciliation by Hertfordshire Education chief John H Newsom, and signed by the then Mayor of St Albans, the Fifth Earl Verulam in 1957.
A Kaiserlinden tree was planted in Clarence Park to mark the continuing live, and growing links between the cities, and a limited edition print by Countess Verulam, wife of the Seventh Earl, featuring white doves to reflect peace and friendship, was presented to Oberbuergermeister Kissel by Mayor Kate Morris at the official reception at Schloss Herrnsheim in Worms in return.
Scenes from visit between 13-17 April 2007:
Scenes from visit between 28 June-3 July 2007:
For more information about Worms, see
Visit to the Backfischfest
St Albans Pasio Puppets win Rhineland festival accolade
Over the bank holiday, St Albans was well represented at this year's Backfischfest in Worms, St Albans' twin town in Germany. This massive wine and beer festival on the banks of the Rhine is now in its 70th year.
Twenty young people from the Cathedral community accompanied by Father Stuart Cradduck and Precentor Anna Matthews, St Albans District Council Portfolio Holder for Culture and Heritage, Melvyn Teare and Tourism and Regeneration Officer Charles Baker, and St Albans Worms Partnership representatives led by District Councillor Janet Smith, all paraded the two miles to the Festival funfair beside the Rhine river with the Pasio puppets which tell the story of Alban. They were described in the local press in Worms as 'die absolute Highlights' of the procession and were, the next day, voted 'best entry'.
The friendship between the two cities is very wide-ranging and has already been cemented this year, the 50th anniversary of the twinning, by a joint concert in the Abbey Church by a German choir and the St Albans Chamber Choir as well as civic visits back and forth.
On the German side, pleasure was expressed that young people were continuing the interest in the close relationship between the cities and St Albans Mayor Kate Morris, who has long been associated with the Partnership, said "This year's successful visits have been the culmination of many years activity. Schools, sports groups and musicians have been among regular visitors back and forth, and this new community venture is just the sort of thing we can all celebrate together."
The Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans said, "I am delighted that the colour and vibrancy of the St Albans Festival Pilgrimage was able to be experienced by the people of our link city of Worms - and I'm even more delighted that we won! This shows how the influence of Britain's first martyr has travelled not just in the past but also today across Europe."
English Miscellany Folk Dance Group: Participation in the Backfischfest at Worms, Germany
A good many of our group had taken part in the Worms Backfischfest 12 years ago, in 1995, so this was a return visit - on the 50th Anniversary year of St. Albans being twinned with Worms. On our outward journey, we viewed a video of our last visit and apart from somewhat greyer hair and greater girth, we went into this year's festival with our customary gusto and willingness to work up a thirst!
The festival takes place over 9 days beginning on the last Saturday of August and it was during this first festival weekend that English Miscellany took part. Food - in the shape of fried fish rather than the more predictable wurst - and drink (beer and wine, of course) are also essential elements of the festival and it would be fair to say that our members found the time and energy to participate in these traditional activities as well as performing English traditional dance.
Dancing in a busy shopping centre at a pedestrian crossroads, we put on two 30-minute shows for a very appreciative audience. Our display of traditional social dances, North-West and Cotswold Morris - as well as song and Clog dance - was accompanied by the club's own resident musicians on traditional instruments. The audience grew during each of our shows - initially, I'm sure, due to basic curiosity but their cheers and applause showed genuine appreciation - which was, of course, was music to our ears.
In mid afternoon we had a pre-festival opening performance on stage (televised) in front of the town hall. The crowd filled the square and it was quite daunting to perform in front of such a large and vocal audience. We were followed by the opening ceremony and an eclectic mix of traditional and modern presentations. Anyone who saw the bronzed bodies of the young men of Worms performing the leatherworkers dance in St. Albans will know that the ladies of English Miscellany welcomed this reprise, whilst the men were in awe of the parade of beautiful damsels in gorgeous evening dress representing local trade associations - all bearing glasses of wine for refreshment.
On Sunday morning we went to the "Fischerwääder Frühschoppen" a narrow street where all the houses were decorated with fishing nets, and a variety of "watery" inhabitants. There was a small stage - large enough to accommodate our musicians - and in the street in front, enough space for us to dance. This was the ideal place for us; in touch with the audience, a good dancing surface and lots of wine and food on offer - including the traditional fried fish the festival was celebrating. We had a wonderful time performing, eating and drinking and it was difficult to tear ourselves away to get ready for the big event to come - the Backfischfest parade!
The parade is central to this festival - with 128 different entries this year. At 4.5km and over 2 hours in duration, this is a long procession by anyone's standards - so, when we were blessed by brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the upper twenties, it became a hot one too! We assembled at the starting point with the other participants in mid afternoon and were able to see the first half of the bands, colourful floats, enthusiastic youth groups and local associations file past us before we started. The English dance tradition really does excel in this sort of setting.
The processional dance, which we performed for most of the route, gave us the opportunity to show off our Morris Dance costume and made our part of the procession a moving show. Strolling musicians and a collection of misbehaving mumming characters - sometimes involving the audience that lined the route - lent additional interest to the mobile spectacle. There must have been thousands of people lining the route, leaning from balconies, standing on walls and frequently shouting the traditional "Ahoy" as we passed - which we, of course, echoed.
Our displays received warm applause for the full length of the procession - mainly, I think, because we were different from the other exhibits. To cater for our thirst, we were provided with a "wasser frau" - a young lady who followed us with a water cart so that we didn't suffer from dehydration. This looks like an excellent tradition that we might adapt for our own cooler climate - substituting drinks appropriate to the weather, perhaps...
The procession is, of course, televised live in Germany, so our performance - and any other activities - had a very large audience. As we didn't know where the cameras were we found it best to keep dancing! At the end of the procession, we arrived, exhausted, sore footed but exhilarated and proud to have been a part of it all.
Folklore activities are very well supported in the other European countries but no other tradition that we have seen has the breadth, variety and colour of English traditional dance and song. I would encourage any display group from this country to take their skills abroad and show them off - not only to keep the English folk tradition alive and well but also as a means making new friends who may come back to visit England in the future.
On which subject, English Miscellany must return to the Backfischfest again - but this time we won't wait for another 12 years to pass...
To perform our broadest repertoire, we need for most of our club to join this sort of trip. Our visit to Worms would not have been possible, nor would it have been so successful, without the financial support of St. Albans council and contributions from local organisations in Worms. We are pleased to acknowledge this generosity in allowing us to take part in such a wonderful celebration and hope that such funding will help to sustain cultural links across Europe in the future.
Leader, English Miscellany Folk Dance Group (4th September 2007)