HEADING to Barnsley from a quaint town in the foothills of a German mountain range is a journey few people take - but it’s always a special occasion.
A weekend of long-awaited celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the twinning agreement between Barnsley and Schwabisch Gmund - a small German market town with a population of little more than 60,000 - took place over the weekend.
And it saw several Gmundians eagerly arrive and meet dignitaries and members of Barnsley Schwabisch Gmund Twin Town Society (BSGTTS) before embarking on a tour of the borough.
Plans to mark the occasion, which was actually last year but had to be delayed until now, have been rolling on for quite a while.
And it’s safe to assume a lot has changed since the last time such a significant trip to the borough was made - on an international scale, with Covid and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and on a local scale with the new landmark Glass Works development ‘proudly’ shown off by the hosts.
Chairman of BSGTTS, Alan Brentnall, told the Chronicle: “The event has been on and off, with the council and ourselves liaising to try to do our best with Covid ongoing.
“Now, we have the opportunity for visitors to come from Schwabisch Gmund - officials and people from our opposite twin town society over there.
“It means a lot for us to be able to do this now. We’re absolutely delighted.
“It’s been very difficult planning, and one of the problems even now is Covid has put some of our visitors, mainly the older ones, off.
“After Brexit, we survived, and after Covid we still have loyal people.
“It’s even more important after all the current devastation and unrest in Europe - twinning is much more relevant.”
On Friday, the visitors were received by new Mayor Coun Sarah Tattersall and went on to Stainborough for a tour of Wentworth Castle and Gardens, before returning for a pint - presumably Barnsley Bitter - at the Old No 7 on Market Hill.
Saturday saw the unveiling of Experience Barnsley’s exhibition on the twinning before the Gmundians went into town to speak to locals.
The following day saw a service of rededication at St Mary’s Church, countryside walks and a chance for the two groups to revisit the towns’ histories.
“This weekend also marks the start of a brand new twinning, between Worsbrough Athletic Football Club and FC Normannia, a club in Schwabisch Gmund,” added Alan.
“They’ll be going along with us in July when they mark the anniversary there.
“There will be an England v Germany football tournament and a symbolic exchange of shirts.
“And then it’s Worsbrough’s 100th anniversary next year, so they’ll be coming back over here.”
In 1954, a coachload of children from Schwabisch Gmund set to visit South Wales were abruptly turned around on arrival in the country, after a foot-and-mouth outbreak.
Barnsley town councillor Arthur Williams, seeing the distraught youths, invited them to Scout Dyke and unintentionally set off a chain reaction.
In December 1984, during the miners’ strike, an appeal in Schwabisch Gmund’s local newspaper saw £15,000 worth of Christmas presents sent to the borough.
Most recently, German officials sent over personal protective equipment to Barnsley when they heard about shortages.
In return Gmundians have, for decades, had the pleasure of relaxing in the ‘Barnsley Garden’, and, next to it, a British red telephone box houses a small international library.
The phone box, a gift from Barnsley, would be used to conduct calls between the two towns in the early days of the twinning.
“Over the next couple of years, we want to find ways to excite and involve younger people, because we recognise they need to be ready to take up responsibility for keeping the twinning going,” said Alan.
“We’re looking to twin more groups and societies with an emphasis on younger people - because they’re the future.”