The bond between sister cities across the globe is a way for people from different backgrounds to connect and break down stereotypes.
Vermillion’s sister city is Ratingen, Germany. They started the sister city partnership in 1983. Since then, there has been a constant connection through students and faculty at USD and Vermillion High School.
In the years leading up to the partnership being formally signed, the cities’ mayors and former head of the USD Business School, Dale Clement, met and began making connections.
Armand Kahn, a junior math and physics major, was born in Vermillion’s sister city–Ratingen, Germany. His grandfather, Benno Wymar, grew up there and worked for the Rheinische Post, a local newspaper.
Benno Wymar and his wife married in Germany and traveled to the U.S. to study Katharina Wymar, Kahn’s mother and PMO Manager at USD, said.
Katharina Wymar said her parents returned to the U.S. after living in Ratingen for awhile and later settled in Vermillion.
“My father still had those connections back in his hometown,” Wymar said. “He thought it would be great to have a connection between Ratingen and Vermillion.”
Wymar’s father took USD business school students to Europe for over 33 years and stopped in Ratingen.
Werner Kitzler, a previous German professor at USD, was instrumental in building the relationship between the sister cities as he would take students to stay in Ratingen.
Several host families and students still have contact today, Wymar said.
“USD students would stay with German host families while visiting,” Khan said. “Several of these families still have contact years after the students were in Ratingen.”
Ratingen students were often sent to Vermillion to study abroad, Wymar said, and he said any student wanting to go abroad and visit Ratingen are encouraged to.
“This German-American relationship really was built upon after the war,” Wymar said. “There’s a definite German heritage in this part of the country, so the interest is there.”
Ratingen is larger than Vermillion with a population of around 125,000, yet it still has a small-town feel, Wymar said.
“It is an eye-opening experience for our students to travel there and likewise for the Germans when they come here,” Wymar said. “Breaking down cultural stereotypes is an important aspect of these exchanges.”
In 2010, Vermillion built the Ratingen Platz downtown to cement the bond even more.
Khan said just as Vermillion has the Ratingen Platz, there’s a street named the Vermillionring and a bridge called the South Dakota bridge in Ratingen.
“Having these places that represent the relationship between Ratingen and Vermillion is a great way to remind people of the special connection,” Khan said.
Some people from Sioux Falls utilize the relationship to visit Germany with student groups Wymar said.
“The relationship has been mostly about people getting to know and understand each other, especially for younger people,” Wymar said.