Two nations, one family: Bay City celebrates a 60-year partnership with its sister city in Germany

Bay City celebrates a 60-year sisterhood with Ansbach, Germany this year.

Like most sisters, the two have had their ups and downs. This year, though, the cities revived the relationship. The celebration includes a re-named bridge in Ansbach, a new piece of public art in Bay City, and international visitors for each community.

Earlier this summer, a delegation from Bay City visited Ansbach, Germany. The Germans will visit Bay City in mid-September. (Photo courtesy of Bay City government)A sister city relationship is “a broad-based, long-term partnership between two communities in two countries. A relationship is officially recognized after the highest elected or appointed official from both communities sign off on an agreement to become sister cities.” Learn more about sister cities on the Sister Cities International website.

Bay City’s partnership with Ansbach, Germany began in 1961, largely spawned by immigration of Germans to our area in the 1800 and 1900s as well as the strong German heritage of the town’s surrounding areas.

Throughout the years, the relationship has ebbed and flowed. There were points when we feared the partnership might end, but now both towns are determined to re-connect.

Bay City Manager Dana Muscott poses with her Ansbach, Germany counterpart, Thomas Deffner. (Photo courtesy of Bay City government)In early July, a group from Bay City traveled to Ansbach to participate in the official celebration of our sister city connection. The group included representatives from Bay City government, Saginaw Valley State University and its Gerstacker Fellowship Program as well as Bay City Public Schools. A group from Germany plans to visit Bay City Sept. 15-18.

City Manager Dana Muscott, who made the trip to Germany, says the group toured the town, participated in formal ceremonies, and learned about German culture. As part of its 60-year celebrations, Ansbach dedicated one of its walking bridges to our town and named it “Bay City Bridge.”

The 60th anniversary of the relationship was in 2021, but COVID-19 delayed celebrations. The pandemic didn’t stop efforts to re-kindle the connection, though.

The visitors from Bay City attracted the attention of local media in Ansbach. (Photo courtesy of Bay City government)“During COVID, we were checking in on each other, checking to see how they were handling it and how it was affecting their city. Things like that made it easy to tell that there was a bond forming between us,” Muscott says.

The three other Bay City representatives included 5th Ward Commissioner Rachelle Hilliker and Monte Oswald and Walter Hagen from the Deutsch Amerikanischer National Kongress (DANK Club).

Their German hosts made sure the visitors experienced both the formalities of governmental procedure as well as the relaxed nature of the German culture.
Muscott says she loved visiting the sister city.

During the visit, Ansbach named one of their bridges for Bay City. (Photo courtesy of Bay City government)“I’m smiling from ear to ear,” she says. “It was a trip of a lifetime. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to represent the city of Bay City and celebrate this re-connection.”

For pictures from the trip visit the Bay City Government Facebook page.

A flag hangs in the Ansbach business district commemorating the relationship. (Photo courtesy of Bay City government)The trip was only the beginning of the 60th anniversary celebrations. In mid-September, a delegation from Ansbach will travel to Bay City to tour our town.

During a Sat., Sept. 17 public event, representatives from the two cities will sign a formal Sister City agreement and witness the unveiling of a project that’s been in the works for over a year.

Walk through Uptown and you’ll see the beginnings of that project. Just to the north of the Rivers Edge Apartments, workers are prepping a 30-foot circle to be transformed into The Ansbach Platz. The centerpiece of the platz is a new sculpture called “Two Cities Connected.”

The sculpture features a split globe, with one side representing Ansbach and the other representing Bay City. The two sides will be connected by a bridge, with one side of the bridge representing the Liberty Bridge and the other end mirroring a major bridge in Ansbach, "Fußgängerbrücke am Brückencenter." The exterior of each side of the globe will include countries from each’s hemisphere constructed from copper.

The Bay Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Bay County (LBC) class of 2022 raised the money to design and build the sculpture. The class also facilitated and managed the project.

A group of Bay City Public School students joined the tour earlier this summer. (Photo courtesy of Bay City government)The class worked with the Bay-Arenac ISD Career Center to finalize the design and marketing of the project.

Assistant Principal Kathy Dardas says students and staff from five programs were heavily involved: Engineering/Drafting, Graphics, Marketing, Precision Machining, and Welding.

The students were divided into two groups to propose designs to the LBC group. The students presented ideas, and one design was ultimately finalized using elements from each. Students also remained involved, participating in some of the Zoom calls with the fabrication company, ZENTX.

“I'm excited about the involvement that our Career Center students have had on the Ansbach Platz project,” Dardas says. “In working with leaders, in government, education and our community, they have grown in their skills and made an impact.”

One of her goals for the students was for them to understand the importance of community involvement. This goal was certainly met.

She shared a quote from Elise Gourd, a student in the Engineering & Drafting program, describing this project as one of her proudest accomplishments.

“Beyond the growth I’ve personally made over the duration of this project, I have also taken great pride in being involved in this monumental part of our community,” Gourd told Dardas. “Celebrating this historic partnership with Ansbach, Germany couldn’t be done in a better way, and I’m overjoyed with how far we’ve come as a community to bring this to life.”

While the design was a group effort, that pales in comparison to the community effort behind the funding of the monument.

When the LBC class initially estimated the project budget of $100,000, they were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to raise the full amount. Brad Tahash, who is in the LBC class, says the number was a little fear-inducing.
 
'I'm excited about the involvement that our Career Center students have had on the Ansbach Platz project. In working with leaders, in government, education and our community, they have grown in their skills and made an impact.'
- Kathy Dardas, Bay-Arenac Career Center Assistant Principal
“The beginning was tough,” Tahash says. “We either weren’t getting responses, or it was like, ‘We’re just coming out of COVID, we can’t do anything.’ And then, I don’t know what happened. I think once the ball started rolling, people wanted to get involved. And then, suddenly, a project amount that we thought was insurmountable – no way we could get to it – actually started to become more of a reality. The response from the community was amazing.”

Companies and individuals alike supported the program, which received a matching donation from Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MDEC).

Following the theme of the rest of the project, the sculpture’s fabrication and placement has been a group effort.

Brennen Gohr, another LBC class member, is working with fabrication and installation teams to coordinate the statue’s placement. ZENTX has begun constructing the pieces of the sculpture and several community businesses are helping with the project.

Folks at Bierlein, Spence Brothers, and Clements Electric are offering their services as low cost as possible to support the project. Jerry Somalski from Bay Landscaping has been instrumental in making recommendations for the structural integrity of the circle.

The teams await a written easement to be granted by Consumers Energy, the true owner of the land on which Ansbach Platz will sit. Once that is in hand, installation will begin.

All signs point to the installation’s conclusion by the end of August.
Once that’s complete, the priority becomes keeping the relationship between the two cities strong.

The Ansbach Platz was designed to withstand Michigan climate with minimal upkeep, so the monument has what it needs to last.

Events are planned to keep Ansbach visible in Bay City.

The Career Center students and staff are organizing a 5K race on Sun., Sept. 18 at 9 a.m. to raise money for the DANK club’s endowment fund. This fund will help maintain the plaza for years. The hope is to raise $5,000 to receive a $5,000 matching grant from the Bay Area Community Foundation.

Muscott’s team also is prioritizing the relationship.

“People change in government; we come, and we go. We need to continue to push that we have this relationship with a city on the other side of the pond and we can talk with them about how they run their government. We can bring some of their best practices back here and we can do the same for them. So, I see the relationship as very important going forward and I hope it continues with people in our seats in the future,” Muscott says.