"Sister city is European center

Fritz Schramma, the mayor of Indianapolis’ “Sister City” Cologne, Germany, was in town last week not, he said, “to teach, but to learn.” Schramma spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research.

Schramma’s self-deprecating comment was loaded. In the first place, Schramma himself is a veteran grammar school teacher, as well as a politician. More to the point, his city, Cologne, has achieved many of the things that Indianapolis still aspires to.

Cologne, with 1 million inhabitants, is roughly comparable in size to Indianapolis, and its location at the heart of the European Union resembles Indy’s geographic position at “the crossroads” of America.

But where Indianapolis’ location has seemingly insulated it from the rest of its continent, Cologne has turned itself into a cosmopolitan center. Over 150 nationalities are represented among its residents. Like Indianapolis, it is a logistics center with strong pharmaceutical and autosports industries. But Cologne has also managed to further diversify its economy, becoming, among other things, a major media center.

In fact, Cologne seems to exemplify a community that lives by urbanist Richard Florida’s “three T’s” formula for success: technology, talent and tolerance. The city’s motto translates into “live and let live,” and its abundance of cultural opportunities, ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde, not to mention its enthusiasm for sports, have made it a magnet for young adults.

This summer, for example, Cologne hosted games as part of the FIFA World Cup tournament. Mayor Schramma, still aglow from the experience, characterized Cologne’s participation as a “four-week party” that took two years to plan, cost 10 million Euros and involved a major stadium renovation and public transit upgrade. 

Schramma, though, can’t rest on his city’s laurels. Cologne is faced with a variety of challenges familiar to most urban centers, including unfunded mandates and the necessity of juggling priorities in the face of increasing needs and limited funding. Schramma ruefully noted that while Cologne has succeeded in becoming a center for numerous international corporations, the city, by law, cannot derive corporate taxes from these businesses.

No wonder, then, that an important part of Schramma’s Indianapolis visit concerned intelligence-gathering about the nature of public-private partnerships. Schramma admires the ways in which private means are often used to support public ends in this country, and would like to see a larger involvement with philanthropy amongst his fellow Germans.

Cologne is a 2,000-year-old city located on the Rhine River. Its Sister City relationship with Indianapolis was inaugurated in 1988 with an art exhibit that traveled from Cologne’s art museum to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Since then, the two cities have engaged in a variety of cultural and student exchanges that have included our respective fire and police departments. 





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