Albany and Nijmegen: “Sister Cities avant la Lettre”

The Dutch city of Nijmegen during sunset ©

Albany, New York and Nijmegen, Netherlands have been sister cities for 70 years — since before the official Sister City International program began in 1956. Their anniversary this year will re-energize their long-standing historic and cultural ties through celebrations in both cities, organized by the City of Albany, the City of Nijmegen, the Albany Institute of History & Art, and the volunteer organization Friendship Albany-Nijmegen (FAN).

Albany Institute of History & Art

In 1947, following World War II, Albany and Nijmegen realized the importance of cultural diplomacy in building a friendship between their two communities. Bombs had nearly destroyed Nijmegen, the Netherlands’ oldest city, before American soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division liberated it. In an effort to help rebuild, Albany sent supplies to the Dutch city to repair the ravages of war in any way possible. This gesture resulted in Albany adopting Nijmegen through the mediation of General James Gavin.

Archive film “Albany adopted Nijmegen,” 1947. Arrival of supplies from Albany in Nijmegen. Credits : Regionaal Archief Nijmegen/FAN/SNBiB.

To say “thank you,” the Netherlands sent thousands of tulip bulbs to the U.S., the effects of which would play a role in strengthening the connection between Albany and Nijmegen. Not only did the tulip become Albany’s official flower, but an annual festival was also created in its honor. This Albany Tulip Festival has been celebrated every May since 1949, with women dressed in traditional Dutch costumes and a crowned Tulip Queen. The sisterhood’s 70th anniversary will be celebrated during this year’s Tulip Festival, which will focus on promoting greater awareness for Albany’s Dutch heritage.

And yet, while their sister city partnership has lasted for 70 years, their family ties can actually be traced back even further — to more than 400 years ago, when Nijmegen families settled in 17th-century Beverwyck, the forerunner of Albany.

The connection between Albany and Nijmegen illustrates the historic and cultural ties between the U.S. and the Netherlands. New York was named “New Amsterdam” before England governed it, and the U.S. has played a significant role in the peace and freedom in the Netherlands and Europe since World War II. During an official visit in 2015, their Majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands thanked the U.S. for the sacrifices Americans have made to guarantee their freedom.

Albany Institute of History & Art

Albany is proud of its Dutch heritage that is alive throughout the town’s architecture and culture. “Albany is a Dutch city,” says Maeve McEneny, program coordinator at the Albany County Convention and Visitor Centre. “It is difficult to understand who we are as a city without looking back to our Dutch roots. Partnering with a city as old as Nijmegen gives us a more complete picture of our Dutch identity.”

Meanwhile, Albany’s legacy remains visible in Nijmegen as well. With 48 lights that illuminate passersby, the newly opened “De Oversteek” bridge forms a World War II memorial that commemorates the 48 American soldiers who were killed during an assault on the bridge over the Waal river in 1944.

In Nijmegen, the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the sisterhood will take place during the annual commemoration of the World War II Operation Market Garden this September. The highlight will be the premiere of “Uit het Oog” (Out of Sight), a movie about the history of the two cities’ long connection. FAN is producing the movie in cooperation with Dutch movie director, Martijn Schinkel, along with the support of the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands, among others.

Trailer “Uit het Oog” (Out of Sight), 2017. Credits : FAN/Fishion Film/ GMG.TUK films.

The short film “This is Nijmegen” will be screened again this year as well. This thank-you film from the Netherlands to Albany’s residents went missing for six decades, but was miraculously discovered in a Dutch military archive last year. Anja Adriaans, founder and chair of FAN, had been searching for the film for years. Together with the partnering organizations in Albany, she is determined to continue strengthening the friendships of this long-standing sisterhood. Her dream? Creating an Albany edition of “Four Days Marches,” Nijmegen’s famous annual international walking achievement event.

More information on the celebrations will appear on the following websites:

This story is part of the #SisterCitySunday series on Medium. Each Sunday from October 2, 2016 to May 7, 2017, new stories from the 28 European Union Member States will be published. Stories will also be shared on social media using #SisterCitySunday.

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