For 56 years, groups from Fermanagh and the Brackwede district within the German city of Bielefeld have been making friends during exchange visits since they were linked as twin towns.

Musicians, sportsmen and women and many others have ensured the link has cemented relationships in a way that has enhanced tourism and business.

This year, Bielefeld, a city of around 350,000 people celebrates its 800th anniversary and among the many visitors to the many events that will be held to celebrate this historic occasion, was a cultural festival at the end of June at which a number of people represented Fermanagh.

The twinning link was initiated in 1958 when the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards was based a few kilometres from Brackwede. In an effort to improve relations and make contact with the young people of the area, the Dragoon’s band took part in the annual German festival, the “Schutzenfest(shooting festival).” After being hailed a great success, soldiers were invited into local German homes and also meet local Council officials.

In 1959, Ernst Lueckel, a German businessman, corresponded with the Mayor of Enniskillen inviting him, the town clerk, the High Sheriff and police chief to attend the Brackwede festival that year. The Mayor then, Councillor Bryson and Clerk, Noble Connor-Johnston accepted the invitation and attended.

The Brackwede - Inniskilling Club which was formed from the friends between the Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and the people of Brackwede eventually led to the twin town link, making it the oldest twinning in Europe.

It’s objectives were to see an improvement of the social, cultural and economic matters so that the quality of life would flourish, with a Declaration of Intent by the Borough of Bielefeld on the 25th anniversary of the twinning reconfirmed and intensified the link.

The most recent visit included a delegation from Fermanagh District Council, and a number of musicians drawn from the traditional band, Lough’ed and Moybrone Pipe Band. Lough’ed was represented by Gary Fitzpatrick, Emma Fitzpatrick, Emmet O’Halleron, Liam McManus and Kieran McGorty. Moybrone Band was represented by William Stinson, Christopher Lindsay, Amanda Birney, Daniel Stewart and Ian Burrows.

Accompanying them was the Chairman of the Council, Councillor Bert Johnston as well as Councillors Alex Baird, Frank Britton and Thomas O’Reilly; Ian Davidson, Head of Arts with the Council and Charlotte Wilson, Manager of the Fermanagh Visitor Information Centre and Margaret McCready, retired German teacher and a member of the twinning committee.

They were met in Germany by the Chairman of Brackwede Council, Regina Kopherr and the chief executive, Hans - Georg Hellermann.

Charlotte Wilson said the German hospitality was great and as the World Cup was on during their visit, they were encouraged to watch some of the matches featuring the German side which went on to win the tournament to great excitement.

“We were all given a pass valid for the weekend so we could use the buses and trams. It was great as we stayed outside Brackwede,” she explained.

“Many of the Germans were asking about people back in Enniskillen, Grahams, Sloans and O’Dohertys,” she said.

During their celebratory year, Bielefeld organisations, cultural institutions, associations and business companies contributed to a programme of 97 projects, that mirrored life in the city.

The organisers then chose 10 “incredible” topic areas featuring history, culture, creativity, nature, sport, etc so that the programme of “800 Years of Bielefeld” was designed to reveal the surprising facets and particularities of the city, its history, past and future.

The project partners established numerous events in this exciting jubilee year - festivals, concerts, exhibitions, readings, events and activities, guided tours and lots more.

The next part of it, from August 8 - 19 will feature the ”GENIALE, ” transforming the city into a stimulating campus and a unique researchers’ paradise with breathtaking experiments, spectacular shows, amazing discoveries and lots of fun at the Bielefeld Science Festival.

Bielefeld lies in the region of North-Rhine Westphalia and is easily reached from Dusseldorf Airport.

This region is home to a number of big business names including Dr. Oetker and Seidensticker, Alcina and JAB Anstoetz, Dürkopp, Gildemeister and Schüco. Some 325,000 people live here, making Bielefeld one of the 20 biggest cities in Germany.

There are some fascinating monuments to the city’s industrial past, such as the Ravensberg Spinning Mill and the Linen Works Museum, are well worth a visit, as are Dr. Oetker World and the art centre, Kunsthalle Bielefeld.

Other outstanding places in the region include; - Sparrenburg Castle; Built around 1240, Sparrenburg Castle is the city’s most imposing landmark. The 37-metre tall tower offers a superb panoramic view of the city and surrounding countryside. A guided tour through the underground passages called the casemates, with their many twists and turns, is a special experience for visitors of any age. The Sparrenburgfest Festival, held at the end of July each year, brings all aspects of the Middle Ages right back to life.

- Kunsthalle Bielefeld (Art Museum); Kunsthalle Bielefeld, designed by New York architect Philip Johnson and opened in 1968 as a museum and exhibition centre for international 20th century art, is a crowd-puller and one of the city’s landmarks. The famous cube-shaped modern building of red sandstone is also part of the architectural route “Museum & Architektur”. Apart from first-rate temporary exhibitions, the collection of twentieth-century art includes works by Picasso, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Max Beckmann, Man Ray and others. The public sculpture park nearby was redesigned in 2008 to the original plans.

- Olderdissen Zoo; Olderdissen Zoo is a popular destination for families and children, open all year round and free to enter. It nestles in the attractive landscape of the Teutoburg Forest, which defines the Bielefeld cityscape. Olderdissen Zoo with its 15-hectare site opened in 1930 is home to about 450 animals of 100 different species in a woodland setting with meadows and ponds. The zoo has an excellent record for breeding rare animals threatened with extinction. The brown bear enclosure is a big attraction for visitors.

- Historic Old Town; In the heart of Bielefeld’s old town lies the Old Market Square, with its impressive historic facades and splendid gables. Sights to see include the old patrician houses, especially the Crüwell House with its late Gothic crow-stepped gables (1530), the Linen Weaver statue, symbol of the city’s economic development and its close links with the linen industry is also nearby. Take a stroll to the Old Town Hall built around 1904 and incorporating a blend of historical styles. Inside, there’s a model of the town in 1650 to explore.

- Ravensberger Park; Formerly the Ravensberg Spinning Mill, this historic group of buildings houses a variety of cultural attractions: The Museum of History tells the story of Bielefeld and the surrounding area from the earliest settlement to the present day in a vivid and lively way. In immediate vicinity lies the Huelsmann Museum containing masterpieces of European craftwork. Must-sees include the collections of court table silverware, rare china, glass and art treasures. The property includes an arts cinema, events centre and the Adult Education Centre.