Kathleen Herd Masser Mirror contributing writer Last week, the Mirror explored Ville-d’Avray, one of Santa Monica’s sister cities. This week, we spend time in another: Hamm, Germany. Unlike Ville-d’Avray, Santa Monica’s sisterhood with Hamm is in full swing, thanks primarily to Dr. Elisabeth Menne, who heads the town’s 400-member International Club. Menne – who in addition to German, speaks Latin, English, French, Italian and Spanish – taught language and philosophy to 10- to 19-year-old students before retiring in 1993. I arrived in Hamm on a Sunday, via rail from London. It was election day in Germany, so after depositing my bag at Hotel Herzog, Elisabeth and I rushed off to city hall. An animated crowd had gathered and was overflowing out the doors onto the terrace. Many were enjoying a glass of wine or a bottle of beer as they waited for the results to be announced. Hamm was choosing representatives to the town and district councils and a Lord Mayor (Thomas Hunsteger-Petermann was re-elected to the post he has held since 1999). City Life Hunsteger-Petermann describes Hamm as “both a big town and a green oasis.” Hamm radiates outward from the Lippe River into a landscape punctuated by parkland and miles of tree-lined roads and paths. The greenest spot may well be Maximilian Park, built for the National Garden Show in 1984 on the site of a former coal mine. The park hosts a variety of events year-round, including children’s theater, cabaret performances, concerts, markets, and art exhibits. Watching over the 54-acre expanse is a 112-foot, steel-and-glass elephant, designed by artist and architect Horst Rellecke. Visitors can go inside the beast – via an elevator in the trunk – to enjoy the impressive view from an observation platform. Exploring the park is like wandering through a medieval forest, and you never know what’s around the next bend. It might be a playground, with a pirate ship where children can find Neverland, or a butterfly house where “schmetterlings” dip and soar in free flight through a kaleidoscopic garden. An easy walk from city hall, the square around St. Paul’s Church is the town’s social hub and a favorite shopping destination, though almost all businesses are closed on Sundays. Elephants are everywhere, not just in Maximilian Park. Some are abloom with flowers, others have been decorated by local artists. “Elephantastic” has become a catchword among civic promoters. For nightlife, Hamm turns to Die Miler (“the mile”), with its pubs, discos and nightclubs. An indoor mall, Allee Center, is the town’s equivalent of Santa Monica Place. And there is, in fact, a Santa Monica Platz. It was intended as a plaza, but for now, it’s a parking lot. Downtown parking is free for the first half-hour, then $1.20 per hour. As the Pacific Ocean has helped shape Santa Monica, the Lippe inspires Hamm. In December 2003, the town’s spa culture was revived with the opening of the Maximare, a water sport and adventure facility featuring a 1,600-foot pool, an outdoor saltwater pool, and a sauna. The next major redevelopment project will be the creation of a lake in the middle of town, scheduled for completion in 2010. The project, says Hunsteger-Petermann, will “make life more attractive for all citizens of Hamm, by offering a wide variety of recreational facilities.” Though Hamm welcomes visitors warmly, wooing holiday-goers is not the first order of business. There are no kitschy souvenir shops, and the only postcards I found were at the train station. Hamm’s primary concern is its residents. Commerce During the 19th century, the predominant industry in the region was coal mining. Today it’s steel and wire manufacturing, and Hamm wire is known all over the world. Hamm is also an important legal and judicial center, home to Germany’s largest Supreme Court. The city is fast becoming a technology capital, with tech firms and start-ups drawn to the new HamTec business park. History Hamm was founded by Earl Adolf von der Mark in 1226. Strategically located at the junction of important trade routes, the town developed rapidly, and was a member of the Hanseatic League from 1469 to 1651. Hamm came under French rule during the Napoleonic period, but was eventually incorporated into the province of Westphalia. In 1820, the Superior Provincial Court relocated to Hamm from Kleve. The construction of the Cologne-Minden railway marked the city’s beginnings as an industrial powerhouse. In 1901, Hamm became an administrative district in its own right. Though World War II decimated the town, there are still vestiges of its historic past — 1,000-year-old churches, a 13th century brewery, and a stunning pair of castles. One of them, Landschulheim, is still owned by a baron though it has been used as a school for 50 years (and is where Menne taught for 32 years). Landmarked buildings in Hamm cannot be altered. The criteria for landmark designation, says Menne, are based more on “how precious they are. It’s not really the age.” As recently as 30 years ago, Hamm was more like Santa Monica, at least in size and population. Then, in 1975, the city annexed seven surrounding towns and its population soared from 75,000 to upwards of 180,000. Recreation Hamm’s cultural calendar is packed with festivals — seven in September alone. The most unexpected is probably the annual Temple Festival, which attracts more than 12,000 Hindus from all over Europe. Cycling is a fact of life in Germany, equal parts transportation and recreation. A favorite touring route is the old Roman Road (175 miles) on which Hamm sits, midway between Xanten and Detmold. Golfing and canoeing are also popular. Politics Germany has a multi-party system that runs the gamut of, from political left to right, the PDS (a post-Communist group, found mostly in East Germany), Green Party, SPD or Social Democrats, CDU (Christian Democrats), several Republican rightist factions, and the NPD (Nationalistic/Nazi). The CDU is the largest party in North Rhine-Westphalia, but support is waning, with Social Democrats making steady headway. Hunsteger-Petermann, a CDU candidate, is Hamm’s first directly elected, full-time mayor. Prior to 1999, that role belonged to the top city administrator. By the Numbers Average annual income is around $25,000, and real estate prices are comparable, with homes running, on average, $26 per square foot. Renting an apartment with three rooms plus kitchen and bath costs between $520 and $650 per month. Transportation Hamm is one of Germany’s largest inland ports. The Datteln-Hamm Canal that parallels the river is used primarily for loading and unloading cargo, though passenger ships also dock at the city pier. Like Santa Monica, Hamm has its own general aviation airport. Automobile traffic, even during peak hours, is manageable, as many residents use public transportation. The huge SUVs that choke California’s roads are not allowed in Germany. And there are bike paths everywhere — 106 miles’ worth, plus a two-mile Bicycle Promenade around the city. Cycles are available for “borrowing” at the railway station. The train system is marvelously efficient — and occasionally amusing. The ride from Koln to Hamm was filled with young Germans returning from a holiday in Spain, still in a celebratory mood. On the return trip, I was politely told that the toilet was “possessed.” I presumed they meant “occupied.”
——— I am profoundly grateful to Elisabeth Menne for her generous hospitality and for introducing me to her lovely city. Her knowledge and companionship made my visit truly memorable.Traveling to Hamm from London via train is stress-free and a great way to see the countryside. For air travel, I recommend Virgin Atlantic (1-800-862-8621 or www.virgin-atlantic.com). For train schedules and reservations, contact Rail Europe (1-888-382-RAIL or www.raileurope.com).