Project to build links between Skipton, North Yorkshire and Simbach, Germany
Rob Freeman from the HLF-funded Craven and the First World War project, based in Skipton, North Yorkshire, visited Germany in November 2016 to make plans for a project in 2019 that will bring together young people from Skipton and its twin town of Simbach in Bavaria that will mark 100 years since the signing of the Treaty of Versaille. Here is an extract from Rob’s blog:
In Germany, there is a strong sense of duty to inform and educate about the horrors of Nazism. Visiting a Holocaust site or museum is an important part of the school curriculum for German students and the WW2 commemoration programme is well financed by the government. In contrast, it was reported in 2014 that the WW1 commemoration programme to mark 100 years since the war had only received €4.5 million of funding from the German government compared to the €60 million committed by the UK government towards marking the centenary.
On my trip to Skipton’s twin town of Simbach in Bavaria, I would be discussing the idea of a transnational project in 2018 to mark the end of the war and as such, felt it was important to understand why Britain and Germany remember WW1 in such different ways. To understand how Germany deals with its past I felt it was important to start my trip in Munich with a visit to Dachau concentration camp and the newly opened Munich Documentation Centre for the History of National Socialism, another example of the German government’s commitment to using public funds to work through the questions of its past crimes during WW2.
Through my visits here and from speaking to Germans during my trip, it became clear that the horrors of WW2 dominate public memory and have overshadowed the events of WW1. Many Germans feel uncomfortable with patriotism and have been brought up to distance themselves from the memory of Imperial Germany and its nationalistic ambitions and as such, do not feel a connection to WW1.
It was with this insight that I arrived in Simbach and met with representatives from the Simbach-Skipton Twinning Association and English and History teachers from Simbach schools. We discussed a project in 2018 which would bring together students from Skipton and Simbach to explore the impact that war had on the lives of the people living in our twin towns 100 years ago. It was agreed that the project should explore how the war helped to shape Europe today and give an opportunity for the young people to think about their place as citizens of the future in a modern day Europe. It was felt that this was particularly important in these uncertain times and especially following ‘Brexit.’
I then met with the curators of a WW1 exhibition which opened at the town’s museum earlier in the year, but sadly had to close after only one week following devastating floods which hit the museum. Fortunately, the exhibition material was saved and I was able to see the research that had been done by the lead curators, Richard Findl and Otto Grimm. They were kind enough to provide digital copies of all the material to reproduce in English for our own WW1 exhibition and we discussed the idea of working together in the future to present a joint exhibition about life in our two towns during the war.
Therefore, whilst there might not be the appetite in Germany as there is in Britain to find a deeper national meaning in WW1, there is certainly the interest in this small Bavarian town to work with its friends from across the channel in Skipton to understand the sacrifices that were made by those who lived in our twinned towns 100 years ago.