According to Lord Mayor Thomas Zenker of Zittau, Germany, Portsmouth is, or has done, at least two things very nicely.
The first is, possibly somewhat predictably, the flood wall murals.
“The murals are very cool,” Zenker said. He talked about wanting to drive along the wall, making a video of the murals as he went.
One of the murals is, of course, a tribute to Zittau as one of Portsmouth’s three sister cities.
Somewhat less predictably, Zenker admitted to being amazed by the variety of beers available at the Portsmouth Kroger. He commented that America as a whole is well ahead of the rest of the world in terms of the production of craft beers.
“It’s very good,” Zenker said, adding Zittau once hosted several hundred breweries but none survived.
It was likely just a happy coincidence, but during his visit to Portsmouth last week, city officials took Zenker for lunch to the Portsmouth Brewing Company.
At the invitation of the U.S. State Department, or more specifically the World Affairs Council headquartered in Cincinnati, Zenker made several stops on a whirlwind trip of the country over the last few weeks. That trip included the stop Friday in Portsmouth.
Meeting with local officials Friday afternoon, Zenker joked his trip to this country almost never happened. The reason is the invitation from the state department ended up in his spam file. When he saw it, he said he really didn’t trust it because he couldn’t imagine why the U.S. State Department would be contacting him. After his IT people checked out the email, they determined it and the invitation inside were, in fact, legitimate.
“To me it was very surprising for the state department to invite me,” Zenker said. Of his trip to the U.S. so far, Zenker said he “liked it very much.”
According to information provided by the Sister Cities Association, Zenker was to visit eight spots in the U.S. over three weeks, completing about 30 appointments meeting with mayors, business representatives, scientists and others.
In addition to talking about flood wall murals and beer, Zenker also mentioned his city has drug problems somewhat like those found in Portsmouth. Zittau’s location aggravates his city’s problem, Zenker added.
Zittau sits very near the borders of two other countries, the Czech Republic and Poland. Illicit drug dealers and manufacturers can circumvent German law and law enforcement by buying raw ingredients and cooking up their drugs in those two other countries. Zenker said the result is Zittau unfortunately has a generous supply of crystal methamphetamine.
“It’s unbelievably cheap,” Zenker added, clearly not seeing that cheapness as a positive thing. He said the same drugs in a bigger German city such as Dresden would cost three times as much.
Zenker was asked what the current view of America is in Zittau and Germany as a whole.
“I was 14 when the wall came down,” Zenker said referring to the wall which used to separate East and West Germany. Zenker said because of the long presence of the Russians, or more precisely the now defunct Soviet Union, Germans are very in tune to manipulation of public opinion. He described his people as “very suspicious, untrusting” of government in general. Zenker admitted there are some very definite anti-American feelings lose in Germany at the present time.
While it may seem a bit like ancient history to some Americans, Zenker mentioned the allegedly bad treatment U.S. prisoners received at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp as an issue which led to some bad feelings in Germany.
On another front, he added the promise of what has come to be called the Arab Spring seems to have fallen by the wayside at least partially due to American policies. Zenker specifically mentioned President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal. Zenker added he is “quite a liberal guy,” but quickly noted being liberal in Germany means something totally different than being liberal in America. Zenker said he continually needs to try and balance the pull of three major political parties.
“It’s talks and talks, hours of talks,” Zenker said.
In Portsmouth, prior to meeting with the members of City Council, Zenker took a tour of the city and apparently especially was interested in a stop at the local fire department headquarters. According to his original schedule, Zenker also was to meet with Scioto County Economic Development Director Robert Horton and various other local officials. While meeting with council and local news media, Zenker stated he hoped to increase the connections between Portsmouth and Zittau, hopefully going beyond youth exchanges which he said are very easy to facilitate.