At a welcome reception for the participants of the journalism exchange program, Wolfgang Schmidt, State Secretary to the Senate Chancellery and Commissioner for Federal, European and Foreign Affairs in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, stressed the growing significance of cities, where 80-90% of people live worldwide, and urged Hamburg to make greater efforts to attract tourists from its sister city Shanghai. “Sister cities become more important.” It is a challenge to attract Shanghainese tourists to Hamburg, as many Chinese people have other places in mind than Hamburg when they think of Germany, for example Munich because of its Oktoberfest or Schloss Neuschwanstein in Füssen.
Schmidt extolled the merits of the long-lasting relationship between Hamburg and Shanghai, for instance various projects in education, culture, and sports. He pointed out that Hamburg is a green city with its parks, rivers and lakes, such as the Alster and Elbe, and that it is a hotspot for musicals. He also emphasized the importance of exchange: “It is very important to exchange views and opinions and to learn from each other.”
Hamburg’s first sister city agreement was signed in 1957 with St. Petersburg in Russia (then called Leningrad), and an initial memorandum of understanding with Shanghai was signed in 1986. There are many similarities between the cities: both are city states from an administrative point of view, harbor cities, merchant trade centers as well as media capitals in their respective countries, and both claim to be “Gateways to the World”. The focus of the agreement is mostly on commercial relations, although it also covers matters related to cultural exchange, tourism, the environment, and harbors.
Schmidt reported on the Hamburg Liaison Office in Shanghai, a contact point for Chinese business people to get in touch with partners in Hamburg and vice versa. It is located in the Hamburg House, the first certified ‘passive house’ in China, an extremely energy efficient building that is jointly sponsored by the Senate Chancellery, the Hamburg Business Development Corporation, the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, Hamburg Tourismus GmbH and Port of Hamburg Marketing.
In an interview with the German daily Hamburger Abendblatt, Liam Lee, a columnist with the Shanghai Observer, criticized that there are no direct flights between Hamburg and Shanghai. In his opinion, they would be useful in order to further strengthen the relationship between the cities. Schmidt agreed, saying that this is “an important issue for the city” and that the current situation is not satisfying. “We have been working on that problem for years and are really optimistic to find a solution soon,” he said.