PHOT GALLERY: Sheringham set to celebrate 25 years of twinning with Otterndorf in Germany

An arranged marriage between a north Norfolk town and a coastal community in Germany is going the distance - and is about to celebrate its silver anniversary. STEVE DOWNES reports on a burgeoning relationship.

In the mid-1980s, the German town of Otterndorf dispatched town councillor and teacher Jochen Wohlleben to Norfolk with one order: 'Find us a twin town'.

From his base as a student at the University of East Anglia (UEA), he mounted a determined search.

But he was running out of hope when he stumbled on Sheringham, knocked on the door of the town council - and a beautiful relationship began.

In 1987, after some 'toe-in-the-water' trips and seeking consent from the paternal town councils at both ends, the 'marriage' was sealed when Sheringham and Otterndorf became official 'twins'.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of that union, which has resulted in dozens of cross-channel trips, the development of lasting friendships, an improvement in Anglo-German understanding - and the establishment of Otterndorf Green on Station Approach.

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In August, the landmark will be celebrated with a trip from Otterndorf to Sheringham. A reciprocal trip is planned to Sheringham in 2013.

Evelyn Meakin, who has been involved in the twinning along with husband Stuart since it began, is the chairman of Sheringham-Otterndorf Twinning Association. The couple have been to Otterndorf on at least 15 occasions.

Mrs Meakin, from Morley Road North in Sheringham, said: 'Otterndorf's neighbouring town of Hemoor was twinned with Swaffham, and the Otterndorf town councillors wanted to set up a similar arrangement.

'There was a lot of enthusiasm in the early years, and the membership secretary in Sheringham, Tom Pyne, generated a lot of members. At one stage there were maybe more than 200.'

She said membership had tailed off a little, but the links between the two towns remained 'strong'.

'Twinning brings better understanding of each other's culture. It fosters friendships and breaks down barriers. And it's such good fun.'

Mrs Meakin said Otterndorf was 'quaint and cobbled', with 'lots of old buildings'. She added: 'It's extremely clean and the people are so very friendly. I just love the people, the atmosphere and the friends that we have made.'

Aside from the formal biennial exchanges, there have been trips organised by schools, residents, St Peter's Church, rotarians, Sheringham Shantymen and the Lobster Potties.

Despite the difficulty in recruiting members, particularly to serve on the committee, Mrs Meakin said: 'I still think twinning has an important contribution to make, even though it doesn't have quite the same appeal as it did 25 years ago.

'Then, it was an opportunity for people to go abroad. But nowadays people take more holidays. People have so many other opportunities and are so busy.'

Otterndorf has sent an 'open invitation' to the people of Sheringham to travel to the town in Lower Saxony to celebrate the 25th anniversary.

Mrs Meakin said: 'We will travel by coach from Sheringham leaving on Monday, August 27 to board the overnight crossing from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. We will be setting up a market of local produce while we are there.

'The stay in Otterndorf is for five nights. The inclusive cost of the visit is �225 per person, with good reductions for young people.'

? For further information, or to offer your help on the twinning association, call Mrs Meakin on 01263 823818.