The partnership with County Durham and the City of Tuebingen in South Germany was established in 1969.  

Poet Doctor Keith Armstrong, who gained his doctorate at the University on Durham in 2007, following on from Bachelor's and Master's degrees there, first visited Tuebingen in November 1987 to give readings and talks for a period of three weeks. Since then he has travelled to the city over 40 times and helped arrange for Durham and North East poets, musicians and artists and their counterparts in Tuebingen to visit their respective cultural twins.



-- Mi. 3.7.19: Cafe Piccolo / Affenfelsen: Auftaktveranstaltung zu "50 Jahre Partnerschaft Tübingen - Durham" mit ACOUSTIC STORM, Keith Armstrong und piper Chris Ormston (Durham) und Akkordeonspieler Peter Weiss (Tübingen), 19 Uhr

-- Fr. 5.7.19: Kulturhalle: Tübinger Bücherfest mit Keith Armstrong und piper Chris Ormston, 21 Uhr



From poet Tom Hubbard: Well done Keith! You've achieved a lot there and back at base. Keep me posted with your work and travels!





Tübingen Poems (1987 to date)

In this unique poetry selection, poet Keith Armstrong from the North East of England reflects on over thirty years of visiting Durham’s twin city of Tübingen in Baden-Würtemburg.

Armstrong worked for six years as a Community Arts Development Worker in East Durham and studied at the University of Durham for fifteen years, culminating with his doctoral award in 2007.

In his youth, he travelled to Paris to seek out the grave of poet Charles Baudelaire and he has been making cultural pilgrimages abroad ever since. He has toured to Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland, Iceland (including readings during the Cod War), Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Cuba, Jamaica and Kenya. 

His poetry has been translated into Dutch, German, Russian, Italian, Danish, Icelandic and Czech. 

These poems reflect his love of Tübingen and the friends he has made there.

‘Now we are all able to read these poems. We are happy that Keith Armstrong has realised a long nourished idea with this unique publication. It shows the attraction and radiance which Tübingen has with a sensitive visitor from far away and it shows the liveliness of our connection with our English twin County Durham in the domains of words and music.’ 

(Margit Aldinger)

‘This poet is someone who in his biography and work inseparably unites wit and long gained knowledge, enthusiasm and great talent, pluck and social commitment....This is a man who conquers, with his poems and charms, pubs as well as universities. He has always been an instigator and an actor in social and literary projects, an activist without whom the exchanges between the twin towns of Durham and Tübingen would be a much quieter affair.’ 

(Uwe Kolbe) 

‘Different poets have different triggers to set off poetic imagination and a main one for him is finding himself in a city street and invoking great spirits who once lived, loved and drank there. This unique publication brings together poems written over twenty years in this 'special town'. I almost think he has earned consideration for a Keith-Armstrong-Strasse - and he is the ideal subject for a civic statue!’ 

(Michael Standen)

PRICE £5 ISBN 1 871536 23 5



People warn you against the profession of poet,

Also against playing the flute, the drums, the violin,

Because riffraff of this sort

So often tend toward drinking and frivolity.

(Hermann Hesse)

I first visited Durham’s twin city of Tübingen to give a series of poetry readings for three weeks in November 1987.

I proceeded to fall in love with the place.

Having now been there over forty times and written all of these poems about it, I am still trying to work out just what it is, what peculiar magic, that draws me back.

Gunter Grass once said that ‘In Germany you’re always noticing how present the past is’ - and he, especially in the light of recent events, should know.

A lot of that past is ugly, we all know that. Just visit the memorial on Gartenstrasse to the burning down of the synagogue on Kristallnacht to remind yourself. And, of course, the Wall is down, its loss followed inevitably by all the grand schemes and tragedies that grow in its great shadow. 

Yet, in Tübingen, I have always detected the lovely whiff of beauty.

I have found it all over town - in the glint of a girl’s hair, in the light on The Neckar, in the sweep of cobbled streets, in the trill of the blackbirds on Corrensstrasse, even in the candlelight of a favourite bar 'The Boulanger’.

Of course, it’s a university city, ‘a town on a campus’ some have said, and that gives it a somewhat ‘bookish’ air, which I have found inspiring - and not only because I have been a guest poet at its Bücherfest on a few occasions.

The ghost of Hegel stalks The Boulanger’ still, the young Hesse’s boots clatter up Lange Gasse at night, Hölderlin slips by in a ‘poetry boat’ - and, yes, Goethe continues to puke here!

I have ‘crashed’ all over Tübingen’ - under the old beams of Lange Gasse 18 (‘The Old Slaughterhouse’) with the church bells clanging in my brain; in a lonely basement on Gartenstrasse, in an idyllic hillside villa - and I always head back for more.

I have performed my poetry  on a poetry stroll along the river and into town, as well as in the Castle, the University, the Public Library, in the Uhland and Kepler Gymnasiums, behind the Church, at an Erotic Cabaret, a Poetry Slam, in the Club Voltaire, in bars all over town, from a punt on the river, in the Hölderlin Tower, the Hesse-Haus, the D.A.I, the Jazz Kellar, at the nearby Theatre Lindenhof, on regional radio - still I can’t get enough! 

I can remember bowling round the town with poet Julia Darling and finding a bag of coat hangers in a shop doorway, then walking into an art gallery through its open window and giving out the coat hangers in question to a bemused crowd at an exhibition opening before we left, minus coat hangers, through the window again. They all thought that this was ‘a happening’! I suppose it was, in a way.

I have joined in with the mania of the annual Stockerkahnrennen boat race in the heat of June, wandered through trees along the Platanenallee with a lovely lady, and slid drunk along Tuebingen gutters in white winters. I have seen this twinned place in all its moods and seasons, shared its glories with a bizarre selection of poets and musicians from Durham and North East England and, all the while, arranged literary exchanges, with a range of Tübingen poets and musicians visiting Durham, culminating in a unique joint anthology ‘Word Sharing’ published by the Kulturamt in 2007. 

Many’s the time I’ve enjoyed lunch at the Wurstküche or Neckarmüller with Margit, Carolyn and Karin, shared a glass with the lyrical poet Uwe Kolbe in Weinhaus Beck and sat under the tree with the stalwart Otto Buchegger, sipped ale with rocking Jürgen and mates in the Cafe Piccolo, indulged in literary breakfasts with talented young poets, savoured fine wines and dinners with Carolyn, Christoph and Carmen at Corrensstrasse 45. The list, my friends, is endless.

I have measured out my life in Tübingen days and here are the poems to prove it. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed living, breathing and singing them.

See you again soon - back in The Boulanger’! Have the drinks waiting for me! 

Dr Keith Armstrong.



Like a sunflower my soul has opened wide,



In love and hope. Oh spring,

What is your will, when shall

My thirst be satisfied?

I see the cloud drifting, the river flowing,

And deep into my veins I feel

The golden kisses of the sun are going;

My eyes, bound by a spell,

Are drunken and seem to slumber...

Oh, does my heart not know

What memories it weaves

Into the twilight of the gold-green leaves?

The nameless days of long ago!

(Ludwig Uhland)


Keith returned to Tuebingen in September 2016 for readings of his poems inspired by his visits to Tuebingen over the years, including a literary promenade around the old town and along the Neckar accompanied by accordionist Peter Weiss. 

He was also there in November 2017 with fellow poet Paul Summers and folk musician Gary Miller to attend the launch of a new anthology, Word Sharing, published by the Cultural Office in Tuebingen and edited by Carolyn Murphey Melchers and Michael Raffel in Tuebingen and Keith Armstrong in Durham to mark 30 years of the literary twinning between Tuebingen and Durham and featuring a selection of poetry by some 22 writers from Tuebingen and Durham.

The anthology had its Durham launch as part of a World Book Day event on Monday 23rd April 2018 at the University of Durham. Special guests at the event were writers Andrea Mittag and Matthias Kaiser from Tuebingen who read alongside Durham poets Jackie Litherland, Katrina Porteous, Paul Summers, Rob Walton and Keith Armstrong, with Durham folk music from Gary Miller and Mick Tyas - all in all, a memorable occasion with wine, poetry and song! Andrea and Matthias also appeared at specially arrranged seminars in the English and German Departments of the University of Durham.

Before this, Tuebingen poets Anna Fedorova and Yannick Lengkeek came to Durham in November 2015 for readings and discussions, with Manuela Schmidt and Florian Neuner following suit in April 2017, and Eva Christina Zeller returned to Durham in November 2017 as part of the exchange programme for readings and workshops at the University.

Looking further back, a special celebration of the literary/arts links between the cultural partners was held on May 17th 2015 at Tuebingen’s Club Voltaire as part of the Tuebingen Buecherfest.  This was arranged by poet Tibor Schneider, Michael Raffel of the Buecherfest and Doctor Armstrong. Those featured included Gary Miller, singer/songwriter from Durham band ‘The Whisky Priests’, poets Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Sara Hauser, Anna Fedorova, Yannick Lengkeek and Tibor Schneider and rock musician Juergen Sturm with Mary Jane.

Keith Armstrong was also in Tuebingen from Tuesday 11th November 2014 to Saturday 15th when he performed his poetry in the legendary Heckenhauer’s Bookshop, one of his favourite bars The Boulanger, at the Carlo-Schmid-Gymnasium (school) and at Weinhaus Beck for a poetry breakfast. He was joined by Tibor Schneider, Sara Hauser, Yannick Lengkeek and Anna Fedorova with Peter Weiss on accordion and Juergen Sturm on rock guitar and vocals.

Before this, he was in Tuebingen from Wednesday 2nd to Saturday 5th April 2014 with artist/photographer Peter Dixon for readings with Tuebingen writers Eva Christina Zeller, Sara Hauser, Tibor Schneider and Florian Neuner at Weinhaus Beck, a school visit and other networking initiatives. This followed on from his visit from Monday 4th November to Thursday 7th 2013 when he took part in a major symposium on the theme of writer Hermann Hesse who lived and worked in Tuebingen from 1895-1899. As well as joining in with the discussions and giving a reading from his poems on Hesse and Tuebingen, Keith met with poets, academics, teachers, musicians, cultural and media workers.  

Sara Hauser visited Durham from Monday 12th to Thursday 15th May 2014 for sessions at the University's English and German Departments  and meetings with local writers, artists and musicians.

So the twinning continues to go from strength to strength. Looking back on things, Armstrong and folk rock musician Gary Miller, lead singer of Durham band the Whisky Priests, travelled to Tuebingen at the end of March 2012 for performances in pubs, cabaret venues and schools where they performed with Tuebingen poet Tibor Schneider who visited Durham in October of that year as part of the ongoing exchange. 

Tibor joined his Durham counterparts for readings at Durham University and at the Half Moon Inn. He was also interviewed on BBC Radio Tees concerning his Durham visit.

Keith Armstrong and Gary Miller returned the compliment with a trip to Tuebingen in March 2013 where they performed again in bars, cafes and schools with poets Tibor Schneider, Sara Hauser and Tuebingen musicians. 

In 2011, Tuebingen rock musician Juergen Sturm jetted in with his music partner Mary Jane at the end of October for pub gigs, including a twinning event in Durham on Monday 31st October featuring Juergen and Mary Jane with Durham folk musicians and poets. That followed on from a visit to Tuebingen in South Germany in early April 2011 by Keith Armstrong and photographer/artist Peter Dixon. The intrepid pair worked together on a touring display featuring Armstrong's poems and Dixon's photographs documenting the unique link between Tuebingen and Durham which was staged initially in the Durham Room at County Hall, Durham in November. Armstrong performed his poetry in cafes, bars and schools and met up with Tuebingen friends, old and new, with the multi-talented Dixon capturing all of it on film. 


This trip reciprocated a visit to Durham in November 2010 by Tuebingen poets Henning Ziebritzki and Carolyn Murphey Melchers, when Juergen Stuerm also took part in a series of pub performances. There was a special event at Clayport Library, Durham City on Monday November 1st with the Tuebingen poets and special guests from Durham, followed by a rousing session in the Dun Cow when Juergen, with Mary Jane, and his Durham counterparts, Gary Miller and Marie Little belted out their lively songs.

Armstrong was also in Tuebingen in May 2010 with Gary Miller for performances in his favourite Tuebingen bar ‘The Boulanger’ and at a local school. This followed a special guest appearance in 2009 at the biannual Book Festival, a reading with Tuebingen counterpart Eva Christina Zeller and a visit to local schools. Eva visited Durham for readings in schools and at a special event on May 13th 2009 at Clayport Library which also featured poets Katrina Porteous, Jackie Litherland, Cynthia Fuller, and William Martin, as well as Doctor Armstrong and music from the Durham Scratch Choir and Andy Jackson.

A highly successful series of events were held in 2007 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the literary/arts twinning established by Keith Armstrong when he first visited Tuebingen in 1987 for a month’s residency, supported by Durham County Council and Tuebingen’s Kulturamt. Since then, there have been readings and performances in pubs, universities and castles, schools, libraries, book festivals, jazz and cabaret clubs, even in Hermann Hesse’s old apartment, involving poets, writers, teachers and musicians from the twin partnerships of Durham and Tuebingen.

Tuebingen’s music duo Acoustic Storm, poet/translator Carolyn Murphey Melchers and Cultural Officer visited Durham and the North East in October/November 2007. The musicians performed in Durham schools and pubs and there was a special evening in Durham’s Clayport Library to celebrate the twinning, with Keith Armstrong launching his new Tuebingen poetry booklet and performances by poets Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Katrina Porteous, William Martin, Michael Standen, Ian Horn, Cynthia Fuller, Hugh Doyle and musicians Acoustic Storm, Marie Little and Gary Miller. Margit Aldinger of the Kulturamt in Tuebingen and Brian Stobie of the International Department, Durham County Council, also addressed the audience.


For the record, here's a list of those who have made it happen so far:


Tuebingen visitors to Durham since 1987:

Carolyn Murphey Melchers, Karin Miedler, Gerhard Oberlin, Uwe Kolbe, Johannes Bauer, Eva Christina Zeller, Simone Mittmann, Florian Werner, Juergen Sturm, Mary Jane, Wolf Abromeit, Christopher Harvie, Eberhard Bort, Marcus Hammerschmitt, Henning Ziebritzki, Andy and Alessandra Fazion Marx, Otto Buchegger, Tibor Schneider, Sara Hauser, Anna Fedorova, Yannick Lengkeek, Manuela Schmidt, Florian Neuner, Andrea Mittag, Matthias Kaiser.

Durham visitors to Tuebingen since 1987:

Keith Armstrong, the late Michael Standen (Colpitts Poetry), the late Julia Darling, Andy Jackson, Fiona MacPherson, Katrina Porteous, Marie Little, Ian Horn (Colpitts Poetry), the late Alan C. Brown, Linda France, Jackie Litherland (Colpitts Poetry), Cynthia Fuller, Margaret Wilkinson, Jez Lowe, the late Jack Routledge, Gary Miller, Matthew Burge, David Stead, Hugh Doyle, Peter Dixon, Paul Summers.


This record is just amazing, thanks to your efforts alone!

Thanx!  (Juergen Sturm)




  Town twinning, or city partnering, is designed to bring people together. The university towns of Tübingen and County Durham have been doing this since 1969, promoting cultural exchanges by offering financial and organisational support. Initially, the focus was on pupil exchange programmes and musical collaborations. In 1986, Keith Armstrong and Durham County Council opened a new door by suggesting writer’s exchange. This door became a swing door that has been swinging back and forth since 1987. Over the past thirty years, Keith Armstrong has been committed to ensuring that the door continues to swing in both directions. He took the first step by performing his poems in Tübingen to provide a view of the landscape and the people of its partner county in Northern England; a coal mining area experiencing a time of change, and of Britain's role in the world.

What do guests from County Durham find in Tübingen?: a mecca for literature enthusiasts: old and new authors who share a connection with the city; the Tübingen Book Festival, students from across the globe, a poetics lecture series at the university, literary museums (Sara Hauser who was born in 1986 and who read her own work in Durham in 2014, organises literary evenings with young poets in the Hesse Cabinet), a public library in the town centre, a creative writing scene, students at the Literature and Theatre Studio who publish alternative online literature magazines, and the newly established writers’ collective, the ‘Dichterkammer’ (Chamber of poets), which is open to all and was founded and developed by several of the authors featured in the recent anthology 'Word Sharing'. A trip to Durham with the opportunity to present their own texts became an attractive prospect for them.

   The authors from Tübingen have discovered that County Durham offers many writers' workshops and publication opportunities, even for unknown authors. Keith Armstrong provided ever new venues for the guests from Tübingen: at schools throughout the county, in the main Durham library, at Durham and Newcastle Universities and, of course, also in pubs.

   Most of the authors from Durham are globetrotters who are open to experiencing Tübingen – just like their counterparts from Tübingen who are seeking to explore County Durham. Keith Armstrong has documented his particular love for Tübingen and his interest in the city’s poets, philosophers, streets, squares, buildings and history in numerous poems, some published in 2007 in his book “Hermann Hesse in the Gutter”.

    Armstrong also impresses with his performances – speaking rhythmically, almost song-like, in a standing position – winning over audiences, be it in a pub or on a poetic walk through places in the city that are featured in his work, often accompanied by a musician from County Durham, such as guitarist Gary Miller, or his friend, accordionist Peter Weiss from Tübingen. The individual performance skills of his English colleagues are every bit as developed as his own.

    We hope there will be further word sharing opportunities that can overcome any borders.

Margit Aldinger,

Kulturamt, Tuebingen.


Keith Armstrong first visited Groningen in 1992 with poet Julia Darling to set the ball rolling. Since then there have been readings in pubs, universities, libraries, and schools and at breakfast parties, festivals, cabaret clubs and civic centres in both cities.

Successful events were held in Newcastle in October 2007 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the literary twinning between the respective cities, including a poetry and music evening at the Bridge Hotel and a reception with the City's Lord Mayor.

The then Groningen City Poet Rense Sinkgraven took part, along with fellow Groningen poet Willem Groenewegen, and Nick J. Swarth (City Poet of Tilburg) added colour to the celebrations.

The poets were joined by twinning pioneers Professor Helen Wilcox and jazz performer Allan Wilcox (on double bass and piano) and Groningen Cultural Officer Marieke Zwaving.

Keith Armstrong led the team of Newcastle performers with fellow poets Paul Summers, Poetry Jack, Catherine Graham, Ian Horn and Mick Standen. 

A Groningen delegation made up of poets, publishers, journalists and cultural officers and headed by Councillor for Culture Jaap Dijkstra visited Newcastle in September 2008 and a special performance evening was held at the Ouseburn Boathouse with readings by the Groningen poets and their Newcastle counterparts incuding Keith Armstrong, Paul Summers and Ellen Phethean. 

Groningen City Poet Stefan Nieuwenhuis jetted in September 2011 to join Newcastle poet Keith Armstrong at a launch of Keith's new books.

After which, Armstrong and folk musician Gary Miller appeared again in schools and cafes in Newcastle's twin city of Groningen at the end of September following on from successful appearances in 2010 where they presented their unique poems and songs in the International School, Haren Library (with a specially commissioned performance for Haren's 850th anniversary and a recital of the poems of Charles Dickens) and O'Ceallaigh's Irish Bar. During the September stay, Armstrong performed his sequence of Groningen poems, written after many visits to the city, with some settings by Miller.

The links between Groningen and Newcastle continue with Keith Armstrong planning another visit to Groningen in 2020.

For the record, here's a list of those artists who have made it happen so far:

Groningen literary/cultural visitors to Newcastle since 1992:

Rense Sinkgraven, Marieke Zwaving, Jaap Dijkstra, Tine Bethlehem, Albertina Soepboer, Tsead Bruinja, The Poets from Epibreren (Bart FM Droog, Tjitse Hofmann, Paul Jainandun Singh, Jan Klug), Sieger M. Geertsma, Ronald Ohlsen, Anneke Claus, Willem Groenewegen, Anton Scheepstra, Eric Nederkoorn, Herman Sandman, Emiel Matulewicz, Jeroen Engels, Entre'acte jazz duo (Allan Wilcox, Sina Keuning), Janny Boerma, Helen Wilcox, Henk Muda, Klaas Drenth, Emmeke Schurink-Plas, Willem Smit.

Newcastle visitors to Groningen since 1992:

Keith Armstrong, Julia Darling, The Poetry Virgins, Paul Summers, Ian Horn, Tony Whittle (photographer/musician), Ann Sessoms (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Ormston (Northumbrian Piper), Chris Hartnett (singer/songwriter), John Earl, Alan Clark (Nod), Dave Gaston, Michael Standen, Marie Little (singer), Gary Miller (singer/songwriter).



Keith Armstrong of ‘Northern Voices Community Projects’ looks at twinning exchanges and recounts a few stories along the way

‘Ein bier bitter – und ein Martini for the wife’ demanded ‘the lad’ from Peterlee Cricket Club of the German barman in the twin-town of Nordenham.  Spotting ‘the lad’ was of English extraction, the barman, in near impeccable style, politely enquired ‘Sweet or Dry, Sir?’  ‘Just the one!’, our ‘twinning boy’ snapped back, sensing a German plot, returning triumphantly to his stool in the town’s ‘Beer Akademie’, thinking how well he’d handled a potentially tricky diplomatic situation.

As Peterlee’s Community Arts Worker, having eavesdropped this touching exchange, I thought to myself ‘So that’s what twinning is all about!’  As one of the co-ordinators of the initiative, I felt I was entitled to wonder just how the twinning link had transpired and was it worth all the effort.  This was back in 1980-6 and times were hard in the mining communities around Peterlee.  People’s minds were concentrated on survival; ‘twinning’ could hardly be considered paramount.  But it played a small part in expanding horizons.  By 1986, I’d made 8 visits to Nordenham with different groups and individuals, including the Youth Drama Workshop, the East Durham Writers’ Workshop, and the local band ‘the Montgolfier Brothers’ (ex-‘DTs’, ex-‘Sick Note’, ex-‘Death By Trombone’!)  for many, this was their first excursion to foreign shores, and it changed them, they occasionally fell in love, and cried when they had to leave Germany.  Who would have thought?

Naturally, there was method in the developmental madness.  It was meant to change attitudes, get the ball off the Durham island, develop links, forge exchanges, and generally broaden political and cultural understanding.  Not that it was plain-sailing, of course.  I well remember a night out with ‘the Montgolfier Brothers’ around several local bars, ending with an extended toasting session with a man with a monocle and a scar down his cheek who we promptly christened ‘Uncle Herman’.  Uncle Herman declared a passion for British Scientists and offered Schnapps all round for every such scientists we could name.  I think a general state of collapse was declared after the toast of ‘Michael Faraday!’  and Kenny, the bass guitarist,  was, as legend has it, woken early the next morning in a local shop door-way by the drip-drip of a window cleaner’s wash-leather!  Yet the band bounced back and gave several outstanding performances in the town’s schools and in the community centre.  Their single at the time ‘Things That Go Bump In The Night’ quickly became a cult hit in Nordenham.

And the there was the coach-tour round the town with Frau Ehleman of the Rathaus (Town Hall) as our guide, a very enthusiastic and kindly lady with an unfortunate way of  constantly popping a microphone! Not only was this, however, her phrase-book unique.  As the coach rolled away from the Rathaus, we were pleased to have pointed out for us, in rapid succession, ‘the field of the dead cows’ and ‘the house where you can buy the women’.  By way of explanation, it transpired that there was pollution in the soil, from a local factory, and, further down the road, was situated the local brothel.  And we’ll never forget the unique invite to go ‘mud-walking’ the next morning!

So we weren’t short of the odd moments of humour, though, in fact, we did get through a lot of hard work, with the Writers’ Workshop performing, with translation, their poems and songs in the town’s schools and at an Anti-Nuclear rally.  General political and cultural discussion was always encouraged and usually ensued.  During the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike, the twin-town of Nordenham sent parcels of food and toys to the striking miners and their families and made financial contributions to the ‘Save Easington Area Mines Campaign’.  And we vividly remember heading the Nordenham May Day procession and visiting local factories there.  Our delegation generally stayed in twin-town homes, a gesture which was usually reciprocated when our friends from Nordenham trade unions and peace group visited us in Peterlee.

Many of the twinning links in North East England are with Germany and French towns and our positive experience of Nordenham has led myself and others connected with ‘ Northern Voices’ to seek to develop further links, building on this success to overcome the negative feelings local people often have of such connection, viewing them as council ‘junkets’ and the like.  Whilst this ‘junketing’ does still go on, there is scope for getting involved in promoting more constructive political and cultural dialogue with our twinning partners, especially more significant in the changing European landscape.  Indeed, in recent years, through the good offices of Durham’s Euro M.P. Stephen Hughes, poets and musician from ‘Northern Voices’ performed at the European Parliament in Strasbourg!

The town of Tübingen in Southern Germany has been described as ‘a town on a campus’, given that out of a total population of 77,000, 25,000 are students and 8,000 employees of the University.  So that the nature of its twinning with County Durham is distinctly academic compared to the more industrial nature of both Nordenham and Peterlee.  It has also a somewhat richer history in a number of ways – Hegel studied there, the eccentric poet Friedrich Holderlin lived there in his Tower for 30 years and expired there, and Hermann Hesse, the writer, worked in a bookshop there in his formative youth.  To this extent, the town’s Cultural Office was interested in a literary link and ‘Northern Voices’ was, therefore, invited, and funded, by Durham County Council’s International Exchange Officer to pioneer a literary connection in 1987, since when, 11 successful visits have been made, featuring poets, and musicians in the folk and jazz idioms.  Readings have been staged in schools, pubs, and at the University, and reciprocal visits to Durham by Tübingen poets ant the University ’s Anglo-Irish Theatre Group arranged.  We have also participated in discussions on regional culture in the new Europe.  In both the twinning examples highlighted above, the links forged have led to anthologies being published.  To accompany a visit by East Durham Writers’ Workshop to Nordenham in 1986, a bi-lingual pamphlet, ‘North Sea Poems’, was produced and, in the cases of Tübingen, a joint bi-lingual anthology ‘Poets Voices’, featuring poets from both Durham and Tübingen, was launched in the Holderlin Tower in June 1991.

Other interesting twinning links which ‘Northern Voices’ has pioneered in the cultural field are those between Newcastle upon Tyne and its Dutch Counterpart, Groningen, and between Wear Valley and Ivry-sur-Seine (just outside Paris).  And ‘Northern Voices’ remains committed to this area of cultural work now and in the future.  This might have a lot to do with our being based on the North Sea Coast.  Certainly, in my own case, not only did my father graft in the shipyards for forty years or so, and his father before him, but his tales of his Merchant Navy days and of travels to Rio, Cape Town, Lisbon and so on truly inspired me as an impressionable youth and this excitement in travelling has carried over into my cultural activities.  As a founding member of ‘the Tyneside Poets’ group back in the 1970s, I vividly recall the links we developed with our Icelandic counterparts, and, in particular, our visit  to Reykjavik during the Cod War of 1976 when I performed my epic poem ‘Cod Save The Queen’ (!) to an audience of over 200 excited Icelanders.  This was followed by a visit in 1980 to Georgia in the then Soviet Union.  After one late night session with a worker-writers’ group in the steel-works town of Rustavi, I coined the following short poem:


Last night we swapped our shirts

They didn’t fit our bodies too well

But they fitted our mood


Such memories stay with you for the rest of your life.  They change you.  And whilst I’ve dwelt exclusively on international links, I recall with fondness the twinning of Greenwich and Easington Councils during the ’84 Strike and the links we developed then.  So it can happen within our little island too.  And it’s fun.  That, after all, is what twinning’s all about! Try it.