By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer
BLUE ASH - The sister-city relationship between this Hamilton County city and Ilmenau, Germany, is nearing a new frontier.A 15-member Blue Ash delegation headed to Germany on Saturday..
Whether they're ambling through Ilmenau's quaint, picturesque streets or sharing "ein bier" over traditional German fare, the Blue Ash delegation aims to spend the week laying the groundwork for a unique tourist exchange program.
Blue Ash delegates want to see what tourist attractions Ilmenau has to offer as they brag about the wonders of Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Great American Ball Park, Paramount's Kings Island, Indiana's riverboat casinos, Newport on the Levee and much more.
The thinking on both sides of the Atlantic is simple. Together, they can brainstorm for ways to increase tourism in their communities. Discount rates at local hotels and restaurants could be a possible lure.
Dave Hershberger, president of Prestige Travel, will join Blue Ash officials on their fourth visit to Ilmenau, which was under Communist rule until East and West Germany unified in 1990. Chosen to be the delegation's tourism point man, he's eager to talk travel with officials from Ilmenau's visitor's bureau.
"To have that kind of personal audience, to see what they do, (and) to see how they encourage visitors will be tremendously eye-opening to me," he said.
For some Blue Ash delegates, this will be a return to Ilmenau, a city of roughly 32,000 residents. Blue Ash, which became Ilmenau's sister city in 2000, has about 12,500 residents.
"I think we could really get something going," said Blue Ash Mayor Rick Bryan, who's often called "Ricky Baby" by the Germans. "This trip, we're going to explore with a passion trying to set up tourism between the two cities.
Local attractions abound. Ilmenau rests on the northern slopes of the Thuringian Forest, right on the banks of the Ilm River. The city also is famous for being a favorite haunt of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the 18th century dramatist who wrote Faust.
A winter sports resort and porcelain factory are nearby. "They have some things that ... will ultimately enrich the lives of the citizens of Blue Ash. That bodes very well for the future of the two cities," said Virgil Reed, chief executive officer of the Time Warner Cable and chair of Blue Ash Sister City Inc.
The cities latest endeavor came from the mutual realization that Blue Ash companies would have a difficult time selling products to Ilmenau and vice versa because of German restrictions, according to Bryan.
Since Blue Ash and Ilmenau became sister cities, there have been educational exchanges at high school and college levels. Blue Ash companies have hired students from Ilmenau, and Blue Ash police and firefighters have visited Ilmenau's emergency facilities.
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