Donor Spotlight: Dr. Hans Vielberth
Dr. Hans Vielberth, a valued supporter of Sister Cities International, first visited the United States in 1952 as a Fulbright Scholar at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Vielberth grew up in Regensburg, Germany during World War II and the subsequent American occupation. Dr. Vielberth came from a Catholic, nonpolitical family and didn’t know much about life in the U.S. before applying for a Fulbright scholarship. Although many people in Europe knew about U.S. culture from the U.S. soldiers stationed there during World War II, Dr. Vielberth says the cultures were very different at the time. While many social connections in Europe were negatively impacted by the war, and subsequently people felt more alienated from each other, once he moved to New Orleans, the people Dr. Vielberth met there were friendly and engaged. Dr. Vielberth never experienced any hostility during his year in the U.S. and was treated as an average student (especially when one man from the South mistook his German accent one from New England).
After completing his year in New Orleans, Dr. Vielberth returned to Germany where he completed his master’s degree in Munich. It was during his studies in Munich that he met his wife Erika. Erika had also studied in the U.S., choosing to attend the University of Wisconsin for a year and a half after having a pleasant experience visiting relatives there. After he earned his master’s degree, Dr. Vielberth went on to earn his PhD in Economics in Innsbruck, but jobs were difficult to find after he graduated. Rather than wait for a job opportunity to come along, Dr. Vielberth returned to Regensburg and, using his extensive business knowledge, started his own real estate development business. From there, he expanded into factory development and other industries.
Dr. Vielberth’s first contact with Sister Cities International was unexpected in 1975. He had served as an economic advisor to the new mayor of Regensburg during his campaign. On the mayor’s first day in office, a delegation from Tempe, Arizona arrived and announced that their local government would like to form a partnership with Regensburg. Because of his experience in the U.S. and English speaking skills, Dr. Vielberth was asked to come in and help translate and organize the efforts to establish a sister city relationship. The task seemed daunting to Dr. Vielberth and the mayor at the time – how could they work with a city that was so far away? As a student, it had taken Dr. Vielberth two and a half days to fly from Germany to New York because planes couldn’t fly at night or for long periods at the time. Although transportation had improved by the 1970s, it was still a long trip. But, nonetheless, the Sister City Corporation of Tempe-Regensburg was established.
Dr. Vielberth was part of the first delegation from Regensburg to travel to Tempe in 1979. Today, approximately 3,000 people from each community have visited each other as part of both formal and informal exchanges. According to Dr. Vielberth, what makes these trips and all sister cities exchanges different from traveling as a tourist is that they are truly people-to-people experiences, where individuals are able to experience the culture of each community during their stay. Upon arrival, delegations are immediately greeted by a group of local citizens who make them feel welcome. Visitors stay with local families in their homes, take part in local events, and experience the town as locals rather than tourists.
As a Sister Cities International honorary board member, Dr. Vielberth went on to travel with sister cities delegations to South Africa, China, Ireland, and other international communities. Through sister city exchanges, Dr. Vielberth feels he has more friends internationally than in his local community despite his involvement in various local organizations. Dr. Vielberth values these exchanges and partnerships because they are purely based on personal connections rather than political relations. According to Dr. Vielberth, these exchanges weren’t about repairing relations, but rather creating a new narrative based on personal experiences. Today, Dr. Vielberth lives in Regensburg with his wife, Erika. They have six children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He continues to support the Sister Cities International mission of promoting peace through people today.