City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More

Featured Article

Sister Cities: Missoula & Neckargemund

Germanfest adds to the vibrancy of our community

Article by Jill MH Taber

Photography by Erika Spaulding & Jonathan Qualben Photography

Originally published in Missoula Valley Lifestyle

It’s a tale of two cities, rivers running through—a commitment to friendship, education, and commerce: Missoula, Montana and Neckargemund, Germany, sister cities. Thirty years ago, two professors, one from Missoula and one from Germany, participated in an exchange and as a result, noticed similarities between their two towns.

“They both said, ‘We are like twin cities,’” explained Udo Fluck of Arts Missoula.

In 1993, mayors of both cities signed a pledge of friendship, sparking a relationship that celebrates its 30th anniversary year. Also in that year, Arts Missoula launched Germanfest, a festival to honor German heritage—a celebration that Udo’s been a part of since its inception.

Udo, born and raised in Germany, came to Missoula in 1989 as a student at the University of Montana Journalism School. He’d planned to return to Germany, but Missoula captured his heart.

“I grew up skiing. I just fell in love with Missoula, for many reasons. Missoula is probably the most warm and welcoming place I’ve ever been,” Udo said. “If you can name a city that has more to offer, more stunning scenery, a more lively and vibrant scene, I would like to know. Until I find that place, I’ll stay in Missoula, with pleasure.”

Udo continued his education in Missoula, earning his bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees here, starting a family, and helping to launch Germanfest as a part of Missoula’s sister city relationship with Neckargemund.

Through his work at Arts Missoula, Udo coordinates aspects of Missoula’s sister city relationships, not only with Neckargemund, but with Missoula’s Kiwi kin in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

“Sister cities have a variety of benefits. Most obvious are the educational opportunities,” Udo explained, noting that nearly 500 students from Missoula and Neckargemund have participated in high school exchange programs. Students perfect language skills and gain an appreciation for culture and history.

“In general, exchanges are positive in nature: students increase self confidence; they become more worldly citizens,” Udo said.

Additionally, sister city relationships provide business, commerce, and tourism opportunities as well as professional exchanges and opportunities for city planners to learn strategies for tackling issues like housing, sustainability, and public transportation.

While some citizens know about Missoula’s connection to its sister cities, Udo said the relationships and the benefits thereof are enriched by the robust participation of residents of each city, thus one of the reasons for an event like Germanfest.

This year, Germanfest takes place on Saturday, October 7, at Caras Park.

“It’s an afternoon of German culture in high dosage,” Udo said. “If you need a shot of German culture, this is a good way to get it.”

Attendees can purchase authentic German beer steins, taste German beers and food, listen to German beer tent songs (and sing along) courtesy of OcTUBAfest, participate in family games and children’s activities, and learn about German culture.

Germanfest is perfectly suited for Missoula.

“I can’t tell you how many people walk up and say, ‘This is kind of nice. What is it, a beer fest?’,” Udo said. “I explain that it’s Germanfest. We aren’t just gathering with an umpa band because it’s the weekend. It’s a celebration of a relationship between two cities. And they say, ‘How cool.’ They walk in, get a beer and a brat and they’re happy.”

2023 marks 30 years of Germanfest and Missoula’s pledge of friendship with Neckargemund. Udo participated Neckargemund’s 30th celebration this summer—an opportunity to commemorate not only a sisterhood, but to reinvigorate people’s involvement with the programs that stem out from a sister city relationship.

“The challenge for all organizations is when the founders move along: How do you pass the torch? How do we get the next generation equally as excited and involved?” Udo explained. “These things are driven by people.”

The good news, Udo said, is people are excited. While in Neckargemund, Udo spoke with students, parents, and community members excited to participate in student exchanges and cultural opportunities.

“They were interested, lively, and eager to learn more. It gave me such a warm and fuzzy feeling that this program has a future, because these young people and teachers will carry it on,” he said. “It’s obvious this relationship has stood the test of time.”

Missoula’s Germanfest will give Missoulians the opportunity to carry the torch and continue the tradition of friendship.

“Germanfest is really the closing of the circle. The original idea after World War II was to promote peace on a community level, not top-down, from politicians, but grown through a community of culture and diplomacy,” Udo said.

That friendship is sown through the involvement of people: a 100-percent volunteer-run Germanfest, families hosting exchange students, businesses offering German products—a true community-grown effort.

“By the very fact that you’re celebrating something that is not mainstream culture, you promote inclusivity and diversity. You have an opening of horizons. You welcome people into your culture and you have community building,” Udo said. “It’s vibrancy, underlined twice with a thick marker.”

Stop by & enjoy!

Germanfest, Saturday, October 7

For more information about this event, please visit

“The challenge for all organizations is when the founders move along: How do you pass the torch? How do we get the next generation equally as excited and involved?” Udo explained. “These things are driven by people.”