Sister cities (or twin towns) have existed in Europe since the 9th century and grew in popularity after World War II. Across the pond, President Eisenhower established the Sister Cities International program in 1956. According to the official website, Eisenhower’s mission was to create "peace and prosperity by fostering bonds between people from different communities around the world." Today there are thousands of city and town pairings worldwide, predominantly established to promote cultural exchanges between two or more places. While many pairings see the unification of like-minded cities, other matches are far more unexpected.
Coventry, England - Dresden, Germany
During World War II, Coventry and Dresden were on opposing sides of the battle so, in theory, they could be fierce rivals as opposed to allies. Nevertheless, the announcement of their sister pairing in 1959 owes to the two cities being all-but destroyed by bomb raids. Coventry was once one of England’s most important industrial towns and rife with ammunition, aircraft engine, bicycle, and car-manufacturing plants. Consequently, the city was targeted by the Luftwaffe and devastated by the 1940 Coventry Blitz. About 800 miles away in the German state of Saxony, Dresden was seen as a prominent wartime rail transport and communication center. In 1945, some 800 British and 500 U.S. Air Force bombers attacked the city in what is now regarded as one of Europe’s most horrific air raids.
Curiously, Coventry shares sister links with Warsaw, Poland and Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), Russia. These cities were also the recipients of devastating attacks during the war.
Liberal, Kansas - Olney, England
Liberal is a city in southwest Kansas where you can take a tour of a replica of Dorothy’s house from the Wizard of Oz. Olney is a market town in southeast England that dates back to the 10th century and was the site of an English Civil War battle. But it is a tradition involving pancakes that unites these otherwise far-removed places. Since 1445, Olney has hosted the annual Olney Pancake Race on Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day). Competitors, who are all women and must wear a headscarf, would race from the town center to the church while carrying a frying pan with a pancake inside it. Fast forward to 1950 and the president of the Liberal Jaycees Club was drawn to a photo of the event in a magazine. He contacted Olney’s reverend, challenged the town to a race, and thus an international competition was established. Today, there are races for all ages and Liberal’s International Pancake Day is a 4-day event with eating, flipping and racing contests.
Walt Disney World, Florida - Swindon, England
Upon hearing the news that Walt Disney World would be twinned with an unassuming West Country English town, a British tabloid newspaper proclaimed: "One is a magical place where dreams come true. The other is Swindon." But in 2009, dreams did come true for Swindon, a place most famous for being the starting point of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway. It all came about when a local woman from Swindon beat entries from 24 other U.K. destinations to earn her beloved town the honor of being Walt Disney World’s first real-world sister. She submitted a video that compared the town’s Magic Roundabout with a teacup ride and its cinema with Hollywood Studios. The judges were so impressed that they flew the winner to Florida for a presentation ceremony, and there was even an exhibition about Swindon at the Epcot theme park.