The sister city partnership between the Thuringian capital Erfurt in central Germany and Shawnee, Kansas, was established in 1993. The initiative was originated by the city of Shawnee, whose mayor at the time, Thomas A. Soetaert, had approached the German Association of Cities with a request for partnership. The association thus played a mediating role.
Thomas “Tony” Soetaert already had the vision of an American-East German city partnership in the early 1980s when he contacted the then GDR head of state and government Erich Honecker directly with this request. However, his efforts remained temporarily unsuccessful; during the “Cold War” communist rulers did not want citizen contacts.
The agreement on the sister city partnership was realized in 1993 and has since been brought to life under the direction of the Erfurt City Council and Shawnee's Sister City Committee.
In the early years, it was mainly smaller groups of young people who took part in the exchange—in international theatre workshops for amateur actors or youth meetings involving several Erfurt towns, for instance. Erfurt's efforts to establish school partnerships, however, were unsuccessful.
Thus, the exchange of specialists between the professional fire departments of both cities, which has been taking place annually since 1998, became the main pillar of the partnership, in which employees accompanied by their partners stay in their sister city for 10 days and are accommodated by colleagues during this time. The fixed program always includes observations during fire department missions as well as theoretical discourses on the topics of fire protection and rescue services. The family-stays allow travelers to get to know their host country and its people, culture, traditions and even language. These visits have resulted in numerous lasting family friendships, and this year the 20th fire brigade exchange is already taking place.
In the cultural field, the Erfurt Krämerbrückenfest and the Oktoberfest in Shawnee are popular events for musicians from both cities, who enjoy providing artistic diversity there. Broad sporting events such as the Erfurt City Run also attracted participants from Shawnee.
In 2015, the opening of the “Erfurt Park” in Shawnee was a very special tribute to the warm city partnership. In addition to the naming of the flower beds, the covered rest- and event area, the children's playground and the football pitch, the ideas and suggestions of Erfurt’s esteemed landscape designers were used and thus immortalized long term. Typical perennials, half-timbered houses, climbing pyramids and water games spread Erfurt's local color in Shawnee. Meanwhile, Erfurt Park has become extremely popular with the citizens of Shawnee as a place to stay for sports, games and entertainment.
In 2017, when Lord Mayor Andreas Bausewein contacted Johnson County Community College, a new facet was added to the Erfurt - Shawnee partnership: For the Erfurt vocational school “Ernst Benary” and the Erfurt education centre “EBZ,” the way was paved for the future exchange of trainees, students and teachers in the gastronomic and industrial-technical fields. Preparatory meetings of representatives of the three training centers are planned for 2018.