In the 19 years Brainerd has been a Sister City to Leksand, Sweden, numerous Leksand residents have visited the lakes area on behalf of their city.
In June, the city of Brainerd finally returned the favor with an official visit from Mayor James Wallin and his wife, Minna.
It was no small feat getting to Leksand. On June 18, the Wallins took a 7 1/2-hour, 4,100-mile flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was 710 miles from Amsterdam to Stockholm, Sweden, followed by a three-hour train ride from Stockholm to Leksand. The couple returned to Brainerd July 1.
The Wallins, who felt like they were treated like royalty on their trip, stood in front of the Kings Palace in Stockholm, Sweden.Submitted Photo
Wallin said it was important for a Brainerd representative to finally visit its Sister City after so many visits from their Swedish counterparts, most recent of which was in March by three Leksand students.
Also, Wallin said the purpose of the Sister City program is to exchange culture, education and learn of each others lifestyles - things that Brainerd, with the exception of correspondence and the long-distance exchange of gifts, had yet to do.
"We really needed to get over there," Wallin said. "I think it would be an insult to the Sister City program if we had not. They were very anxious to meet us and have us to come over to Leksand."
Even though he was in a foreign country the mayor must have felt at home when he attended a city council meeting, given the sometimes long, heated meetings in Brainerd.
We really needed to get over there. I think it would be an insult to the Sister City program if we had not.
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The Leksand meeting lasted five hours because of two controversial topics - a hockey camp's attempt to buy land along Lake Siljan from the city for about $5 million and the possibility of several schools being closed so a bigger one could be constructed.
The wife of one of the council members interpreted and Wallin said he could tell the mood of the discussion by watching sign language interpreters present.
He was told it was the longest council meeting in Leksand's history.
"I thought, you ought to come to Brainerd once in a while," Wallin joked.
As for his reception in the city of 15,000 people located in south central Sweden along the shores of Lake Siljan, Wallin said it was much more than he or his wife ever expected.
Ingrid Anderson (left) watched as a May Pole was raised in Leksand, Sweden, June 20. Anderson spends about 3 months every year in her hometown of Sweden and the rest of the year in the Brainerd area.
"We were treated like royalty," Wallin said. "For my wife and I it was absolutely fantastic, the reception we got and the treatment we had. It seemed like they couldn't do enough for us. They made certain our visit was very, very enjoyable and it was very enjoyable."
The trip itself was not without controversy in Brainerd. Wallin had intended to be part of a charter group that was visiting Norway and Sweden, but not enough people signed up for the trip. Instead, he and his wife, Minna, decided to make an official trip solely to Leksand.
Wallin asked the Brainerd City Council for $6,062 for air fare, car rental, lodging and miscellaneous expenses, including gifts and meals while on his trip. As a compromise, and by a narrow 4-3 vote, the council instead approved $4,000 for Wallin's trip, $2,500 of which was already available in the city's budget. Minna Wallin's trip expenses were not paid by the city.
While in Leksand, the Wallins stayed with Ingrid Anderson, a Brainerd area resident and Leksand native who for three months of the year stays in her Swedish hometown to be near family.
Leksand, though having a similar population as Brainerd, is larger in area. Wallin said instead of residents being clustered, most live in villages around the city. He also noted that Leksand residents cherished their history, which goes back hundreds of years.
Wallin attended the city's Midsummer Celebration, which featured the raising a giant, decorated May Pole and was attended by about 20,000 people; toured Leksand and its businesses, museums and industry; attended a Rotary Club meeting; and traveled to communities around much of Lake Siljan with the one of the students, Asa Hammarsten, who visited in march.
The Wallins spent their last night in Sweden in Stockholm, where they met with another student who visited Brainerd in March, Nayla Elzein.
The mayor came away from the trip amazed at the fact there was no above-ground wiring in the entire town. On top of that, the town's new toilets have a low-flush and a regular flush, showing conservation minded they are.
Wallin said there were two things he learned about on his visit that he hopes to educate Brainerd residents on - the Swedish emphasis on recycling and an exchange of students and teacher between the two cities.
Wallin said he would go back to Leksand "in a heartbeat."
"To me it was priceless, the reception and the excitement that we generated by being there from their Sister City of Brainerd was just phenomenal," he said. "The people there were very, very enthused, absolutely warm to us."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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