May 31

Aspen’s First Sister City

By Nancy Gensch

Gretl Uhl and her husband, Sepp, moved from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Aspen, Colorado in 1953. Gretl grew up IN the Ski Jumping Stadium in Partenkirchen where the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Winter Olympics were held. Gretl’s parents owned the restaurant in the stadium, so skiing was a way of life for her. After coming to Aspen in 1953 and learning of President Eisenhower’s development of Sister Cities International, Gretl felt that a Sister City relationship between her home town and her new home would be a perfect fit. In September of 1966 exchange visits happened, new friends were made, gifts were exchanged, and papers were signed, making Garmisch-Partenkirchen Aspen’s first Sister City. Aspen’s gift to Garmisch-Partenkirchen was an enormous buffalo head, which David Stapleton brought to Aspen in a private plane, and then transported to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  The buffalo head is still a huge, welcoming presence on the wall in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen City Hall. (See picture with many Aspen faces below).

Gretl opened and ran Gretl’s Restaurant (now Bonnie’s) on Aspen Mt. for many years, gaining national/international acclaim for her apple strudel and other fabulous home-made delights. While her husband, Sepp, was the Ski School Supervisor on Aspen Mountain, Gretl’s fame for her culinary skills, bright personality and European charm far exceeded that of the Ski Company. 

Gretl was the first City Coordinator for Aspen and Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  After Gretl, Wolf Gensch, who moved to Aspen in 1970, and who also was from Garmisch, took the position for many years. Chris Bonadies followed Wolf, and Nancy Gensch brought the Garmisch-Aspen connection up to its 50th anniversary. In 1991 Garmisch hosted a wonderful 25th anniversary celebration, and in 2006 Aspen hosted the 40th. In 2016 Garmisch-Partenkirchen again hosted a gala week for visitors from Aspen, who were warmly greeted and royally treated!

Aspen and Garmisch-Partenkirchen have much in common. They are both leading summer and winter resorts in their countries. They face similar challenges of tourism, housing, traffic, marketing, and planning for the future. They are both beautiful beyond belief. They both have many foreign workers, without whom the resort would struggle to provide services to visitors from near and far.

Both Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Aspen are Sister Cities with Chamonix in France. Because Garmisch has only 2 Sister Cities, while Aspen has many, the connection with Aspen is important to Garmisch. There is an Aspen Park in Garmisch, young people from Garmisch have come to Aspen for student and work exchanges – working in hotels, businesses, and with the Ski Patrol. Skiers from Garmisch participated several times in the 24 Hour Ski Competition on Aspen Mountain, and in recent years, there have been successful student exchanges.  

For over 50 years the Sister City connection between Aspen and Garmisch-Partenkirchen opened many doors for youth and adults from Garmisch to visit, work, and live in Aspen. It’s been a wonderful connection … a lovely example of the benefits of Sister Cities International.  

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