A FRIENDSHIP between two Jewish teachers sparked an annual exchange trip between their schools that marks its 60th anniversary this year.
Pupils from North London Collegiate School in Canons Drive, Edgware and students from the Goethe Gymnasium, in Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart in northern Germany, have been visiting one another each year since 1949.
It was the brainchild of teachers Caroline Senator, a Brit, and her continental compatriot Jenny Heymann, who were friends before the Second World War began.
Just four years after the fighting ended, they met in Stuttgart and decided to start the exchange as a way to build relations between the two former enemies in the aftermath of the bloodshed.
The link prospered for six decades and so the 60th anniversary was the natural choice to be the theme for North London Collegiate School's annual Founder's Day event, held on Friday.
In attendance was the German ambassador to Britain, Georg Boomgaarden, and Heidi Paret and Valerie Munro.
German Heidi was a schoolgirl aged 17 when she and about 10 of her classmates travelled to north London on the inaugural exchange.
Valerie, who was 15 at the time, was her host and returned to Ludwigsburg the following spring.
Heidi said: "My parents couldn't afford the trip so I got the money from an aunt. It was a lot at the time.
"It was very exciting because it was my first time abroad and was such a long journey - 32 hours from Stuttgart to London. Then a very friendly wel-come at Victoria station.
"I was curious to hear the language and to see the architecture and furniture. I had being learning English at school for four or five years, but our teachers never taught the lessons in English.
"I spoke English because Valerie was a beginner in German.
"We went to North London Collegiate School every day and had the normal timetable but we could choose which lessons we went to.
"The school was very clean and the girls changed their shoes. It was astonishing for us to see."
Valerie, who lives in Isleworth, south-west London, explained: "We had a pair of house shoes or sandals in the cloakroom and when we arrived in the morning, we took our shoes or wellies off and slipped into our house shoes."
Heidi continued: "With the school we went on excursions to Westminster Abbey, the Royal Mint and to see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London."
The two teenagers were taken to Trafalgar Square, where a black and white photograph was taken.
Valerie recalled: "It was freezing and my mother lent Heidi her coat."
Heidi added: "I got many letters from Valerie's parents for my birthday and Christmas and they wrote to my parents as well and told them I was their German daughter."
Valerie saw her friend several months later when North London Collegiate School ventured to the Goethe Gymnasium, nowadays a mixed state academic grammar school.
The early trips lasted three weeks apiece, but over the years this has had to be shortened to an action-packed week instead.
Valerie said: "I was fascinated by the different foods that we didn't have and I loved being with Heidi and her family - experiencing the differences in how life was in her home and how it was in mine."
The English group was given a bus tour of the Black Forest and a nearby monastery.
Valerie continued: "When we went to Germany they gave us something like £10, and another £10 halfway through for our pocket money. But can you imagine youngsters today surviving that long on that little money?"
The German girls and staff who came on the first visit in 1949 were not allowed to take currency out of their homeland.
"The headmistress collected money from the pupils and staff so that we could give them some pocket money and a little sense of security with it," Valerie remembered.
The Second World War may have been a living memory but the two ladies said there was no animosity during either of the trips.
Valerie said: "I can only remember once when I was in Germany I met the friends and family of Heidi and I was talking to a gentleman who was getting a little bit political.
"He was not so much upset about the war, but about the fact that Germany was still occupied by Britain, France, America and Russia, and could I explain it? I was 15."
Heidi and Valerie kept in contact by letter while growing up, and when Valerie retired her partner encouraged her to travel to Germany to meet Heidi.
The two rekindled their relationship and they remain good friends.
Pupils from the Goethe Gymnasium were over here to enjoy Friday's celebrations and 14 of the collegiate school's year nine girls studying German will journey to Germany in a week, where they will take part in their host families' day-to-day activities and enjoy the surroundings of Ludwigsburg, in addition to the obvious attractions.
Head of German, Mary Newham, said: "We try to make it not too touristy. It's a cultural and a personal experience now. When the German girls come over, we try to give them a taste of what life is really like in England."