Andrew Zhu

Eight Sisters of Milwaukee


I have long been bemused by the concept of a “sister city.” There certainly exist city pairs in the United States that fit this designation, such as St. Paul – Minneapolis, Dallas – Fort Worth, or even New York – Brooklyn (once upon a time). But, what I really refer to by “sister city” pairs are those perplexing connections between cities from different countries, sometimes even from different continents!


How do random cities around the world become connected to their “sisters”? Is it due to historical, cultural, or political ties? All of these questions raced through my mind as I sought to understand this topic.

Eight Sisters of Milwaukee

While the idea of “sister city,” or “twin town” as it is more commonly known in the United Kingdom, dates back more than a millennium with the pairing in 836 CE of Le Mans, France and Paderborn, Germany (for historical accuracy, both Le Mans were part of the Carolingian Empire under the rule of Louis the Pious. From what I can gather, with research limited to Wikipedia articles), the connection between the cities was solidified when the bones of St. Liborius (c. 348 – 397), the second Bishop of Le Mans, were translated to the Paderborn cathedral. Since then, the two cathedrals at Le Mans and Paderborn, through the devastation of fires and wars and hostilities throughout the subsequent centuries, have maintained a “love bond of lasting brotherhood” that was formally recognized with a “twinning” between the two cities in 1967.

A random fun fact I love while browsing the article on Paderborn: the city and its inhabitants are known in Germany for their fondness of American sports, including baseball (Paderborn Untouchables), American football (Paderborn Dolphins), and basketball (Paderborn Baskets).

The modern iteration of town twinning arose after the bombing of Coventry during the evening of November 14, 1940 through the morning of November 15, 1940. More than 4,300 homes were destroyed, two-thirds of the city buildings were damaged, and more than 1,500 civilians were injured or lost their lives. 

An idea emerged from the ashes of destruction: to show solidarity with other cities that had suffered through similar wartime devastation, Coventry decided to form symbolic “twinnings.” In 1944, in the aftermath of the Battle of Stalingrad, the mayor of Coventry, Emily Smith, along with 830 other women embroidered their names on a tablecloth with the words “Little help is better than big sympathy” to the city of Stalingrad. After World War II, in 1947 and 1956, Coventry would form twinnings with the German cities of Kiel and Dresden, respectively, in an act of reconciliation.

The Coventry Tablecoth (from the Volgograd Panorama Museum)

While a religious event led to the first twinning and war led to the inception of modern day sister cities, there doesn’t seem to be any set criteria for the formation of modern sister-city relationships. According to the Sister Cities International (SCI), a program formed by President Eisenhower in 1956 as a people-to-people, citizen diplomacy initiative, the purpose of sister cities is to “build global cooperation at the municipal level, promote cultural understanding, and stimulate economic development.” SCI now has a total of more than 1,800 cities, states, and counties participating in 138+ countries. A point to note, however, is that this program is based in the United States, so it is possible that some networks of international cities do exist abroad that are not members of SCI.

I wanted to examine in more detail the sister cities of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city near which I grew up and with which I am quite familiar. Given its history of German and Irish immigrants, I expected beforehand at least a city or two from these two countries. The history of Milwaukee’s sisterships only dates to 2008, but as it so happens, Milwaukee already has eight sisters around the world, seven of which are found in the Eastern Hemisphere! 

Before I present a description of each of Milwaukee’s sister cities, I will present a few demographic factoids of Milwaukee itself:


Milwaukee (Algonguin: millioke), USA

Population (2020): 577,222 (31st largest city in USA)

Year Incorporated: 1846

Known for: Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Brewers, Summerfest

My favorite place to go: Bison hunt diorama, Milwaukee Public Museum

Without further ado, the sister cities of Milwaukee, presented chronologically by date of sistership:

Note: all images found on the city’s respective tourism website or Wikipedia page.


uMhlathuze (isiZulu: Mhlathuze), South Africa

Population (2011): 334,459 (28th largest city in South Africa)

Year Established: ~1817 during Zulu kingdom

Known for: Sugar and forestry industries, Richards Bay harbor

Month of Sisterhood: May 2008

Reasons for Sisterhood: Exchange of business, culture, health care, education, tourism


Galway (Irish: Gaillimh), Republic of Ireland

Population (2016): 79,934 (4th largest city in Ireland)

Charter Year: 1484

Known for: Lynch’s Castle, Spanish Arch, Galway Cathedral

Month of Sisterhood: March 2009

Reasons for Sisterhood: Frequent departure point for Irish Immigrants to America


Medan (Bahasa: Medan), Indonesia

Population (2020): 2,435,252 (4th largest city in Indonesia)

Charter Year: 1590

Known for: Tjong A Fie Mansion, Mesjig Raya Al Mashun, Istana Maimum

Month of Sisterhood: October 2014

Reasons for SisterhoodExchange of business, culture, health care, education, tourism


Zadar (Croatian: Zadar), Croatia

Population (2020): 75,082 (5th largest city in Croatia)

Settlement Date: 9th Century BCE

Known for: Roman forum, Narodni trg, Anastasia’s Cathedral, Sea Organ

Month of Sisterhood: May 2015

Reasons for Sisterhood: Not specified – maybe because its “Croatia’s new capital of cool?”


Bomet County (Kiswahili: Bomet), Kenya

Population (2019): 875,689 (26th largest county in Kenya, of 47)*

Year Established: 1992

Known for: Tenwek Cave, Mutarakwa Forest, Kipsegon Hot Springs

Month of Sisterhood: November 2015

Reasons for SisterhoodExchange of business, culture, health care, education, tourism

* Sistership is with the county of Bomet


Tarime District (Kiswahili: Wilaya ya Tarime), Tanzania

Population (2012): 339,693 (30th largest district in Tanzania, of 169)*

Year Established: 1984

Known for: North Mara Gold Mine, Serengeti National Park, coffee

Month of Sisterhood: November 2016

Reasons for SisterhoodExchange of business, culture, health care, education, tourism

* Sistership is with the district of Tarime


Daegu (Korean: 대구시), Korea

Population (2020): 2,446,144 (4th largest city in Korea)

Naming Year: 757

Known for: Duryu Park, Seonbosa Temple, Seomun Market, Apsan

Date of Sisterhood: September 2017

Reasons for SisterhoodExchange of business, culture, health care, education, tourism


Irpin (Ukrainian: Ірпі́нь), Ukraine

Population (2020): 60,084 (79th largest city in Ukraine)

Year Founded: 1899

Known for: Pokrovskiy Park, Irpin City Sports Stadium

Month of Sisterhood: March 2018

Reasons for SisterhoodExchange of business, culture, health care, education, tourism

What a motley array of cities! Eight cities in eight countries, amazing! I haven’t been to any of them, shame on me, but I’ll visit if I ever end up in any of the countries of interest. A few points that jump out, from the demographic information: the cities range widely in population and also date of establishment, and Milwaukee is one of the younger cities on the list. I should note, though, that some cities went by settlement date versus charter year versus incorporation year; for example, while Milwaukee was incorporated in 1846, individuals certainly have lived in and around the area since the pre-Columbian era. With regards to why the city was selected as a sister city, other than Galway, Ireland, none of the cities have any particular ties to Milwaukee. Never too late to start!

I do have my misgivings about Tarime District, not with the inhabitants themselves, but with the underlying purpose of the selection. From reading online on the district, I found that there have been human rights controversies surrounding the mining industry there – I hope this sistership wasn’t based on backdoor economic shenanigans…



Sister cities are a sign of progress towards the interconnected and global world in which we increasingly find ourselves living, and I find inspiring how this symbol of unity arose from the flames and ashes of World War II. As someone who has been in New York City for the past three or so years, I have become more appreciative of how the conglomeration of cultures can enrich and enliven an entire city!


I plan on revisiting this topic in the future to determine the interconnected nodal network of sister city relationship, but this will require some coding and web scraping.