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Two years after Coventry was flattened in the second world war, sympathy with the plight of Stalingrad led women’s groups to reach out to the Russian city – a ‘bond of friendship’ which survived the frostiest parts of the cold war
Under the ring road, just north of Coventry’s city centre, there are a series of murals. Faded and streaked with water damage and pigeon droppings they show hands shaking across the ocean in what would once have been bright, cheerful colours. On a grimy concrete pillar you can still just about read the explanation for their existence on a scratched and faded plaque.
This is Volgograd Place, named in 1972 when Mikhail Zolotaryov, the deputy mayor of the city formerly known as Stalingrad, one of Coventry’s many twin cities, came here on a mission of peace and reconciliation.
Volgograd Place is still described on a Russian website as “a pleasant green space with seats and fountains”. You can’t help feel that any Russian visitors would be so appalled by its state that the twin relationship would be ruined forever.
If anything, it could serve as a bleak memorial to the concept of twin towns. Most of Coventry’s 26 twins don’t even have the dubious honour of a broken patch of concrete under a flyover. Across Europe the relationships have fallen into a state of disrepair, with some towns even breaking off official twin contacts. One was Doncaster, where in 2009, “Britain’s most gloriously un-PC super mayor” Peter Davies, ditched the town’s agreements with five towns in China, France, Germany, Poland and the US, saving he claimed, £4,000 a year. […]