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A letter forged a link between Billings, Germany, and Billings, Mont., that has lingered more than 40 years.

In June 1965, a letter from Germany crossed the desk of then-Mayor Willard Fraser, an impresario known for his grand gestures. The letter triggered an affectionate exchange of visits between the two locales.

Hannelore Carter, who was born in Germany but has lived in Billings since 1955, acted as translator for several visiting contingents of the unofficial sister cities.

In 1977, Carter visited Billings, Germany, for the first time.

"The whole village greeted me and feted me," said Carter, who peppers her accented English with German words.

"They renamed a street Montana Strasse, Montana Street," she said.

In the mid-1970s, the village had a population of 260. The last time she visited, in 1986, Billings, Germany, was a picturesque place filled with quaint little houses. There was no longer a store, and most of the residents worked in a larger, nearby town.

The village is tucked between little hills, surrounded by green and close to the forested Oldenwald section of Germany, 30 miles south of Frankfurt.

It seemed as if everyone in the village sang with the choir.

"You come together, and you sit and you sing. We sang together, and they entertained us royally, royally," Carter said.

The village is now incorporated into the town of Fischbachtal. Its agricultural roots have been preserved in an historic grain mill by a stream.

After Carter's first visit, a German choral group that had already planned to visit New York, tacked Montana on to its itinerary. Carter found housing for group members.

"I always had to be along because not all of them spoke English," she said.

Over the years, she formed what she describes as a "thick friendship" with several members of the group as delegations crisscrossed the Atlantic Ocean.

In August 1998, a 36-member sister-city delegation visited Montana and performed at a free concert in the Billings Community Center.

Carter still exchanges letters and e-mails with friends from the German sister-city and intends to return to Billings, Germany, next fall, once the new wine has been harvested.

For 25 years, Carter has also been interested in another Billings - Billings, Siberia. But she has never visited that settlement, which sits above the Arctic Circle.

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