The Atlanta Christkindl Market is back and bigger than ever, and what it may have sacrificed in quaintness it makes up for in an enlarged footprint worthy of the holiday street markets that dot town squares back in Germany.
In its fourth year, the German Christmas market has moved to Centennial Olympic Park downtown, more than doubling in size with more than 60 imported wooden booths serving food, mulled gluehwein, snacks, toys and more.
The Christkind (literally “Christ child”) from Atlanta’s sister city of Nuremberg was on hand yet again to open the festivities just before Thanksgiving. It runs through Dec. 23.
The expanded market also features a large tent from Käthe Wohlfahrt, a purveyor of German Christmas ornaments, as well as a Santa house where smaller visitors can share their yuletide wishes.
The family-friendly event’s previous iterations at Atlantic Station built momentum both on social media and in-person, but the mixed-use venue’s space constraints limited expansion potential. Besides, new construction took over the area where it was previously held, hastening the search for a new home.
The German-American Cultural Foundation, which runs the market as a fundraiser, embarked on a trip to Chicago last year to learn how the gold-standard of German Christmas markets in the U.S. could feed into a city’s cultural fabric and reach a critical mass. That would ultimately drive the underlying reason for the market: raising funds for the foundation, which supports German-language education around Atlanta and foreign student-exchange programs.
The group, which included representatives from the City of Atlanta as well as the Georgia World Congress Center, came back with the idea to focus on the convention and tourism traffic and hotel guests downtown.
“They all said Chicago is the role model,” said Dennis Wagner, managing director of Bestar Steel’s Atlanta office and chairman of the foundation.
Near the market now are the Atlanta Chinese Lantern Festival, as well as mainstay attractions like SkyView Atlanta, the World of Coca-Coca, the Georgia Aquarium and more.
The congress center authority, which operates Centennial Olympic Park, has become a “great partner” for the foundation, providing setup support and a cost structure that sets the market up for future fundraising success. Both sides wanted to create a perennial attraction, and pent-up demand from vendors made it easy to fill up the new booths.
While the market is meant in part to provide Atlanta’s substantial German community with a nostalgic connection back home — and there are certainly specialty items like bratwurst, marzipan and lebkuchen (gingerbread) — the foundation isn’t wedded to a certain portrayal of German culture, Mr. Wagner said.
The key is for us to add to the internationalization of Atlanta. That’s the first and foremost thing.”
“The key is for us to add to the internationalization of Atlanta. That’s the first and foremost thing. Internationally, we are unfortunately still not recognized to the level that we should be in my point of view. For many people, they don’t have Atlanta on their radar screen,” he added. “We are just trying to create something special to attract people from near and from far.”
Apparently, aside from a few snarky online comments from Germans, it hasn’t been too challenging for the market to achieve an acceptable level of authenticity.
On one of the first nights this year, Mr. Wagner met a septuagenarian who’d traveled from Oklahoma just to visit the market after seeing descriptions of it online.
“Her grandfather was German. His last name was Stein. She always wanted to visit a Christkindl market,” Mr. Wagner said. “Forget all the negative things that anybody ever said — if you hear about somebody traveling that far at that age just to come and visit Atlanta and the Christkindl market, that puts tears in your eyes, and that’s why you put in the hard work.”
One thing missing from this year’s event is a title corporate sponsor, which an event in the shadow of State Farm arena and near Mercedes-Benz stadium would be happy to have, Mr. Wagner said.
Companies that want to support the mission of the foundation while providing a benefit for staff or friends can buy packs of $5 vouchers that are treated as cash at the market. (Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.) Mr. Wagner believes those who come will find themselves making it into a tradition.
“It’s a family event. It’s for young, it’s for old, it’s for very little ones. It’s not a visit-one-time-and-done thing.”
Any money spent at the market will be plowed back into Atlanta. The foundation, which has synthesized cultural-affairs funding from Atlanta’s many German companies, backs Atlanta’s Goethe-Zentrum, Atlanta’s sister-city relationship with Nuremberg and Georgia schools teaching German at various levels, among various projects and exchanges.
A few new projects include textbooks for Ashford Park Elementary School’s dual-immersion German program and a joint sponsorship with the Halle Foundation of teachers implementing German programs at Therrell High School and Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy.