But given the importance of German investment in the state of Georgia, it’s fast becoming an asset for winning and keeping investment and trade — or at least that’s what city leaders hope.
Already the market has grown where it is planted at Atlantic Station. Boosters hope to double attendance from 250,000 last year to half a million this year from all over the Southeast. From a modest 10 booths in its first year in 2016, the market now boasts 26 authentically crafted wooden buildings imported from Germany. They’re situated now on Tower Street, giving them more room to stretch out, creating a more natural feel.
Split about evenly between food and merchandise, the booths house everything from German-made nutcrackers, ornaments and wooden toys to foods like lebkuchen (gingerbread), marzipan and glühwein, (a traditional mulled wine).
The market’s calendar included yet again a kickoff visit from the Nuremberg Christkind, or Christchild, a blonde-haired young woman from Atlanta’s German sister city of 20 years. Nearly every day features a new musical performance. The market launched Nov. 23 and lasts through Dec. 23. (Dec. 20 will include a special appearance by Major League Soccer champion Atlanta United‘s duo of German players, Julian Gressel and Kevin Kratz.)
The idea was conceived by the German-American Cultural Foundation in Atlanta, a nonprofit that works largely behind the scenes to promote German language and culture, fostering educational exchanges and apprenticeships. The market mimics the traditional Christmas markets that originated in Atlanta’s sister city of Nuremberg in the 17th century and now have popped up all over that country and around the world.
“It’s a piece of home, and the German community, which is more than 60,000 already in Atlanta, they like to explain a little bit about their culture, just like everyone else,” said Michaela Schulze, executive director of the foundation.
But the market is also a fundraiser, which helps the foundation back a variety of other programs and organizations like the Goethe-Zentrum, a local German language institute that has been a fixture in Atlanta for 40-plus years.
For the German expat community, business and culture are often intertwined. The foundation gets much of its funding from companies like Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Bestar Steel, United Soft Plastics and more. Kuehne & Nagel is this year’s primary sponsor for the market.
Those and 300 other German companies in Georgia have a vested interest in presenting a strong image of their country to the world. And the market is growing just as the German government is engaged in an effort to aiming to better explain the benefits of bilateral ties to the American public through the Year of German-American Friendship, or Deutschlandjahr USA. Germany’s new consul general, Heike Fuller, visited Atlantic Station for the market’s opening, which coincided with a Nuremberg delegation celebrating 20 years of sister-city ties with Atlanta.
Learning From Chicago
Not content to be merely one of the top 15 Christkindl markets in the country in just their third year, leaders from the foundation, the City of Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (which manages Centennial Park downtown) sent a delegation to Chicago to learn from what has become the No. 1 such market in the country. Its 20-year head start made it the perfect place for a walkthrough.
“We are in the third year, and when you compare the Chicago market in this stage to the Atlanta Christkindl market, we are exactly on the same path,” said Ms. Schulze, who was struck by how Chicago’s market has kept its character despite scaling up dramatically.
That’s something that Atlanta can’t compromise as it grows, she said.
“I don’t think we will lose any of the German authenticity,” Ms. Schulze said, noting strong demand for booths this year from repeat customers like Bernhard’s German Bakery and Sigikid, along with new entrants like Winterbourne Alpaca (wool products), Master Tea Factory, Mattie’s Chocolate, Woodstock Pretzel Co. and Modern German Lace.
Balancing authenticity with greater commercial impact will be a fine line, but at the very least, the market shows a level of global integration and sophistication that serves as one more arrow in the recruiter’s quiver, Mr. Woodward said.
“Germans’ location decision-making process is driven primarily by business factors – logistics, costs, workforce, etc.,” said John Woodward, senior director for foreign investment at the chamber, who went on the trip. “But it certainly helps to have a vibrant German community present to make the region more attractive to these companies as they enter the U.S.”
Chicago’s market has provided more concrete assistance for companies eyeing the U.S., he added.
“Chicago showed us how some of their market tenants from Germany use the occasion as a means of entering the U.S. market, testing their products for US consumer tastes,” Mr. Woodward said.
While that strategy has paid off with at least a few German relocations, that’s not the only way the markets can bring a city economic benefit. Tourism spending is a major draw and a natural for Atlanta, which welcomed 53 million visitors already last year, Vanessa Ibarra, director of the Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Intertnatioal Affairs, told Global Atlanta. Chicago provided some solid research on just how big the impact can be.
“In 2017, the [Chicago] market attracted 1.3 million visitors and $170 million in total economic activity at the county level. It was also estimated that visitors spent an average of $66 on businesses outside of the market,” Ms. Ibarra said.
It remains to be seen whether Atlantic Station will be able to contain the market’s growth ambitions. It will be hard to beat the foot traffic the outdoor shopping center brings. The Georgia World Congress Center Authority didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story on its posture toward potentially hosting it at Centennial Park.
Ms. Schulze said the organizers are focused more for now on improving the variety of food, crafts and experiences that can be had. Chicago, for instance, had a heated tent serving as a food court that doubles as a rental space for events.
“We don’t have that yet, but that is something that’s on the way,” she said.
In all, the foundation continues to keep the mission front and center: providing a taste of Germany for a metro region where the country’s impact is already huge, and raising money to further that mission in the process. The Atlanta Christkindl Market has a sizable social media following, and people come from as far away as Jacksonville, Fla., or Tennessee just to participate, Ms. Schulze said.
Ms. Ibarra of the City of Atlanta said that’s a sign that the market is becoming a bona fide tradition even in an already diverse city.
“This market offers the chance to admire the great craftsmanship of exceptional vendors and performances by local artists, all while supporting and promoting intercultural awareness between German speaking countries and Atlanta through the arts, educational activities and community events,” she said.
The market has products only from Germany, but from Austria and Switzerland as well.
Read Global Atlanta coverage of the previous two Atlanta Christkindl Markets:
With Help From German Firms, Christkindl Market Expands in Second Year (includes an in-depth look at Nuremberg’s Christkind)
Find out more about exhibitors, hours and more using the links below: