The entrance to Courtroom 600, where the famous Nuremberg Trials were held starting in 1945. A museum will open there in the fall. Organizers have invited U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to attend the opening.

Nuremberg, Germany – When Atlanta organizations hosted a “Europe Day” dinner and reception last month, it seemed that the city knew how to value its overseas partners.

But the same time in Nuremberg, one of Atlanta’s 18 sister cities, little was known about the ceremonies, said Margaret Jankowsky, who leads Atlanta Nürnberg Komitee e.V., or ANKO, an independent organization that promotes cooperation with Atlanta.

Ms. Jankowsky visits Atlanta once a year and has been working on various aspects of the 12-year relationship since 2003. She has helped facilitate many exchanges, including a yearly Atlanta-Nuremberg business conference called “Crossing Bridges” that was postponed in 2009 for lack of funding.

While personal ties have kept the relationship afloat, Atlanta’s city government has been missing in action, Ms. Jankowsky told GlobalAtlanta in Nuremberg.

“We have no contact with any of those people, none,” said Ms. Jankowsky of Mayor Kasim Reed‘s administration. In January Mr. Reed succeeded two-term Mayor Shirley Franklin, who traveled to Nuremberg twice during her eight-year tenure.

Ms. Jankowsky’s frustration is shared by staffers in the Nuremberg Rathaus, or city hall, who told GlobalAtlanta that their friendship with Atlanta – built on business partnerships and a mutual sensitivity for human rights – could be even more vibrant with increased interaction between their governments.

Until June 2008, that wasn’t a problem. Supported by another staffer, Claire McLeveighn was the go-to person for matters relating to Atlanta’s overseas relationships.

But when Ms. Franklin cut hundreds of positions to deal with a rising budget deficit, Ms. McLeveighn’s department of external affairs and international relations was dissolved. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport hired Ms. McLeveighn to perform similar functions, but last week her position was removed as the airport cut 67 jobs and abolished 62 unfilled positions.

Mr. Reed told GlobalAtlanta in an e-mail interview that the $558 million fiscal year 2011 budget he proposed earlier this month has no funds designated for reopening its international affairs department. At the same time, he stressed that a globally engaged city is vital for attracting investment that leads to jobs and cultural diversity that improves quality of life.

“The City of Atlanta is a world-class city, and we must have a government that fully embraces the international community,” said the mayor, who has hosted many inbound delegations, the latest representing the Bahrain Economic Development Board.

The city’s day-to-day international duties have fallen to Kevin Goreham, an unpaid intern who recently graduated with a master’s degree from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is handling the job with direction from Luz Borrero, the city’s deputy chief operating officer.

By contrast, Nuremberg has about 10 paid staffers to manage its international affairs, including 14 relationships it calls “twin cities.” Nuremberg recently awarded scholarships for writers and journalists from 11 of these cities and hosted them for a two-week visit. A Global Atlanta reporter participated in the biennial grant program.

For Nuremberg, situated in the heart of Europe, international engagement is more a need than a luxury. Most of its twin-city links were born out of Germany’s reintegration with the rest of Europe after the devastation of World War II.

Ulrich Maly, Nuremberg’s lord mayor, told GlobalAtlanta that the city takes these relationships “very seriously.” Even facing budget deficits during recent fiscal crises, the lord mayor, who has been in office since 2002, said he didn’t consider cutting the department.

“It’s necessary,” Mr. Maly said flatly when asked why Nuremberg is dedicated to global engagement.

The sister cities aren’t expressly aimed at attracting investment or boosting trade, he said, but openness is key for Nuremberg’s economy. Like Germany in general, Nuremberg relies on exports to the huge EU market and beyond.

But building a global profile has a peripheral (and arguably more important) benefit: redeeming the city’s checkered past. The discrimination that formed the legal basis for the extermination of Jews by the Nazi party was codified here with the Nuremberg Laws. After the war, the Allied Powers held now-famous trials in Nuremberg, where war criminals were first convicted for “crimes against humanity.”

The city was also strategic for Adolf Hitler, who was building a sprawling campus to host Nazi rallies when the war broke out in 1939. Most of his grandiose conceptions were never realized, but their crumbling ruins are reminders of the city’s difficult past.

“Before, the German people wanted to hide away history, but at the same time, we knew that we are part of this history and this history is part of us,” Mr. Maly said. By remembering its errors, Nuremberg is charting the right course for its future, he said.

“We are trying to look forward. We are trying to put the light on other dark sites all over the world where human rights are completely violated,” Mr. Maly said.

Building on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, Atlanta is also working to overcome a rocky, segregated past to become a beacon of civil rights. That shared interest has been a rallying point for the sister-city relationship and a foundation for the affinity between Mr. Maly and Ms. Franklin.

Still, a strong sister city bond can’t solely rely on government, said Kit Prothero, an assistant vice president with East-West Bank in Atlanta who has traveled frequently to Nuremberg. Turnover in city government here will always leave the German side desiring better continuity from its American partner, she said.

“It’s a different democratic system,” said Ms. Prothero, a former professional singer who has performed American songs at Nuremberg’s annual Fourth of July celebration.

Still, sister-city advocates in Atlanta think the city government should act globally with the same intensity as its German partner.

“What Atlanta can learn from Nuremberg is its emphasis on promoting its worldwide profile through investments in its international relationships,” said Teri Simmons, chair of the Atlanta Sister Cities Commission and a long-time advocate of the Nuremberg relationship.

At the same time, sister cities need a business underpinning to survive, said Ms. Simmons, who heads the immigration and German business practices at Arnall Golden Gregory LLP.

Many Nuremberg companies have set up shop in Atlanta. NürnbergMesse, one of the top 20 exhibition companies in the world, put its North American headquarters in Atlanta in 2008.

Other Nuremberg companies with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta include Baumüller Nuermont Corp., which makes and installs factory machinery; IK Hoffman USA Inc., a staffing firm, and Rödl & Partner USA, a consultancy with more than 100 employees in Atlanta.

Such successes show that in addition to cultural benefits, sister cities drive business deals, said Shean Atkins, who chairs the Atlanta-Nuremberg sister city committee.

“I think we can improve [involvement] if we took it a little more seriously and understood the positive impact that these relationships can have with regard to economic development,” said Mr. Atkins, director of community partnerships for the Atlanta Housing Authority.

Mr. Reed says the city is dedicated to that end. He expressed interest in eventually reactivating the dormant international department.

“Moving forward, I am wholly interested in having a robust international relations department, capable of implementing a strategy that promotes Atlanta as an attractive and competitive location for international investment and tourism,” the mayor said.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...