WHILE THE REST of us were busy learning guitar or baking bread during the pandemic, Craig Mince focused on creating “the perfect Christkindlmarkt” for the Athenaeum biergarten. “It’s been on my to-do list since stepping in the door,” says Mince, who became the Athenaeum Foundation president in 2018. “It’s a hole that was missing from downtown.”
He decided that perfection would include working with local artisans to create one-of-a-kind items that will be sold in 12 huts located in the biergarten and adjacent Cleveland Street. He planned for a stage where visitors would hear traditional German folk music and “there would always be some musical component.” He figured the Rathskeller would serve up glühwein—Germany’s favorite Christmas drink—raclette sandwiches, and plenty of sausages, and that it would be decorated to a T, “like walking into Grandma’s house—if Grandma was German.”
Mince had plenty of inspiration to draw from. Christkindlmarkts have been around approximately forever, with the Striezelmarkt in Dresden, Germany, celebrating 588 years in 2022. The website germanyinusa.com lists 60 markets, including Carmel’s, which started in 2017, and one in Ferdinand, in Southern Indiana, that’s celebrating 25 years. “Christmas and the holidays are very important to the German community,” says Mince, whose family has Americanized itself “to the point where there were subtle German flourishes, but it wasn’t passed-down German culture. I think that’s why you see these Christkindlmarkts all over the country—all over the world, really—because there are these pockets of German communities trying to replicate what they had back home in Germany.”
Mince says the Athenaeum is not in competition with Carmel, which last year drew an estimated 400,000 visitors, according to Dan McFeely, president of the Carmel Christkindlmarkt board. “We work well together,” says Mince, noting that the Athenaeum Foundation had run the pretzel hut in Carmel for a few years. “Anything that celebrates German Christmas is good in my book,” McFeely says.
But if everything goes the way Mince hopes, the Athenaeum Christkindlmarkt will grow to a downtown-wide tradition. He’s talked to other venues about expanding at their locations. “If there are two or three other outposts and we all work synergistically, then it becomes one bigger destination Christkindlmarkt.
“And if this is something that can sustain itself, put money back into the local arts economy through the vendor huts, keep the restaurant busy during the holiday season, then it’s a success,” he says. “I really see that as a legacy project. It’s something the city could sustain and do forever. And that’s success for me.”
Athenaeum Christkindlmarkt is open 5–9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays November 25 to December 18.