Oktoberfest in Helen, Georgia

One of my favourite Georgia getaways is Helen, Georgia. Less than two hours away from Atlanta, the city sits close to the Chattahoochee River and is home to the annual Oktoberfest. Why? The city is modeled after a small Bavarian town.

And while I’ve never made it to Helen during Oktoberfest, I enjoyed this profile of the city (published about two years ago).

On the declining economy of Helen:

The one sound the hills have not been alive with lately, though, is the music of cash registers. As tourism and construction falter everywhere in this straitened economy, Helen grapples with a $200,000 deficit in its general fund; rows of shuttered gingerbread storefronts that look as haunted and darkling as something out of Grimm’s fairytales; changing blue laws on alcohol sales that have realigned the area’s tippling privileges; and a police force—patrolling in cruisers labeled “Polizei”—that has a reputation for rounding up hapless revelers with all of the sweeping efficiency implicit in that German spelling.

And what’s an Oktoberfest without beer (bier)? But believe it or not, Helen used to be a dry town:

By 1977, liquor sales by the glass and bottle were legalized. Helen became the only soaking “wet” spot for the hard stuff, as well as beer and wine, in the northeast Georgia mountains. The rest of surrounding White County, including Cleveland, the county seat, remained staunchly dry.

Fun paragraph describing the city:

 So the city serves as a sort of geographic id for intensely vital Scots-Irish characters who are governed by the countervailing forces of the church and that ancient Celtic impulse to go wild, to kick ass, to self-destruct. Among the sepia-toned, old-timey costume photos displayed in the window of a souvenir photography studio are shots of an adorable baby—snuggling with a bottle of Jack Daniels in front of a Confederate flag backdrop. Despite the cultural homogenization of recent years, that old Saturday night/Sunday morning dialectic of Southern life persists.

(via @JustinHeckert, an Atlanta-based writer)

On Living in Atlanta

Atlanta has been my home for most of my life. It’s a massive, sprawling city unlike any I’ve lived or visited in the world.

In the latest issue of More Intelligent Life, a correspondent for The Economist, Jon Fasman, reminisces about living in Atlanta, after having lived in New York City, Washington D.C., Hong Kong, London, and Moscow (Russia). It’s a great read.

Ah, the big ice storm in February of this year which shut the city down:

The weekend after we moved down, it snowed. Not much—an inch or two over a full day—but it shut the city down. Something similar but worse happened this year: a three-inch storm coupled with a week of below-freezing temperatures shut the city down for nearly a week.

I like this comparison:

Different cities are suited to different seasons: a few years back I was posted to Moscow, which blooms in the winter and wilts in summer. New York’s summer days are repulsive—walking outside feels like swimming through garbage soup—but there is no place I’d rather spend a summer evening. Atlanta is built for spring and fall—the pleasant seasons, and Atlanta is a profoundly pleasant city. 

Vivid descriptions in this paragraph. Though I suspect you can extend the relaxation into the weekends in Atlanta (at least, in my view, more so than you would in New York City):

That is not as easy as it seems. New York is thrilling, Hong Kong a marvel of density, Moscow the closest a city can get to a cocaine level of jitteriness and excitement, London endless: I love all four places, but I would never describe them as pleasant. They are none of them as comfortable and human-scaled as Atlanta. Social life just sort of happens here. In New York and London my calendar filled up weeks in advance; here it is not unusual to look forward to a relaxing, empty weekend on Thursday and then find that Saturday and Sunday are frantic.

Lastly, I have to agree with the author’s assessment here. Atlanta has terrible traffic (I believe Atlantans spend more time in traffic getting to their jobs than anywhere else in the country), our public transportation system (MARTA) is severely limited, and schools ITP aren’t on the same level as those OTP.

 Atlantans divide the area into “ITP” and “OTP”—Inside the Perimeter and Outside the Perimeter, the highway that rings the city and its closest suburbs. Most of the area’s population is O; most of its charms are decidedly I. One quirk of Atlanta’s development is that urban areas like mine feel rather rustic, while suburbs that were rural 30 years ago are now strip-malled, parking-lotted and planned-communitied into blacktopped uniformity. For all its charms, Atlanta provides an object lesson for mid-sized cities today in how not to grow. It sprawls, it really does have bad traffic, and thanks to a befuddling stew of overlapping city and county governments, it has negligible public transport and dysfunctional state schools. Better to treat the perimeter as a national border, and cross it only on trips abroad.

Do read the whole article and don’t miss the solid recommendations on what to do/see at the bottom of the piece.

If you’re a native to Atlanta, what’s your opinion on the author’s take of Atlanta? If you’ve only visited Atlanta, how does it differ from other cities you’ve visited?