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My parents come back to life with co-location of Alliance Francaise and Goethe center

By Maria Saporta

How sweet it is. Comme c’est bon.

Earlier this evening, I attended the grand opening of the new home for the Alliance Francaise D’Atlanta and the Goethe Institute Atlanta at Colony Square.

It was a celebration on so many levels.

This is the first time in the United States (if not the world) that the French and German cultural organizations have come together under one roof — showing a spirit of cooperation between two countries that often have been at odds for several centuries.

One of the most uplifting moments of tonight’s celebration was when the French and German flags were raised on two of the flagpoles in front of Colony Square on Peachtree Street.

As the flags began blowing in the wind, musicians played “La Marseillaise” — the French national anthem, and “das Deutschlandlied” — the German national anthem.

Internationally-minded Atlantans filled the plaza in front of Colony Square to mark launch of this one-of-a-kind joint venture that symbolizes a true European union.

About 500 people — from many different nations and cultures — filled the atrium of Colony Square to enjoy food and drinks from both cultures while listening to speeches from dignitaries, witnessing the ribbon-cutting followed by live music.

What an incredible coming together. Both the French and German ambassadors to the United States were in Atlanta today to commemorate this special union (even though the French ambassador had to leave before tonight’s celebration so he could be in Paris on Friday to welcome U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her official visit to France).

Beyond all the fanfare, tonight’s culmination of the Alliance and Goethe meant a great deal to me personally.

Over the past 18 months, the Alliance knew it would be moving from an office building where it had been for the better part of two decades. As a vice president of the board, I had become deeply involved in reviewing the possible options for our new home.

The choices were narrowed down to two. We could move to Buckhead and be co-located with the French Consulate. Or we could move to Colony Square and be co-located with Goethe.

(Earlier on, we had hoped to be part of an international development that would house consulates, trade offices, foreign chambers of commerce and multi-cultural organizations — either on a global scale or as a House of Europe. But pulling off such a development proved to be far too complicated, especially during such economic turmoil).

So we were faced with having to pick Buckhead or Midtown; the French Consulate or Goethe. The debate between the two options threatened to split our board almost down the middle as we struggled to figure out where we belonged and how we could best fulfill our mission to provide French language classes and cultural events to Atlanta and its diverse residents.

Needless to say, I favored Midtown’s Colony Square and the relationship with Goethe. We already had been partnering with Goethe on many cultural events, and we were holding our Saturday classes in the Goethe space because the office building where the Alliance was located was closed on weekends.

Plus, I felt it was critically important that we be in the heart of Atlanta’s arts and cultural district, close to MARTA and accessible to our city’s diverse populations.

More than that, I also had a strong emotional tie to the decision. As I’ve written before, my mother, Nora Nehama Saporta, founded the Ecole de L’Alliance Francaise d’Atlanta back in 1963 with a couple of associates.

I always marveled how Mama, who knew little English when she moved to the United States in the late 1940s, was able to help make such a significant contribution to Atlanta’s multi-cultural offerings after such a short time in the city.

Atlanta was still a Southern town, in every sense of the word. I remember in the 1960s when Mama, Papa, my sister and I would speak to each other in French, Atlantans would stare at us as though we had come from another planet.

Somewhere along the way, Mama and Papa became actively involved with Goethe — developing close friendships with Atlanta’s German community.

For me, that was extraordinary. As Sephardic Jews, both Mama and Papa had been captured by the Germans during World War II. Papa escaped and joined the Greek resistance while Mama and her parents ended up spending an incredibly difficult year in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

I marveled at how Mama and Papa were able to overcome their experiences as Jews in Europe during World War II and open their hearts to the German community in Atlanta. (Papa — Isaac “Ike” Saporta — did have a natural affinity towards Germans because before the war, he had studied architecture in Dresden, and had become fluent in German).

It was about a year ago when the board of the Alliance had to face the moment of truth about our future home. Our decision was made easier because the Colony Square option ended up being about $200,000 less expensive over the 10-year lease.

And after we had voted in favor of joining Goethe at Colony Square, I shared the story of my parents special relationship with the Goethe Institute and how supportive they would have been that we had made this historic decision.

So tonight’s celebration for me was not just the coming together of France and Germany in Atlanta. It was a testament of my parents’ strength to bridge over the worst of human behavior by forging friendships in their quest of becoming global citizens committed to a peaceful world.

Mama and Papa would have been particularly pleased to witness the close collaboration of the Alliance and Goethe, of France and Germany, in their adopted city of Atlanta.

And that makes me feel all warm inside.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Madrugando January 29, 2010 7:35 am

    Thanks for the interesting family history, Maria. Congrats on AF-Atlanta’s new home.Report

  2. John Wickson January 29, 2010 10:29 am

    Very nice to see the story of how AFA Atlanta and Goethe Zentrum-Atlanta came together in a demonstration of European unity, and to provide a model for arts & culture organizations to cooperate to their mutual benefit.Report

  3. Mason Hicks January 29, 2010 3:33 pm

    I witnessed (on live local TV) a little history in the same spirit, shortly after I arrived in Paris, this past October. For the first time in modern history, German Chancelor, Angela Merckel stood at Sarkozy’s side under the Arche de Triumphe, under full military honors for the Armistace Day commemoration. Even though I still felt as a visitor to France at the time(I still do to a lessor degree..), I couldn’t help but be moved by the nature of he event. Thank you for sharing with us the incredible story of your parents.Report

  4. Lisa Frank January 30, 2010 2:02 pm

    Maria: I felt your parents’ impact so strongly when I was new to Atlanta in the late ’70s. I loved taking French class at the Alliance Francaise, and always admired your father’s forward thinking comments at public meetings.

    Congratulations on your role in this authentic and meaningful way Atlanta moves closer to the international city we aspire to be. You carry on their legacy so beautifully. And thanks for sharing the personal side of the story.Report

  5. Kevin Polite February 1, 2010 3:46 pm

    Maria, I agree with you on the importance of both homes being in the heart of the city and close to all the cultural institutions and public transport. As a student of Goethe Zentrum-Atlanta it’s great to be able to take classes in this wonderfully rejuventated space and share the space with AFA Atlanta.Report

  6. BPJ February 5, 2010 10:10 am

    The Alliance Française/Goethe Institute combination is terrific. As a former Alliance student married to a Parisienne, I greatly appreciate the role these organizations play in Atlanta’s cultural life.

    Readers may be interested to know that Atlanta has a French-language theatre company, Théâtre du Rêve, which has been performing in Atlanta since 1996. As far as I can determine, Atlanta is unique in this regard. Several of Atlanta’s best actors (including Carolyn Cook, Chris Kayser, and Park Krausen) are fluent in French, and perform works ranging from Molière to newly commissioned plays. Last year TdR performed a new play in Paris for two weeks, to considerable acclaim. Check out the website: http://www.theatredureve.com.Report


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