Maybe it's a symptom of my stage in life, maybe it's the knowledge that new and shiny isn't always best, maybe I was just in the mood to see things that have stood the test of time. Whatever the reason, this particular craving was happily satisfied by spending a few hours in Cullman, AL recently.
Cullman was the dream of Col. Johann Gottfried Cullmann, who came to America from Germany in 1866. He started out in Cincinnati, Ohio, but had the idea of establishing a colony for working German immigrants. He heard about the unsettled lands in the south and took a boat to Florence, Alabama. He met with Robert M. Patton, Alabama's governor at the time, and the governor himself furnished the men and horses necessary for Cullmann's exploration. L & N Railroad (then called the South-North Railroad) had just completed a stretch of tracks from Decatur to Montgomery, and Cullmann struck a deal with the railroad's land agent for 349,000 acres provided he did all of the advertising and promotion of the area.
In 1873, the first German families arrived by train to this newly acquired land. In 1874, the citizens voted to incorporate, and they chose the name Cullman, dropping the second "n" from their namesake's surname.
Weiss Cottage, Cullman's oldest house dating back to 1875, was moved to its present spot near the corner of 1st Avenue SE and 4th Street in 1976. According to the plaque, Dr. Weiss lived in the house, had his office in his house, and kept goats in the cellar. He was called a "practical physician and accoucheur" which means male midwife or obstetrician.
Steve and I particularly enjoyed three businesses along 1st Avenue SE.
A TOUCH OF GERMAN
Judy Caples owns the store now. Judy was born in Germany and raised by her mother who was also a German native. When her father moved the family from Birmingham to Cullman, she often shopped at A Touch of German when it was owned by Peggy Grobe. Judy just couldn't bring herself to let the store close, so she bought it in 2018 and is beginning to put her own touches and preferences into the inventory. She'll gladly make a note of anything you're looking for that you can't find on her shelves at the present time.
Here are a few items that caught my attention (and by the way, A Touch of German will repair your cuckoo clock):
I was very interested in the German bread, which is actually flown in (pre-baked and frozen) from Germany every couple of weeks. Judy stocks light and dark rye bread. You simply allow it to thaw overnight, then bake it at 350-degrees for 12-15 minutes. Dense and delicious.
Judy's store also specializes in spices and teas. You owe it to yourself to go in and smell her Vietnamese cinnamon. Oh my.
A Touch of German opened originally in 1979 and became a popular tourist destination, attracting busloads of customers. Because of Cullman's Oktoberfest celebration, it is natural that fall is the high season for this store. Now that Covid is fading into our rearview mirror, Judy plans to expand her hours. For now, she is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
THE DUCHESS BAKERY
The Duchess Bakery, in business since 1939, is two doors down from A Touch of Germany. In May of 2020, the owner announced that he was retiring and closing the business. The people of Cullman were devastated. After all, they had been making their way to this mecca of sweet treats for generations. To everyone's relief and delight, new owners were found, and the bakery reopened to lines of customers all down the sidewalk in mid-July of 2020. Jason and Stephanie Neal and their partner Roger Rich are now the trusted keepers of the recipe and producers of the donuts that were named Best in Alabama. They're even using the same oven that has served Cullmanites so well for so long.
I double-dog dare you to leave without a dozen of the award-winners, or at least a sack of donut holes. By the way, let me just say that Krispy Kreme isn't even close in my opinion. So, so good.
Mary Carter Store, often referred to as "the biggest little store in Cullman," begins at the corner of 1st Avenue SE and 4th Street where the German Bank used to be and encompasses the next three storefronts. The 3rd store was once a Mary Carter Paint franchise, so that's why the store continued the name. Raymond Young, who will turn 82 soon, started the store in 1964. It is run today by Mr. Young, his wife, his brother, and his two sons.
Are you looking for hunting or fishing gear? They've got it. What about a cast-iron skillet, a rubboard, a little red wagon, or a hammer? I even saw a large nut gatherer that caught my eye. :) It wouldn't surprise me a bit to know that their inventory approaches a million different items. Go in. Walk up and down the aisles. Go through the doorways to the next section and the next and the next. I guarantee you'll find something you've been needing or some new gadget you want to try. This is a hardware store on steroids.
CULLMAN HISTORIC DISTRICT
Let Judy at A Touch of German show you the book "If Walls Could Talk" compiled by Dot Graf in 1977. You'll see black and white drawings of some of the longest-standing homes scattered through Cullman's Historic District. Then, let her point out a good route to take using a map. We chose to drive down 4th Street to 9th Avenue SE then wind our way through the streets lined with houses between 9th Avenue and 3rd Avenue. I wish there were signs in front of the houses featured in Dot Graf's books, but we used our imagination and found several we thought had a historic look. In any case, the drive is very nice, and you'll see some beautiful homes.
In keeping with the vintage theme, Steve and I chose to have lunch at Rumors Deli at 601 4th Street SW in Cullman. The deli has been open since 2000, but they relocated to the former Nearen Construction building in 2018. It is a place that is vintage in every sense of the word -- weathered wood and concrete floors, stained glass doors into the restrooms, shelves living the walls, soaring ceilings reminiscent of a warehouse. Ownership changed hands in March of 2021 and is now run by a mother/son team from Houma, Louisiana. They plan to keep the same daytime menu of salads, sandwiches, wraps, and soups but plan to add some Louisiana touches when they expand to evening hours.
Steve ordered a Tattle Tale sandwich with potato salad. I had a half Hearsay sandwich and Taco Soup. We shared a slice of homemade Key Lime Pie (we are rarely able to resist Key Lime Pie). Everything was tasty, and the prices were very reasonable.
I hope you enjoy exploring Cullman. I know firsthand that you'll find interesting shops, friendly people, delicious eats, and a proud heritage.