Pays tribute to Cullman’s German Heritage
In America, Christmas trees usually symbolize the holidays. In Germany, the festive time of year includes a Weihñachts Pyramide, or Christmas Pyramid. Since 2019, the city of Cullman has observed the season with this lofty structure next to the Cullman County Museum to celebrate its German roots.
By Aaron Tanner
At 30 feet tall, the Cullman Christmas Pyramid is the tallest structure of its kind in the United States and resembles a Christmas tree with its stacked decorated sections. Although traditional table-top Pyramids have propellers that spin the tiers by heat from candlelight, the Cullman version turns by an electric motor. “Candle power is not possible with the large version and instead rotates by electricity,” Cullman County Museum Director Drew Green says.
Each of the Pyramid’s five tiers is beautifully decorated with Christmas displays, including nativity scenes, nutcrackers and angels, and a fourth one dedicated to John Cullmann, the founder of the North Alabama city, as a reminder of his hometown of Frankweiler, Germany. “One of the largest groups to immigrate to the United States is Germans,” Green says. “Like Cullman, there are many towns and cities around the United States which were predominantly German for most of their early history.”
Christmas pyramids originated from the Erzgebirge region of Germany in the 1700s as miners looked to make a living in response to the harsh winters and shrinking mining economy through woodworking. “The miners created toys and other household items and became very skilled woodworkers,” Green says. The wooden treasures replaced mining as a source of income that continues today with Christmas Pyramids found in many countries and other rich Christmas traditions found in areas settled by Germans. “The Christmas Pyramid expresses the Erzgebirge woodworking tradition and the love of the craftsmen for their homeland,” Green explains.
Bringing a German touch to Alabama
Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs met with a German couple – who sold merchandise from their native country – about constructing a Christmas Pyramid in 2016 after hearing about a similar attraction in Fredericksburg, Texas, another town founded by Germans. After getting full support from city officials, the couple put Jacobs in touch with the same manufacturer in Germany that made the Christmas Pyramid in Texas and had a Pyramid shipped to Cullman.
Plant representatives traveled from Germany to Cullman and showed city workers how to correctly construct, break down and store the Pyramid’s pieces. “The company sent over workers when it was shipped to assemble it for the first time and to teach city employees how to build it and take it down each season,” Cullman Parks, Recreation, and Sports Tourism Marketing Consultant Jasef Wisener says.
During assembly, Jacobs decided to place the Pyramid in an area known in Cullman as the German Corner by the statue of founder John Cullmann and a replica of Cullmann’s home where the museum is located. His plan had full support from the museum after they considered the prospect of increased visitors who would see the Pyramid while learning about the city’s German history. “Cullman is incredibly proud of our German heritage, and the museum was completely on board with housing the Pyramid,” Wisener says.
Thanks to word of mouth and being spotlighted in national publications, including The New York Times, Cullman has received visitors from across the country to visit the Pyramid during the holidays. “National media has helped a lot with the marketing of the pyramid outside the region,” Wisener explains. The museum also boosted its visitor count, both physically and on its Facebook page, thanks to the Pyramid, and even inspired a German-American couple to visit John Cullmann’s hometown in Germany.
“Having the pyramid has brought many new visitors to the museum to get more information on the pyramid and Cullman’s German heritage,” Green says.
Not even Covid-19 hindered attendance last December, as many spectators saw the Pyramid while participating in other virtual Christmas festivities. “Since the pyramid is located outside in a large open area, the pandemic did not affect visitors who were asked to wear a mask and social distance,” Green says. This holiday season’s goal is to have physical celebrations, including a German Christmas Market, with last year’s safety protocols still in place.
“Hopefully, our Christmas in Cullman experience will be in-person this year and as huge as we planned last year with the pyramid being once again the centerpiece attraction for the season,” Wisener says.
Those viewing the Pyramid seem to enjoy slowing down during the busy holiday season and relishing in its beauty. Green is encouraged that the skyscraping structure will help bring out everyone’s Christmas spirit. “Everyone I talk to when the pyramid is on display seems to become like a child again and bubble with excitement,” he says.ν
For more information on the Pyramid and Cullman’s Christmas plans, visit christmasincullman.com.