By Tiffeny Owens
The Cullman Times
Two German students have been getting a taste of southern hospitality Cullman-style this month.
Markus Kniehl, 28, and Alicia Lange, 22, of Munich, are stateside to shadow local attorneys and county agriculture extension agents for the summer. Kniehl is awaiting results from his law exams while Lange is pursuing her master’s degree in agriculture management. While in Cullman, the young couple have been introduced to barbecue, sweet tea and fried okra — their personal favorite — and in true southern fashion, several Cullman residents have invited them over for supper.
“Everyone has been very friendly, and I’ve just really enjoyed getting to see normal, everyday life for people here,” Kniehl said. “There’s many more similarities between the two countries, but it’s the little differences that you notice more.”
One of those differences are the litany of storefronts and restaurants in Cullman, compared to the handful of those in the small town where Kniehl grew up, he said.
“The town I’m originally from has a population around 19,000 people and has maybe two restaurants, but no one really ever went there to eat,” he said. “There is so much space here in the United States. Everything is so spread out.”
Another distinction between the two countries is how people get around: Germans take advantage of the omnipresent public transportation options while Cullmanites drive everywhere in their vehicles, he said.
How Kniehl and Lange wound up in Cullman — a city founded by German immigrants and rich in German heritage — is a story that stretches back 30 years ago before the two were born. Jayne Barnett who has opened her home to the couple for their stay said her father, the late Denver Wooten, and Lange’s grandfather, Walter Jucht, found friendship a world away by striking up conversation over their CB radios. Jucht brought his family to Cullman to visit the Wooten family, and the Wootens flew to Germany to stay with the Jucht, Barnett said.
“We’ve always stayed in touch with each other over the years,” Barnett said. “Alicia and her friend Markus were looking for somewhere in the U.S. to do their internships, and we were able to find them two places.”
“They’ve been loving the southern hospitality here in Cullman, and everyone has been extremely friendly,” Barnett said.
Kniehl has been working with attorney Richard Collins while Lange is helping Cullman County Extension Agent Tony Glover. Collins said he’s gotten a lesson in European history and culture by having Kniehl at his law practice. The two have been comparing the differences and similarities between the two countries’ legal systems.
“It’s been great having Markus here. I’ve probably learned more from him than he has from me,” Collins said. “We’ve talked about everything from the different European countries to food and culture.”
Kniehl hopes to practice criminal law in Germany so Collins’ law partner Michael Baggett took Kniehl with him to observe court proceedings at the Cullman County Courthouse recently.
“There’s a lot of pre-trial court appearances with judges that doesn’t happen in Germany,” Kniehl said. “There, attorneys meet together a lot more and discuss things before something goes to the judges.”
Although he’s relished experiencing all things Southern, there are a few things from home that Kniehl said he’s missed.
“Cheese, cheese, cheese,” he said with a laugh. “In Germany, there are so many different kinds of cheeses. It’s the same with bread, we have so many different kinds.”
However, he’s been surprised by the food items that would be considered delicacies in Germany being readily available in the United States.
“Over here, there is a much wider selection of beef, different steaks and cuts, and it’s much cheaper than in Germany,” he said. “I tried ranch salad dressing since I’ve been here, and I love it. I wish I could bring some back home with me.”
Tiffeny Owens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext 135.