Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 22, 2003

The spirit of Christmas lives in a miniature yuletide village

By David Cox

Within the town of New Germany lies another village; a miniature world that appears for a few short weeks each year, shines brightly and then disappears into its original boxes.

The village offers a view into the spirit of a magical season and the history of a family.

"My wife Lois started it on one shelf in the China cabinet," Jim Pawelk explained. "We added a piece here and there, and as the years went by, it just kept getting bigger."

After nearly two decades of progress, the village now takes up a third of Pawelk's living room, and spills over onto another table in his breezeway.

"Half of the furniture is now down in the basement to make room for it," he said.

He is quick to point out that this is a family project. His son Kevin and daughter Cheryl Stahlke are enthusiastic participants.

The first glimpse of the village is enough to make one pause to take it all in. It covers the entire end of the living room and wraps around the visitor, down one wall. It sits on white-skirted tables accented by groups of live poinsettias.

In front of the window is a real Christmas tree covered in red ribbons and surrounded by a miniature railway. Around the tree is a fire department, a farm scene, and a skating rink where figures move around the ice to the sound of holiday music.

Along the back of the room is a progression of scenes from a schoolhouse to a ski lodge. There are mountains and a waterfall. There are groups of skaters on ponds and carolers in horse-drawn sleighs.

Each piece has a story. They have been collected from several states and there are even some from Germany.

The Pawelks do not confine themselves to one specific collection. "If we see something we like and it fits, we get it," Stahlke said.

The one theme that runs throughout the display is the old time feel.

All of the elements have to fit with that era, although Stahlke did confess to two "modern" pieces, a truck and a tractor in the farm scene.

It takes at least two weekends to give the village life. The process starts with moving the furniture and laying out all of the houses on one table and the figurines on another. Each piece is carefully dusted with a paintbrush every time it is taken out or put away.

"The thing that keeps it interesting is that it is never the same," Stahlke explained. "Nothing is set in concrete. Every year I start with one house and build from there."

Kevin built the tables and is in charge of setting up the larger items and keeping track of the multitude of power cords. He also makes an annual trip to Becker to cut trees for the family.

When they are setting up the village, everything happens in steps.

"It all has to flow," Cheryl explained. After the buildings are set up they add the figurines and two kinds of snow to reflect the light.

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