Fun keeps dancers coming over generations


April 26, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson

Take perky polkas and schmaltzy waltzes, mix them with heaping plates of spicy sauerbraten and wiener schnitzel, wash it all down with steins of German beer, and you've got a typical Sunday afternoon at Blob's Park.

"Gemutlichkeit!" exclaimed Horst Schroeder, a semi-retired stonemason who emigrated from Germany years ago. "Good times and carefree entertainment. They play the old-time music here. You probably wouldn't even find this place in Germany now; this is what Germany was like in the 1950s."

Blob's goes strong on Friday and Saturday evenings, mostly with a younger crowd, but it's the 1940s and '50s bunch who party on Sundays that illustrate Blob's enduring tradition as one big, happy family.

This little corner of Bavaria was founded in 1933 by Maximilian Blob, known as "Onkel Max," on his 260-acre Jessup farm, as a place where his German friends could congregate to dance, drink beer and enjoy good food and each other.

It still has a magnetic attraction for loyalists.

Mr. Schroeder and his wife, Claudia, a retired Baltimore county teacher, moved to Florida six years ago. But like migrating birds, they return every spring to spend two months in the trailer they keep at the park and dance their weekends away.

"The one thing I missed in Florida was Blob's," Mrs. Schroeder said. "It is unique. I don't know any place like it. Fellowship and friendships here last for years. People bring their newborns, and we watch the kids grow up."

Don and Marie Black moved from Dundalk to near Staunton, Va., two years ago. But they're at Blob's every Sunday, driving nearly four hours each way.

"Just because we're 200 miles away there's no reason to stop coming," said Mr. Black, 59, who is retired from Bethlehem Steel Corp. "It's all family, strictly family. I've never seen a sour time out here."

Dress is thoroughly optional, with suits and ties alongside jeans and T-shirts and a few frilly-skirted square-dance costumes. No one cares, so long as you're having fun. The enthusiasm is infectious.

The emphasis remains German, with celebrations for Shrove Tuesday, May Day and Oktoberfest, but Blob's has become international,said owner Katherine Peters, 73, whose son John Eggerl, 50, is the manager.

"There are probably as many Polish people as German these days, maybe more. We get all kinds of people, from all over," said Mrs. Peters, Onkel Max's niece. "I still like the German music best, though. You can't keep your feet still."

Customers use words like clean,friendly, relaxed, safe and fun to describe Blob's. And it's a place where children are welcome.

On the dance floor, Norma Emily Hurley of Elkridge, Greg and George Matysek of Essex and Rosemarie Meagher of Silver Spring whirled among dancers many years older.

The four teen-agers are members of the Polka Kids, who perform at benefits and ethnic festivals. They come to Blob's Park early on Sundays to practice and stay for the evening's festivities.

The young people also compete in polka competitions. There are different polka styles: "Polish people bounce. Germans are more conservative, they march. We dance Polish style," Norma said.

Lou Wiedel, 60, and his brother, Bob, 58, recalled being brought to the park as toddlers in the 1930s. They are among the many who have continued the tradition with their own families.

"I come every Sunday, and Friday and Saturday, too, if they bring in an out-of-town band," said Bob Wiedel, sipping from the lidded crystal beer stein he keeps at Blob's.

Romance blossoms at Blob's Park, too.

Henry Nowottnick, 78, and his wife, the former Mary Kunkel, 73, met at Blob's more than 40 years ago and remained friends through the decades before marrying nearly four years ago.

"We have lots of friends here, Polish, German, whatever," said Mr. Nowottnick, a retired carpenter and tobacco farmer. "It's a nice clean place and nice people." A sign on their table reads "Reserved for Henry and Mary."

There are no strangers at Blob's -- newcomers are welcomed like kinfolk.

John and Frances Marshall, 61, of Tall Timbers in St. Mary's County, found themselves right at home on their first visit.

"It's a real fun time, a 1940s-type crowd. The wiener schnitzel is like my mother used to make," said the 63-year-old retired dentist. Would he make the trip again? "Oh, hell, yes."

Onkel Max's original beer hall held about 350 people. It burned down in 1958 and was replaced by an open-sided building, called The Pavilion, which is now used for summer parties.

In 1976, Mrs. Peters built a brand-new, air-conditioned festhaus with seats for 1,000 people. The cavernous hall has a large dance floor-- crowded from the moment the doors open -- surrounded by ranks of long tables and chairs.

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