Paul A. Ludtke, singing streetcar operator

December 13, 1992|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

Paul August Ludtke, a leader in the local German-American community but perhaps best remembered as the singing operator of streetcars and buses as they clanged and hissed around Baltimore, died Thursday at St. Agnes Hospital.

Services for Mr. Ludtke, 87, are to be conducted tomorrow at the Zion Church of Baltimore in City Hall Plaza. Burial will be in Woodlawn Cemetery.

Mr. Ludtke was a friend of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, according to gubernatorial aide Pamela Kelly. "The governor remembers Mr. Ludtke as a very special person," Ms. Kelly said. "They met because of his work in Baltimore's German community but Mr. Schaefer thought of him as a very good friend."

Mr. Ludtke was a one-man gang in the city's German-American community. He organized and presided over a local radio show, directed festivals, planned boat and railroad trips and chartered group flights to his homeland. But it was as the colorful operator of the city's old streetcars, and the buses that began to replace them in the late 1940s, that he is remembered by many.

Mr. Ludtke worked many of Baltimore's transit routes, primarily the 22 and 19 lines, during his nearly four decades with the Baltimore Transit Co. and the Mass Transit Administration.

He enjoyed meeting people and often entertained his passengers in song, both in English and German. "He would stop his bus in the middle of the block, open the doors and say hello to you," said Betty Neimann, a longtime friend.

"Paul was truly a Baltimore tradition," Mrs. Neimann said. "Not only would he sing along the routes, he got people on the streetcars and buses to sing along, his favorite being 'I've Been Working on the Railroad.' "

When Mr. Ludtke was 18 years old, he emigrated from Bremen, Germany. He worked on an Eastern Shore farm before moving to Baltimore, and he married Bertha Geiger, whom he had met crossing the Atlantic. They had been wed59 years when Mrs. Ludtke died four years ago.

Mr. Ludtke started the Edelweiss Radio Hour in 1965 and founded the Edelweiss Club a year later. He directed and presided over the radio show for 22 years.

Because his hometown was a port city, he remembered the German sailors who visited Baltimore. In 1936, he extended the hospitality of his Belvedere Avenue home to officers and some crew members of the SMS Emden and continued the practice over the years, concluding with those sailors aboard the tall ship Gorch Foch this past summer.

Mr. Ludtke was a member of the German Society of Maryland for more than 50 years and was active in the Zion Lutheran Church for more than 60 years. He was a leading member of the German Day Committee and held festivals at the old Gwynn Oak and Carlins parks and at Rash Field in the Inner Harbor.

Survivors include two daughters, Elizabeth Ludtke of Baltimore and Anita Druscel of Carlisle, Pa.; and three grandchildren.

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