Last polka nears for Blob's Park

The family-run, German-style beer garden will close this winter after more than 70 years

October 20, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

Sometime soon, the last schnitzel will be fried, the last malty marzen will be poured, and the accordion will grow silent.

Blob's Park, a German-style beer garden that opened on a Jessup farm more than 70 years ago, will close within the coming year, according to manager John Eggerl, making this year's Oktoberfest celebration the last. The cavernous Bavarian-style building, where generations have gathered to hoist a few beers or whirl to rousing polka music, will be demolished to make way for a new development.

"Well, it's sad, but I'm getting too old for this," said Eggerl, 70, who grew up working at the hall, his family's business.

As he stirred a 10-gallon pot of sauerkraut, Eggerl explained that his great-uncle, Max Blob, founded the hall in 1933, when he installed a bowling alley in a small building at his farm.

German immigrants came to the farm to enjoy the food and music of their homeland and speak in their native language.

Blob started out giving away his tangy sour beef and hearty sausages, but as the crowds swelled, he turned his weekly gatherings into a business.

The building has been renovated and expanded several times, and today as many as 600 or 700 people pack the long tables during the traditional Oktoberfest celebration.

On a recent evening, grandparents and grandchildren swayed together on the wooden dance floor to the oompah tunes of the Rheinlanders, and a few hipsters sipped steins of beers at the bar, which is decorated with Hummel figurines and mounted deer heads.

Family feeling

Freda Kaplan of Burtonsville first came to Blob's in 1952, just a year after she and her husband, Croatians who lived briefly in Austria, moved to the United States as displaced people.

"They kept me strong," said Kaplan, 76. "It wasn't just Sunday dancing; it was like a family there."

Max Blob would greet visitors in German and put place cards on the tables with the names of regular customers. By the 1950s, the beer garden attracted recent immigrants from all over Europe, Kaplan recalled.

"There was all kind of people, Russians, Croatians, you name it," she said. "Most of us didn't speak English - all I could say back then was `Coca Cola.'"

After the birth of their first child, the Kaplans would share a table each weekend with another young couple who had a baby about the same age as their son.

The couples would take turns dancing and watching each other's babies, she recalled.

"Most of us didn't have no families," she said. "[Max Blob] made us not be sad."

As Max Blob, a bachelor, grew older, he turned to his niece, Katherine Blob Eggerl, and her husband, John, to run the business.

The Eggerls lived in a white farmhouse next to the hall, and their five children, including the current manager, John Eggerl, worked there while growing up.

Katherine Eggerl, who remarried after her husband died and became Katherine Peters, cooked most of the food and presided as hostess until shortly before her death in April at the age of 89.

Before her death, she arranged to sell the hall and the farmland surrounding it to developers, her son said.

He expects to close Blob's Park this winter, but he has not set a date.

Wear and tear

The beer garden is showing signs of age. A rusted marker at the entrance to the twisting, wooded lane known as Max Blob's Park Road has lost some letters and now proclaims "BLOB'S PA."

The beer hall sits on a hill, surrounded by a large parking lot that gives way to fields. The butter-colored paint is peeling on the Bavarian-style building, and the stucco walls are laced with fine cracks.

Inside, the wood-paneled walls are lined with flags from many countries, newspaper and magazine clippings about the hall, and photos of local German groups.

A black-and-white photo of a smiling Max Blob clutching five steins of beers, a blessing for departing visitors ("Behut Euch Gott" or "God be with you") and a wooden crucifix hang by the door.

Little has changed since the hall was renovated and expanded in 1976, Eggerl said. Two of the more modern touches - a disco ball hanging over the dance floor and a vending machine stocked with candy - seem anachronistic.

Eggerl stocks more than 60 beers behind the bar, including brews from Lithuania, the Czech Republic and, of course, Germany. During Oktoberfest, Spaten beer, extra potent and flavorful, is traditionally served.

At the festival, which continues today and tomorrow, as well as next Friday, Saturday and Sunday, dancers wear traditional German outfits - corsets and flouncy skirts for the women and short leather overalls, lederhosen, for the men - and dance to polka music accented by sighing accordions.

Tiring work

Eggerl, a small-built man who wears dark-framed glasses, bustled around the kitchen yesterday afternoon, stirring steaming pots with a metal ladle.

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