Owner's demise closes Edelweiss

November 28, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,Sun reporter

A few plastic bags of sugar cookies remain on the otherwise bare shelves. A thumbed and stained recipe book rests beside cold ovens. Signs taped to the doors and windows say "Closed."

It's been 12 days since 68-year-old Hamilton baker Dietrich A. Paul died of Lou Gehrig's disease and the doors were locked on his Edelweiss Bakery and Cafe. No more German accordion music, Thursday afternoon sour beef and dumplings sessions and those legendary apple fritters, a confection one food writer called "a misshapen bear claw of bliss."

Seated on a wooden chair yesterday in the cafe was Paul's widow, the former Genevieve Miller. She had converted one of the tables into a desk and filled it with business papers.

"I can't run this place by myself," she said. "The place is for sale."

She then told a story of how they met just across the street at the Calvary Tabernacle Church at a time when both had been widowed. They married nine years ago, and soon afterward their pastor suggested that they buy and renovate a nearby building where the 6000 block of Harford Road joins Old Harford Road.

"I'm of the generation where you do what your husband wants you to do," she said. "And he wanted a bakery of his own."

She said she then "sold my house, my shore home and my boat" to get about $250,000 to buy the building. She was then 70 and she recalled pulling up the carpeting in what had been a real estate office. Her sister made the cheerful curtains for the windows.

She and her husband lived upstairs. "He thought he would work forever," she said, as she lost composure and dissolved into tears. "He never wanted to retire."

By all accounts, her husband delighted in finally owning a bakery-cafe. Food writers and customers discovered his wares - Dresden stollen, apple and cherry strudel and pfeffernuss, a spicy drop cookie made with anise. Some came for his breads, others his tortes and cookies. Soon the place became a rendezvous for the German community.

"Edelweiss resembles a beloved grandmother who still holds on to her Old Country ways," a 2005 Sun article said.

"It's a real shame. It was a great hangout," said Alfred Zeller, a German-born Mary Avenue resident who would play the accordion on Thursdays as the cafe filled with those who melt with joy at the sound of the word sauerbraten. (Mrs. Paul, by the way, said she does not care for the dish, but she happily made the soups sold at the cafe.)

"I heard the news on the German radio show: Edelweiss ist geschlossen [Edelweiss is closed]," Mr. Zeller said. "A lot of people will miss that place."

Dietrich Paul was born in Germany and lived south of Berlin. He was an apprentice baker and, after years of training, he became a master baker and signed up in the merchant marine as a ship's baker. He settled in the United States in 1963 and for 17 years had a bakery in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.

He later moved to Maryland and worked for the old Tres Bon bakery on Allegheny Avenue in Towson. After it closed in 1993, he had his own shop in Pasadena - also called Edelweiss - but he complained to friends that the rent was too high. It was then that he and his wife decided to buy the Hamilton building and move their shop.

"He was an exceptional baker," said Mike Hilliard, community relations director of the HARBEL Community Organization. "And he gave back to his community. He made donations to our events and he revitalized that corner by buying a vacant business property. He and his wife made the Edelweiss into a significant asset."

About a year ago, Mr. Paul was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease. It is a progressive degenerative condition that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

His widow said he found that he could not knead bread dough, and eventually he had to quit working. They hired other bakers and kept the bakery open until the day he died.

Mr. Paul is also survived by his two daughters, Nancy Tsagos of White Marsh, who had worked alongside her father in the shop, and Kristina Kimbrel of Cumming, Ga.; a brother, Werner Paul, and a sister, Erika Wittstock, who both live in Germany; and two grandchildren.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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