Straight from the source

At one Bal­ti­more church, Christmas mar­ket means tra­di­tional Ger­man treats

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Jac­ques Kelly

A vis­i­tor from Ti­mo­nium of­fered her en­dorse­ment of the Christmas mar­ket she vis­ited at City Hall Plaza in down­town Bal­ti­more.

“It’s a lit­tle bit over­cast, like Ger­man winter weather,” Chris­tine Nay­lor said. “And the tem­per­a­ture is just about right, too.”

She stood in Zion Lutheran Church’s gar­den at Lex­ing­ton and Hol­l­i­day streets near Bal­ti­more’s City Hall along with other pa­tient lunch-seekers. They ea­gerly awaited a pa­per cup filled with la­dles of goulash soup, a pep­pery an­ti­dote to a chilly, late Novem­ber Satur­day morn­ing.

The rep­u­ta­tion of the church’s Christkind­l­markt, or Christmas Mar­ket, is well es­tab­lished.

Though the doors to the mar­ket-bazaar opened at 10 a.m., a line formed a lit­tle be­fore 9. There was still a queue at noon ready to as­cend a flight of stairs leading to a church hall trans­formed into a Ger­man del­i­ca­cies em­po­rium. The mar­ket continues Sun­day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“You can’t have a mar­ket with­out a brass band play­ing Christmas songs,” said Anke Deibler, Zion’s co-pas­tor, who shares the his­toric con­gre­ga­tion’s pul­pit with her hus­band, Eric. She opened the morn­ing with a bright ver­sion of “O Come All Ye Faith­ful” (Her­bei, o ihr Gläu­bi­gen) with brass play­ers re­cruited from Cal­vary Lutheran Church in Mount Airy.

The mu­sic was ear-fill­ing and at­mo­spheric, but those at the mar­ket said they were not there to hear “Silent Night.”

“I can out­sell any­body in Bal­ti­more when it comes to price,” said Hans St­ef­fen, a mem­ber of the Bal­ti­more Kick­ers, a soc­cer or­ga­ni­za­tion founded in 1953 that co-pro­duces the mar­ket. “I used to work for the Ger­man mil­i­tary and I deal with three dif­fer­ent food whole­salers. Our stuff is fresh. We rented a U-Haul and drove to pick up our ship­ment in Newcastle, Delaware. We are all re­tired and have the time. We saved $200 in de­liv­ery costs alone.”

He said he and oth­ers in his club were vis­it­ing Ger­man ci­ties and their Christmas mar­kets in 1997 and de­cided to repli­cate one in Bal­ti­more. His club joined with Zion Lutheran Church to have the proper lo­ca­tion.

The church, he said, is well known for its other Ger­man cul­tural out­reach fes­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing its an­nual Oc­to­ber sour beef din­ner.

St­ef­fen pointed to the long ta­bles of pack­aged Ger­man cakes, breads and cook­ies that he buys in bulk from whole­salers based in Ger­many. It’s a ver­sion of Rhineland Costco and his cus­tomers were fill­ing car­tons of with liquor-filled choco­lates and pf­ef­fer­nusse cook­ies redo­lent of anise.

“There’s some real in­ter­na­tional cap­i­tal­ism at work here,” said Bernard “Bernie” Penner, a mem­ber of the Christkind­l­markt committee and the son of the church’s for­mer pas­tor, Friede­mann H.B. Penner.

Penner feels the heart of the mar­ket is a 30-foot-long set of ta­bles hold­ing the fruit bread iced with marzi­pan. It’s known as Dres­d­ner stollen and comes pack­aged in cel­lo­phane or in fancy em­bossed tin boxes.

“Some stores put a pre­mium on th­ese Ger­man del­i­ca­cies, but what we sell here is the real thing and they are cheap,” Penner said.

Carol Smith, a ven­dor who was sell­ing her hand­made an­tique-re­pro­duc­tion hol­i­day cards and or­na­ments, said she heard about the mar­ket from a clerk at a fancy North Bal­ti­more gro­cery store.

“She took me aside and whis­pered, ‘Go to Zion,’ ” Smith said. “This is the place to come; that’s why the line is so long. People come for the rea­son­able prices, too.”

Shop­pers picked up tins of canned her­ring and jars of Ger­man red cab­bage and sauer­kraut at the ad­join­ing gro­cery table.

Some, like Terry Pra­js­ner, bought the spicy mus­tard that he im­me­di­ately slathered over a bauern­wurst sand­wich he bought from a stall on the Gay Street side of the church grounds. Oth­ers en­joyed a beer on tap or a mulled wine.

“It’s a good crowd this year, bet­ter than usual,” Pra­js­ner said. “When­ever the weather is good and the wind isn’t blow­ing, they turn up.”

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Gary Baker, of Bethesda, holds pack­ages of the can­dies that he re­mem­bers from his days as a child in Stuttgart, Ger­many, and smiles at Tessa Hall, of Bethesda, as they stand in the check­out line at Zion Lutheran Church's Christkind­l­markt.

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