I remember being 16 years old and it was Father’s Day weekend. My mom told me our whole family was going to this German place that played polka music and had plenty of German fare. Well not too many teenagers are going to be thrilled about the prospect of polka dancing, and I have never liked any kind of Weißwurst, bratwurst, weinerschnitzel, sauerkraut, etc. As much as I love speaking German, watching German films and visiting the German speaking countries, I was not thrilled about this family trip. What I didn’t know was just how much of a fun adventure this outing would be.
The story of Blob’s Park Bavarian Beer Garden began in 1925 when German immigrant Max Blob built a small dance hall and bowling alley for family celebrations on his farm in Jessup, MD. Fellow German-American and Polish-American neighbors frequented the place and over the course of a few years, the place grew in popularity and opened to the public in 1933. Prohibition was over and people could openly drink, dance and enjoy themselves. The site continued to grow over the next several decades. The original dance hall was destroyed by fire in 1958. At that point, Blob’s Park was managed by Katherine Eggerl, Max Blob’s niece who had it rebuilt, and in 1976 a brand new dance hall was constructed to accomodate the ever rising attendance.
Blob’s Park remained in continuous operation until 2007 when John Eggerl, Katherine’s son, was ready to retire. The family agreed to sell the property to a residential developer but with the weak market, the project was halted. It was during this time that John’s brother, Max Eggerl, decided to reopen the iconic site. To the delight of many former patrons, the property was taken off the development chopping block and Blob’s Park officially reopened a year later. Now, it is coming to a close again but not by choice. The Archdiocese of Baltimore owns the land where Blob’s Park sits and plan to demolish the building later this year to make way for a housing development.
But before there was ever a threat of closing…it was June 1998 and I begrudgingly accompanied my grandparents, great-grandmothers, my Aunt Chickie and Uncle Gene, and my younger brothers Matt and Paul, to this Bavarian wonderland. That’s really the best way I could describe what I experienced- a wonderland. There was polka music and the dance floor was packed with people on the dance floor having so much fun. Some were in traditional costume, others were dressed in casual attire but everyone was all there for the same reason- to partake in a piece of German/Polish/American heritage seldom seen outside the walls of this dance hall. Before I knew it, a Polish man (older than my Grandpa) was twirling me around the dance floor and teaching me how to polka. And it was fun! There was something kind of magical about partaking in the music and movement.
It wasn’t long before I was teaching my brothers what I had learned and we were all having a great time together dancing around. No one cared if you weren’t a professional polka dancer, it was just about having fun. But the most exciting part was still to come. Father’s Day weekend was also a time to celebrate the Summer Solstice, and nobody does it better than Blob’s Park. Sonnenwendfeier marks the longest day of the year and is celebrated by many Germans and Scandinavians with a large party around a bonfire. The Blob’s Park version of this party had performances by people in traditional German wear like lederhosen playing saws, alpenhorns and dancing to traditional choreographed dances. All of this led up to the main event….jumping over the bonfire.
It seemed scary and exciting and I couldn’t wait for a chance to do it. A brief invocation kicked things off and girls in German dresses laid various herbs on the fire such as rosemary and lavender. After the roaring fire died down to a lower level, all guests were invited to jump over the fire, either alone or with someone. Legend has it that within the year, various forms of good luck come to those who jump. I think everyone but my great-grandmothers took their turns, and I know my brothers and myself went a few times.
This finale had me hooked. I had more fun than I could have even imagined, and it was the first of many more family Father’s Day/Sonnenwendfeier celebrations at Blob’s Park. I really had hoped to find some old photos of that first visit and even subsequent trips jumping the fire hand in hand with Matt and Paul but the ones I have shared here sum it up pretty well.
That last visit on March 15 was truly bittersweet. The dance hall was packed with hundreds of people hoping to get one last go around the dance floor and partake in a long standing tradition that Blob’s Park has become to so many. Tomorrow marks the very last day Blob’s is open for business. With it goes not just the building itself but one of the few places in the DC/Baltimore area that celebrates an intangible heritage, vanishing by the day and being replaced with big box retailers, chain restaurants and mass housing developments. (Do we really need even more of all that?)
This closing is beyond the control of the Eggerl family and Blob’s Park will be sorely missed by so many whose personal history has become intertwined with everything Blob’s Park represents, but I want to thank them for showing us a great time for so many years.