“I knew it would be a good day when the ball of twine sold for $ 8,000,” recalls Richard Opfer with a chuckle.
Twenty years ago, the owner of the auction house Timonium organized the sale of Restaurant Haussner’s unique collection of art, kitsch and cuisine. The beloved German culinary institution’s first high-end mass auction of bronze busts, Whistlers, Rembrandts and Roman sculptures was managed by Sotheby’s in New York, raising more than $ 10 million.
Leftovers: Minor works, old menus, and memorabilia including the epic 825-pound ball of twine – 19 million napkin strings tinkered with bored waitresses over three decades – were donated locally, earning 2 million more dollars.
“It was the most people we have ever had here, before or since. Queues outside, more than 1,000 people, ”explains Opfer, who managed to roll the giant sphere out of Haussner’s house and into a box truck with the help of three assistants. “Never seen anything like it. People just wanted a piece of the place.
For recent arrivals to Baltimore who have missed the restaurant’s nearly three-quarter-century run: Haussner’s was opened on Eastern Avenue in 1926 by William Henry Haussner, a great Bavarian chef who allegedly cooked for Kaiser Wilhelm II before immigrate here. He was joined by his wife, Frances, who also fled Germany during the Depression of the 1920s and ran the house.
Ms Haussner cut a sleek and neat figure at the famous calorie-laden restaurant, and she proved to be the art connoisseur of the family, convincing her skeptical husband that people liked to eat in beautiful spaces. Unsurprisingly, the generously portioned cuisine relied heavily on Teutonic favorites such as sauerbraten, hasenpfeffer, Viennese meatloaf, Wiener schnitzel, and knock-, brat-, liverwurst troika. The strawberry tart, topped with a tower of whipped cream, is missed to this day.
“The new kitchen has moved right over Highlandtown,” said Francie Haussner George, the founders’ daughter, once. At its peak, they served over 1,500 dinners on Saturday nights. In the end, he was still doing over 900. “It was just the right time,” George says of the restaurant closing. The ’80s and’ 90s were tough for Highlandtown, and that was likely factored into the decision.
Today, however, the Highland Haus, a condominium with a garage, sky lounge, dog washing and electric car charging stations, sits atop the old location. A high-end wine and beverage store (kombucha, spiced cider, mead) has opened on the first floor. There’s also a CrossFit gym across the street and yoga studios nearby. Meanwhile, the famous linen twine globe has never been far.
“I told my wife, Debbie, that when I went to the auction, I was willing to go up to $ 15,000 or $ 17,000,” says Bob Gerber, owner of The Antique Man at Fells Point and retired bus mechanic. “I wasn’t going to let him leave Baltimore.”
At first, the big ball turned out to be a tourist attraction for the store, which was profitable, says Gerber, who also owns the huge pink steel pig that hung Joe Siemek’s butcher’s shop on Fleet Street for 79 years. Fells Point alumni may recall that the pig was drawn in neon on a large “Eat Joe’s Meat” sign.
“We bought it to keep it in the neighborhood too,” says Gerber. “I could have sold that pig and that ball of string hundreds of times. They were not for sale.
Today, the main attractions of Ancient Man are a skeleton of the son of Dracula; the body of a 12 foot two-headed man; a four-legged chicken; a severed foot; as well as a religious icon containing a piece of wood of the cross of Jesus. Gerber says people still come by every now and then and tell her they still have a photo, taken when they were kids, sitting on Haussner’s linen rope globe. Now 77, Gerber is in the process of cleaning up inventory himself to move into a smaller store next door.
“Where would I like to see the ball go when I’m done?” For me, the ball of string represents all those waitresses who worked at Haussner for decades. Some for 50 and 60 years. I would like the owners of this condo to put it in their lobby, ”says Gerber. “This is where he belongs. It is a monument. I would love to see him come home.