Christkindlmarket founder Raimund F. ‘Ray’ Lotter dead at 83
He organized the first of the now-annual German Christmas markets in 1996, at Pioneer Court. It moved in 1997 to Daley Plaza, becoming a traditional stop for many.
Raimund F. “Ray” Lotter, founder of one of Chicago’s most festive celebrations, died Sunday at 83.
He organized the first Christkindlmarket in 1996, when it was at Pioneer Court on North Michigan Avenue. It was moved in 1997 to Daley Plaza and has operated there ever since except for a hiatus last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With its glühwein and tantalizing aromas of roasting nuts, sausages and potato pancakes, the open-air festival and Christmas market has become a tradition that takes the edge off of winter’s encroaching cold and darkness for many Chicagoans.
Mr. Lotter’s death and that of Helmut Jahn mean “Chicago and the Midwest lost two great Germans this week,” said Maren Biester Priebe, chief executive officer of German American Events, which runs Christkindlmarket. “We appreciate their legacies of cultural ties, dedication and accomplishment.”
Mr. Lotter grew up in Würzburg, Germany. At 20, he immigrated to New Jersey, where he had family. He enlisted in the Air Force, spending some of his military service in Colorado, where he loved to ski.
“He and his Air Force buddies helped test out runs at Keystone before Keystone even was a resort,” according to his daughter Monika. “He had us skiing before we could even walk.”
He worked for Montgomery Ward, the old department-store and mail-order chain, in Denver before transferring to Chicago. In Ward’s retailing heyday, he told his family, employees in roller skates would zip around the company’s massive catalog facility to fill orders.
Later, Mr. Lotter worked for a German company, Klafs Sunlight Corporation, which manufactured tanning beds and saunas, and, in 1994, went to work for the German American Chamber of Commerce of the Midwest. He and Peter Flatzek, the business group’s vice president, worked to promote commerce between the United States and Germany.
Part of that was holding a Chicago festival modeled on the famed Christmas market of Nuremberg, Priebe said. Mr. Lotter “ran it, organized and put it together,” she said, inviting merchants from Chicago and Germany to stock the booths at Chicago’s Christkindlmarket with German ornaments, nutcrackers, stollen, pretzels, beer steins and boot-shaped mugs.
He was a descendant of the founder of Lotter-Objekt, a German interior design and fabrication company.
“The first Christkindlmarket booths were manufactured by the family company and put together by hand by dad and two uncles who came over from Germany,” his daughter said.
Though other American cities also hold German Christmas markets, “Ours is the largest and most authentic,” said Kate Bleeker, a director of German American Events.
For his efforts, Mr. Lotter was awarded the Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland — the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany — in 2014.
He met his future wife Dorothea through an outdoorsy sports club at the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center on Western Avenue. At the time, he had a red Porsche that he loved. To pay for the wedding, “He sold it to marry my mom,” their daughter said.
They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in February 2020.
Before he died on Mother’s Day, “He made sure that I bought flowers for her,” their daughter said.
“I was lucky,” his wife said, “to be with him.”
The Lotters raised their family near Irving Park Road and Central Park Avenue. On Saturdays, the kids attended German language school. The couple did their grocery shopping at Delicatessen Meyer on Lincoln Avenue. And he sang with the Rheinischer Verein men’s chorus.
He died at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, where he remained “charming as hell,” his daughter said. “He would always flirt with the nurses and ask for Bavarian beer.”
Mr. Lotter embraced the German attitude of gemutlichkeit, which roughly translates to enjoying good cheer with friends.
“He loved putting on the lederhosen and the hat, and he could yodel anybody’s ear off,” said his daughter, an event planner. “Dad’s business sense and determination and verve for life were really something he instilled in us.”
His son Klaus, a chef at Weber Grill restaurant in Schaumburg, helped open HofbraüHaus Chicago. Mr. Lotter is also survived by his sister Marlene Haberl and brother Ottmar, and he was opa to two grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Kolssak Funeral Home in Wheeling, where a celebration of his life is planned for 11:30 a.m. Friday.