Four easy words might help revive a city's charm


The father, a German refugee named William Haussner landed in East Baltimore and fell madly in love with the neighborhood. The daughter says he'd have given his life for this city. So would she. The problem is this: We are now killing ourselves, instead of living with each other.

The father opened a restaurant 67 years ago, which lives to this day. It is a landmark called Haussner's, of which no further explanation is necessary. The daughter, Francie George, now owns it.

It is a mecca for those who treasure tasty food in substantial amounts, for those charmed by the lush paintings that blanket all available wall space, for those who come from out of town and want a feel for Baltimore.

Only now, says Francie George, the out-of-towners are feeling a little hesitant to come here, for reasons put into their heads by Baltimoreans.

"The first time I heard it," she was saying last week, "was from a man from San Francisco. He said a policeman here gave him a lecture on how dangerous it is to be in Baltimore.

"The guy said he had a business meeting here and then wanted to come to Haussner's, which friends back in San Francisco had told him about. The officer said, 'Stay in your room. Just do your meeting and leave. The streets are too dangerous here.' "

This, she says, is not an isolated example. Francie George likes to table-hop, to schmooze with customers and make them feel comfortable. But there are days spent defending her city to tourists who say they've ventured out of the Inner Harbor area despite warnings from police, or cabbies or hotel personnel.

"In the last year," she says now, "we've had a bunch of times where people came here straight from the airport, even though their cabbies have told them, 'You want to go straight to your hotel and stay there.'

"We've turned on ourselves. It's a symptom. Can't you hear the frustration in the policeman's voice, warning people? Or the newspapers," she says, holding up a Maryland section of this ZTC newspaper with a photograph of a homicide victim sprawled in front of some rowhouse steps.

"We had a lady from New Zealand one night," she says, "with a copy of a newspaper article about children being shot in Baltimore." Her eyes go very wide. "I mean, my God, it made it to New Zealand."

Some of this is unavoidable: Homicide statistics do not lie, and to minimize the reality of crime is to lend false security. But perspective is needed. In large areas of Baltimore, including the Highlandtown of Haussner's, it is still comfortable to walk about.

Just a few blocks from Haussner's, for example, is the venerable Patterson Park, filled on spring and summer evenings with ballplayers and bicycle riders and children playing tag and Frisbee-throwers and strolling sweethearts and those who merely sit on lawn chairs and watch the glad proceedings.

So Francie George got an idea: The city needs a new slogan.

Simplistic? Absolutely.

Naive? Maybe not.

Remember a mayor named William Donald Schaefer? He took over this city two decades ago, when it had utterly run out of life, and conned everybody into thinking we were still kicking.

"Baltimore is best," he sloganeered. At first, people laughed at him. But he kept saying it, and building awards programs around and painting it on benches and so forth, and after a while a few people started going along with it, until it began building on itself, like a wave that kept going.

The lie became the father to a brief truth, which we are now losing once again.

So Francie George thinks a new slogan would help, and she happens to have it sitting in the front lobby of her restaurant:

"We're Glad You're Here."

It happens to be the motto of the National Restaurant Association, but that organization's executive director, William Fisher, says he'd be thrilled to see a city like Baltimore adopt it as its own motto.

"What's nice," Francie George says, "is how it speaks to people who still live in the city and haven't made the move to suburbia, and it also welcomes tourists."

So she's lined up a meeting with Mayor Schmoke, whose own slogan -- The City That Reads -- is well-intended but narrowly focused.

The mayor knows about luring people to his city. Last week, he issued an edict that all new employees hired by the city would have to become city residents within a year. The order had a feel of sadness about it -- as though, having failed to seduce people into Baltimore by our natural charms, we now must bully them into coming.

Francie George thinks the city's still full of charms, which not only the mayor but some police, and some cabbies and some Inner Harbor people are overlooking.

It's not just a slogan she's offering, but a state of mind: If we don't talk kindly about ourselves, who will?

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad