When the soup's hot in Locust Point, all streets lead to the corner of Beason and Decatur.
There, in the church kitchen of an old German congregation, dozens of ladies ladle out potato, vegetable, split pea, barley and chicken noodle soup. And thanks to these soup chefs, the 106-year-old Christ Evangelical and Reformed Church has a new roof.
It took a full three years' worth of church suppers, flea markets and bazaars to raise the $40,000 for the asphalt, shingles and labor, but the South Baltimore institution known as "The German Church" is now snug and dry. The Women's Guild came to the rescue.
"We're a small congregation. We maybe get 30 or 35 people here each Sunday. On special occasions, we get 70 or 80. After all, this is a predominantly Catholic neighborhood," says Eveline Craig, who is a member of Christ Evangelical and Reformed Church. She's also in charge of split pea soup production.
The German Church got its name from the nationality of its membership at the time of its founding. For many years the church assisted German immigrants who disembarked from the North German Lloyd Line's steamships, which docked at a pier a few blocks away.
The congregation maintained a building known as the Immigrant House as a temporary residence for the new arrivals. And while there hasn't been a North German Lloyd steamer here for many years, the German Church never lost its gift of hospitality centered in a warm and inviting kitchen.
This past weekend a volunteer force made, served and sold hundreds of bowls of homemade soup at an annual Christmas bazaar that has become famous in South Baltimore. All day Saturday people left the church carrying the soup they would freeze or serve for supper that night. The preferred take-home vessel seemed to be an old plastic crab meat container.
Word of the event has spread throughout the neighborhood. The church ladies mail out postcard announcements, and on the day of the event someone usually posts a small handmade sign on Fort Avenue: "Soup Bazaar." That in itself is sufficient to fill the church's cozy first-floor hall.
An hour after the doors opened, the ladies had crossed the two words "Chicken Noodle" off the menu. Of all the varieties made here, this is the one that most people feel tastes better than grandmother's ever did.
"Usually the noodle soup goes first. It's because we made everything ourselves," said Hope Marston, who is a sister of Eveline Craig and one of the congregation's most active workers. Marston is the bean soup's source. A third sister, Dolores Uzarowski, makes the vegetable.
All three sisters, whose maiden name is Burns, are natives of Locust Point. Their father was an Army officer and from an Army family, and was born at nearby Fort McHenry.
This group of volunteers stirs the pot with friendship, a few laughs and hard work. Anna Voelkel makes the potato soup. Rose Cartwright and Hope Marston made the noodles for the chicken noodle soup.
"We make an egg noodle, roll them out by hand and let them dry. Then we hand cut the sheets of noodle dough," Marston said.
The ladies are proud of their church, a rather plain brick edifice that stands at Beason and Decatur streets, between its busy industrial neighbors, the Amstar (Domino Sugar) and Procter and Gamble plants.
The little church also stands not far away from two other congregations -- the Episcopal Church of the Redemption and the much larger Our Lady of Good Counsel Roman Catholic Church.
Along the way is a grid of streets and their Formstoned houses. Anyone who has not resided in Locust Point for at least 25 years is considered new to the neighborhood.
All three congregations endorse and patronize the others' suppers and bazaars and pool their volunteer labor. As a result, the bread pudding served at one church was made by congregants at another.