Christkindlmarket founder Raimund F. ‘Ray’ Lotter, deceased at 83, started the German Chicago Christmas Market now at Daley Plaza
Raimund F. “Ray” Lotter, founder of one of Chicago’s most festive celebrations, died Sunday at the age of 83.
He organized the first Christkindlmarket in 1996, at Pioneer Court on North Michigan Avenue. It was moved in 1997 to Daley Plaza and has operated there since, with the exception of an interruption last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With his glühwein and mouth-watering aromas of roasted nuts, sausage and potato pancakes, the open-air festival and Christmas market has become a tradition that pushes back the overwhelming cold and darkness of winter for many locals from Chicago.
The deaths of Mr Lotter and that of Helmut Jahn mean that “Chicago and the Midwest have lost two great Germans this week,” said Maren Biester Priebe, managing director of German American Events, who runs Christkindlmarket. “We value their heritage of cultural connections, dedication and accomplishment.”
Mr. Lotter grew up in Würzburg, Germany. When he was 20, he immigrated to New Jersey, where he had family. He enlisted in the Air Force, spending part of his military service in Colorado, where he enjoyed skiing.
“He and his Air Force buddies helped test the runways at Keystone even before Keystone was a resort,” according to his daughter Monika. “He made us ski before we could even walk.
He worked for Montgomery Ward, the former department store and mail order chain, in Denver before moving to Chicago. In the heyday of Ward’s retail, he told his family, employees on roller skates would tour the company’s huge catalog to fill orders.
Mr. Lotter later worked for a German company, Klafs Sunlight Corporation, which made tanning beds and saunas, and in 1994 went to work for the German-American Midwestern Chamber of Commerce. He and Peter Flatzek, vice president of the group of companies, have worked to promote trade between the United States and Germany.
Part of that was to organize a festival in Chicago modeled on the famous Nuremberg Christmas market, Priebe said. Mr. Lotter “directed, organized and assembled it,” she said, urging merchants in Chicago and Germany to stock the stalls of the Christkindlmarket in Chicago with German ornaments, nutcrackers, Fly, pretzels, beer mugs and boot-shaped mugs.
He was a descendant of the founder of Lotter-Objekt, a German interior design and manufacturing company.
“The first Christkindlmarket stands were made by the family business and hand assembled by dad and two uncles from Germany,” her daughter said.
Although other American cities also have German Christmas markets, “ours is the biggest and most authentic,” said Kate Bleeker, director of German American Events.
For his efforts, Mr. Lotter received the award Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland – Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany – in 2014.
He met his future wife Dorothea at an outdoor sports club at the German American Cultural Center DANK Haus on Western Avenue. At the time, he had a red Porsche that he loved. To pay for the marriage, “He sold it to marry my mother,” their daughter said.
They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in February 2020.
Before he died on Mother’s Day, “He made sure I bought him flowers,” their daughter said.
“I was lucky,” said his wife, “to be with him.”
The Lotters raised their family near Irving Park Road and Central Park Avenue. On Saturdays the children attended the German language school. The couple shopped at Delicatessen Meyer on Lincoln Avenue. And he sang with the Rheinischer Verein men’s choir.
He died at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, where he remained “charming as hell,” his daughter said. “He always flirted with the nurses and asked for Bavarian beer. “
Mr. Lotter embraced the German attitude of gemutlichkeit, which roughly translates to enjoying a good mood with friends.
“He liked to put the track pants and the hat, and he could yell at anyone, ”his event planner daughter said. “Dad’s business acumen, determination and zest for life was really something he instilled in us. “
His son Klaus, chef at the Weber Grill restaurant in Schaumburg, helped open the HofbraüHaus Chicago. Mr. Lotter is also survived by his sister Marlene Haberl and his brother Ottmar, and he was opa to two grandchildren.
Visitations will be Thursday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Kolssak Funeral Home in Wheeling, where a celebration of his life is scheduled for Friday at 11:30 a.m.