Regulars remember The Heidelberg

Tuesday, August 19, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:04 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The usual smells of burgers and beer coming from The Olde Heidelberg were replaced Monday morning by smoke and ashes. Staff, regulars and ’Berg alums stared at the scene from across Ninth Street, many in disbelief. Some were on their cell phones, calling friends to tell them the news.

“I was just there,” Lara Langeneckert said.

Nine hours after working what would be her final shift as a waitress at The Heidelberg, Langeneckert, an MU senior, was walking to her daily music lesson. Her shift ended at 12:30 Monday morning. About an hour later, the ’Berg was ablaze.

Langeneckert’s father called her Monday morning after hearing about the fire.

“I didn’t think it was real, I thought it was just a small fire,” she said.

When Charlie Hamill finished a night of bartending at The Heidelberg at 12:45 a.m., he didn’t expect to be back until his Wednesday night shift. Instead, Hamill arrived on the scene Monday morning as most of the fire engines were leaving.

“When you’ve been somewhere for so long, it’s tough,” said Hamill, who has been working at the ’Berg since 1997. “There was numbness when I found out, then I started crying.”

Hamill’s brother and sister have also worked at the local landmark, and he said he used his family connections to get the job. But for Hamill, the ’Berg was more than a place where he earned his paycheck — he celebrated his 21st birthday and his college graduation, and met his girlfriend there.

“Now I’m just glad to have been one of the last people at the old ’Berg,” he said.

Anyone who felt a sentimental attachment to the building spoke of the good times inside and good memories.

“I’ve been here 33 years. It’s been a landmark, a place that everyone knew about, always popular,” said William Clary, who brought his young son to see the damage. “I’ve watched some Final Four games there.”

However, the ’Berg was not just a place to celebrate major events. It was a regular meeting place for friends, family and co-workers.

“It feels like a real community, like the ‘Cheers’ bar,” said Erin Tuttle, an MU student. “After every theater event or play we would all come here.”

After work was when Jacquelyn Benson, an MU student, said she would usually come. Anne Boynton said she had lunch at the ’Berg in between classes all the time. Both were at the ’Berg Sunday night.

Best friends Hilarie Jennings and Jamie Obert met at The Heidelberg and came almost every Sunday after sorority meetings.

“After initiation this is where we come, and now we won’t be able to come here any more,” Jennings said.

For seven years, Eric Parsons has been coming to the ’Berg, mostly with the math department.

Lori Bemis and a group of co-workers at MU Accounting Services used to eat at the ’Berg every day for lunch.

“They know what we drink. Our table is right over there,” Bemis said as she pointed to the northwest corner of the charred building where a window seat once was.

Marla Germann remembers the long and skinny original structure from the 1960s. Her husband had been coming to the ’Berg every Thursday night for the past 15 to 20 years.

“What’s he going to do now?” Germann asked.

Langeneckert started working as a waitress at the ’Berg in May. Before that, she was a customer.

“I kept pestering the manager until he gave me a job,” she said. “You don’t usually hang out in the same place where you work, but I used to come here when I wasn’t working.”

Rusty Walls, son of owner Dick Walls, started washing dishes at the ’Berg when he was 12. He has worked at the landmark for 24 years.

“It’s like losing a friend,” Walls said.

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