On Friday, Midtown Lunch brought sad news that Rolf Babiel had died of cancer, and that his brother Wolfgang is operating the Hallo Berlin cart on a day-to-day basis. Grub Street mourns the passing of anyone involved in the hot-dog trade (whether it’s Ben Ali or Oscar G. Mayer), but Uncle Rolf was truly one of a kind, and a moment of appreciation is in order. According to a Daily News obit, Babiel was born in Germany in 1952, and was a machinist and milk deliveryman before he immigrated to the States in 1981 and opened the Hallo Berlin cart outside of Lufthansa Headquarters. A Post item about the cart’s Vendy win in 2005 revealed that he came to New York with $500 in his pocket and made $14 on his first day of work.
Day in and day out for over 25 years ("That’s like 192 in street-cart years," Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld pointed out), Rolf manned the cart (which he outfitted with wacky signs and decorations promoting his various specials) while cracking jokes with customers who lined up and down the block. He was a tireless champion of what he called German comfort food, and he was endearingly irreverent: He once confessed to Vendor TV that he had hooked up in the storeroom of one of his restaurants.
Hallo Berlin’s Wikipedia entry seems to have been updated by a family member and assures, “The Hallo Berlin Legacy will live on through his wife Bernadette and his two sons Peter and Alex Babiel.” We’ll be thinking of the mustachioed meat man next time we down rollmops and smokebeer.