The Cook County Board will introduce a resolution honoring the life of Erich Himmel, a pillar of the German American community for nearly half a century, on Thursday, September 22.
Himmel is known for organizing the music-filled annual “German Day” celebration in Lincoln Square. For 35 years, Himmel also served as the grand marshal of the annual Von Steuben parade celebrating German culture and heritage.
Himmel passed away on Monday, August 29, 2022, at the age of 86.
Cook County Commissioner John Daley will introduce the resolution honoring Himmel’s life at the monthly board meeting. The resolution has been sponsored unanimously by all 17 commissioners.
Himmel’s devotion to German culture was unparalleled. He became president of the Rheinischer Verein Mardi Gras Society, established to celebrate and promote the traditions of Germany, for more than 25 years. For more than three decades, he was also president of the United German American Societies, which includes 35 groups that promote German culture with Oktoberfest celebrations, German singing and folk dancing.
Word about Himmel’s devotion to German culture spread around the world. In 1984 Himmel was awarded Germany’s highest civilian honor from Germany’s president, the Federal Cross of Merit,or Bundesverdienstkreutz, for his contribution to the preservation of German culture in a foreign land.
Himmel was born in Mosbach, Germany, outside of Munich, on January 3, 1936. He met was wife Ingeborg when he was 17. He told her he wanted to wait until he was 30 to marry so she moved to work in Montreal. He decided he loved her so much and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her so he sold his Vespa cycle to buy a ticket for her to return.
They married in 1957 and emigrated to the United States. Their plan was to spend several years working in the U.S. and then return to Germany. Wherever they went, Inge would be with him every step of the way.
They spent several months in New Hampshire before settling down in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. Himmel worked for Volkswagen as a mechanic and later helped open up several VW dealerships in the Chicago area. In 1982 he opened his own auto body business, Erich’s Lehigh Auto Body, in Niles.
Himmel’s daughters, Carol and Diana, opened a pizzeria with a wood-burning oven in Lincoln Square in 2007. Originally called Pizza D.O.C., Himmel lobbied his daughters to add German fare. The Lawrence Avenue restaurant is now called Himmel’s and is a European bistro serving wiener schnitzel – a rarity for a pizzeria.
Himmel and his wife made several trips back to Germany but leaving Chicago for good was out of the question. Chicago was home.
Himmel was described by his family as a friend and confidant to many in and out of the German community with an infectious smile, wonderful sense of humor, huge heart, booming singing voice and a memorable upturned mustache. An evening with Himmel at his namesake restaurant was described as an evening with song and schnapps where there are no strangers.
In addition to his wife and daughters, Himmel is survived by three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Funeral services were held.