The Athenaeum

Following the failed revolutions of 1848, many Germans emigrated to the United States to escape turmoil. They incorporated aspects of German culture into their lives in the United States. By 1860, 20% of Indianapolis residents came from a German-speaking region in Europe. Germans contributed greatly to the economy and culture of Indiana.

Das Deutsche Haus

The building before you, built in 1898, remains the best preserved example of German architecture in Indianapolis. Named Das Deutsche Haus (The German House) it was designed in the Renaissance Revival style popular in Germany at the time. Both of the architects, Vonnegut and Bohn, trained in Germany and came from German immigrant families themselves. Clearly, the Athenaeum was built to stand out. It projected an impressive image of German culture to the city, and created a space where German immigrants could cultivate their heritage, and share its richness with their community.

The Turners

The Athenaeum was also home to the Social Turnverein. A turnverein, translated roughly as a gymnastics club, was more than just about sports: it promoted “a sound mind in a sound body.” The Turnvereins boasted an active male gymnastics squad and offered classes for women and children. There was also a pool and bowling alleys for member use. During the year, the clubs held exhibitions, where all of the classes artfully demonstrated exercises. After an overture by an accompanying orchestra, audiences witnessed gymnasts springing over the pommel horse, exercising with barbells, dancing, and more. Lectures and debates, often about politics and improving working conditions for laborers, were also held in the building.

In 1907, a Normal College, set up by the Turners’ national governing body, took up permanent residence in the Athenaeum to provide professional training to physical education instructors. It became affiliated with Indiana University in 1941 and led a push to include physical education in the city’s public schools. The site’s athletic focus has continued throughout the years and it now houses the Athenaeum YMCA, one of three YMCAs in downtown Indianapolis.

Lasting German Influence

During WWI, American hysteria against Germans became the norm and, in a backlash against German culture, teaching the German language in schools became illegal. During this period, the Das Deutsche Haus was renamed the Athenaeum. However, in recent years, the site’s German heritage has been renewed. Currently, the building also houses the Athenaeum Foundation, a nonprofit committed to preserving the site’s German American heritage and the “sound mind in a sound body” ideology through programming. It is also home to a popular German restaurant and beer garden, The Rathskeller.

Images

National Turnfest at Das Deutsche Haus, 1905

National Turnfest at Das Deutsche Haus, 1905

Notice the building™s symmetry and classical features like the Roman columns. Arched windows and elaborate craftsmanship around the steep roof are commonly found on Renaissance Revival style buildings. This type of architecture was very popular in Germany at the time, and German immigrants wanted to replicate it in the United States. Image Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. View File Details Page

Runner Statue Celebrating the National Turnfest, 1905

Runner Statue Celebrating the National Turnfest, 1905

Photo Courtesy of IUPUI Special Collections and Archives. | Source: American Turners Collection, IUPUI Special Collections and Archives View File Details Page

Young Women in Das Deutsche Haus Gymnasium, around 1900

Young Women in Das Deutsche Haus Gymnasium, around 1900

Photo Courtesy of IUPUI Special Collections and Archives. | Source: American Turners Collection, IUPUI Special Collections and Archives View File Details Page

Exercising at the Independent Turnverein in Indianapolis, 1914

Exercising at the Independent Turnverein in Indianapolis, 1914

The Independent Turnverein often hosted exercise classes open to the public. Featured here, the female participants are wearing dark bloomers with with tops and dark ties. Also note the sports equipment along the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Photo Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society, W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection. | Source: W.H. Photo Company Collection, | Creator: W.H. Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Massive Outdoor Drill, 1913

Massive Outdoor Drill, 1913

Photo Courtesy of IUPUI Special Collections and Archives. | Source: Athenaeum Turners Collection View File Details Page

Turner Demonstrating Gymnastics, 1946

Turner Demonstrating Gymnastics, 1946

Young Turners of Indianapolis demonstrate their gymnastic skills. Photo Courtesy of IUPUI Special Collections and Archives. | Source: Athenaeum Turners Collection, IUPUI Special Collections and Archives | Creator: Bass Photo Company View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Elena Rippel , “The Athenaeum,” Discover Indiana, accessed September 24, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/46.

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