Gallery Spotlight: DANK-Haus

Erica Peplin

Located in the historically German Lincoln Square neighborhood, DANK-Haus offers daily educational and social programming, aiming to preserve and promote German traditions, heritage, and history. Behind the building’s bold Western Avenue facade, the interior is a complex combination of old-fashioned ornament, modern classrooms, and circuitous hallways. DANK-Haus was originally built in 1927 by the established Chicago architect, Paul Gerhardt, for the Three Links Association, a jolly fellows club. The property was purchased by DANK (Deutsch Amerikanischer National Kongress) in 1967, and in addition to the requisite offices, the six-floor edifice houses a ballroom with skyline views, a commodious gallery space, a library, classrooms for their German language school, and yes, an Olympic-sized lap pool in the lower level.

Through September 2011, the German American Cultural Center’s museum presents “Lost German Chicago,” an featuring a wide array art, artifacts, and memorabilia from within Chicago’s German American community. The breadth of paintings, possessions, and artifacts on display are intended to reveal what has been lost in the Chicago German community while archiving and preserving that which has been entrusted to DANK. The museum space is replete with neat displays of antiquated commodities, all of which are carefully accompanied by informative historical descriptions. Focal points of the exhibit include two ornate wood carvings dedicated by the Germania Club, relics from the Colombian Exposition, and a re-staged tableaux of items from closed-down German restaurants including the original Red Star Inn, Schulien’s Math Igler’s Casino, the Golden Ox, Deli Meyer, and Lincoln Park Turner Hall. The diverse content of “Lost German Chicago” is dispersed between two rooms. The smaller space of the two is almost entirely dedicated to a domineering and illuminated portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm I, the King of Prussia and the man attributed with the unification of Germany and the establishment of the German Empire. If visitors find themselves wandering though the fourth floor corridors, they will find a sequence of framed photographs of early 20th century German-owned storefronts in Chicago.

Ines Meier, my personal tour guide, outlined the wide variety of documents, objects, and personal possessions donated to the center. All of the donations are cataloged, stored, and included in the museum’s collection. Receiving everything from the miscellaneous treasures of immigrants to modern, German-manufactured commercial products, with a smile and a shrug Meier says “people just bring stuff.” For the most part, “we are getting tons of books. A few days ago we got a stroller from the sixties.” With such an eclectic accumulation of culture, the resulting museum is an enlightening, at times eccentric, illustration of German life and history. The “Lost German Chicago” exhibit is free and open to the public every Saturday, 11am to 3pm.

In addition to the museum, the Scharpenberg Gallery hosts rotating exhibits of German and German American artists in a wide range of mediums. As development director Amelia Cotter, stressed, “A major part of what we’re doing has to do with visual arts.” The gallery, partially supported by a grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, is curated by the Fine Arts Committee at DANK-Haus. Previous exhibits have included a compilation of contemporary photography, the work of German artist Dede Handon, and a showcase focusing on German film history. Artists interested in showing are encouraged to send their application to the Fine Arts Committee. Available online for download, applications are reviewed on a rolling basis. Cotter explains, “Generally, we try to get artists from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, German-speaking countries, or German American artists that have photography or art loosely relate to the theme of Germany.”

A photograph a German-owned stores in Chicago on display at DANK-Haus

DANK-Haus is also affiliated with The Chicago Cultural Alliance (CCA). Established in 2007, the CCA is a growing organization of 21 ethnic museums and cultural centers that have been collaborating with The Field Museum since 1998 on the Cultural Connections program. Through joint marketing efforts, the visitors and residents of Chicago can better learn about culturally specific programming taking place city-wide. DANK-Haus offers over 150 public cultural programs a year. From cooking classes to sports nights, a consistent bevy of communal events take place every Friday at 7:30pm. On fourth Friday, the German Cinema Now program screens a free contemporary German film with English subtitles. To satisfy the full film-going experience, popcorn, pretzels, landjäger (a type of German sausage) and a cash bar are provided.

4740 North Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60625