There is no building in Indianapolis with the name of Vonnegut so prominent in its history, than Das Deutsche Haus. Clemens Vonnegut Sr. was one of the co-founders of the city’s first Turnverein (German Gymnastic Society) in 1851. The Turners were active participants in the German Revolution of 1848 and as reformers in America. Clemens Jr. was an officer in the Stock Association that built, owned, and operated Das Deutsche Haus. Bernard designed the clubhouse and his brothers, George and Franklin, were active as gymnastic instructors and in leadership of the national organization of German gymnastic societies, the Nordamerikanischer Turnerbund. Bernard designed the building guided by the Turner motto Mens Sana in Corpore Sano (a sound mind in a sound body). It serves the culture of the body and the mind. The Athenaeum Foundation has owned the building since 1991. The master work of Bernard and a monument to the name Vonnegut, this German Renaissance Revival Turner hall is a National Historic Landmark.
Designed by Bernard Vonnegut of Vonnegut & Bohn, it was designed and built in two phases. The east wing was constructed 1893-94, and the west wing in 1897-98. It was originally named Das Deutsche Haus, the German House. This is a Turner hall, equipped with a gymnasium, bowling alleys, meeting rooms, ball and concert hall, auditorium, library, bicycle room, tavern, restaurant, and summer garden. On George Washington’s Birthday, 1918, the building was renamed the “Athenaeum” because of the hatred of all things German during World War I. In the Rathskeller is the Vonnegut Room with a portrait of Clemens and a bust of Kurt. The bronze bust is the work of Mary K. Weide. The inscription reads “Presented by His 1940 Shortridge High School Class to the Athenaeum, June 17, 2000.” Sculptress Weide also created the bust of Vonnegut in the Indianapolis Public Library. Explore the building and see the “Germans of Indianapolis” exhibit.
Cover image: Paul Sableman, CC-BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.