On the corner of Michigan Street, just across from bustling Mass Ave, sits a strange red brick building.
It looks like the lovechild of a haunted house and a church, and comes complete with its own turret. But even more surprising than the Athenaeum’s German Revival architecture is what’s inside. After all, there aren’t many places where you can catch a live theater performance, eat the best schnitzel this side of Munich and polka the night away.
Built in 1894, what we now call the Athenaeum was originally known as Das Deutsche Haus (the German House). The sprawling building served as the epicenter of Indianapolis’ thriving German immigrant community, offering new arrivals a taste of home.
Today, it still houses the Indiana German Heritage Society. But even if you don’t have a drop of German blood, you won’t be bored at this beautiful downtown landmark.
- Take a Tour: Free tours are available the third Saturday of every month at 1 p.m. Tours start in the lobby and are led by trained docents. You’ll explore the nooks and crannies of the building while learning about the structure’s rich history, including its connection to Indianapolis author Kurt Vonnegut (his grandfather helped design the building) and how the Athenaeum once housed the country’s oldest college of physical education. Call 317-655-2755 to confirm tour dates.
- Try the Schnitzel: I’ve never been to Germany, but I sure hope it’s exactly like the Rathskeller Restaurant, with its dark wood, big portions and raucous Biergarten. Try the Jäegerschnitzel, an insanely rich breaded pork cutlet topped with mushroom red wine sauce, and then head to the outdoor Biergarten for an authentic German brew. On summer nights, you can hear music from local and national performers, including Indy’s own Polkaboy.
- Catch a Show: The sweeping staircases and red velvet settees of the Athenaeum Theatre’s lobby will send you hurtling back in time, while the upstairs performance hall is a little jewel box of a theater. You never know what you’ll find in the cabaret-style theater, but now through July 21, you can catch local theater company BOBDIREX’s production of Cabaret. The classic musical about the underbelly of Berlin in the heady days before World War II is even more poignant in a building steeped in German history. Tickets $22; not appropriate for children.
The Athenaeum is a monument to Indianapolis’ cultural diversity, commitment to the arts and love of great food.
Stop by for a bite, a pint, history and music while you’re visiting Indy. Prost!