Atlas Obscura is organizing trips! Join us on an adventure »
Today Only: 50% off Atlas Obscura books and calendars at Barnes & Noble »
The Perfect Gift for Travelers: Our #1 New York Times® best selling book »

Chicago, Illinois

DANK Haus German American Cultural Center

You can take a class, browse the library, or visit the lavish lair of an international men's humor society. 

DANK Haus Chicago has served as the city’s German-American Cultural Center since 1967. From its location in the historically German neighborhood of Lincoln Square, DANK (which stands for Deutsch Amerikanischer National Kongress, or German American National Congress) hosts hundreds of German-focused classes, exhibits, and events throughout the year that pay homage to Chicago’s rich history of German settlement.

Step inside today and you’ll find many of the building’s most interesting quirks beautifully maintained, like its traditional ballroom, former cafeteria space with German family crests, rooftop terrace, and more. The building, which well-known Chicago architect Paul Gerhardt originally built for the Three Links Association, once housed an upscale men’s social club. The old swimming pool, now unused, even remains in the basement.

As Chicago’s German immigrant populations homogenized within the city, shrinking heritage clubs and societies began to congregate and call the DANK Haus home. Today, in addition to the cultural center’s own programming, numerous small groups meet weekly to watch German-language films, socialize, eat, and even practice their sharpshooting.

Perhaps the most interesting of these groups is the Schlaraffia Club, a medieval-inspired men’s humor society whose Chicago chapter meets seasonally inside the DANK Haus. The members have been given a small, single-purpose room within the building that they’ve decorated lavishly in iconic blood-red castle decor. Due to the extensive, ritualistic initiation process and strict qualifying requirements (members must be men fluent in an antiquated dialect of German), the chapter has dwindled to just a few elderly men (though they are actively recruiting).

Whether you’re visiting Chicago for the first time or live locally, the plethora of offerings at the DANK Haus makes it a perfect, low-cost way to learn about German heritage in the city and beyond.

Know Before You Go

The building is open daily for a litany of classes, programming, and events, many of which are open to the public. Weekly open hours to the library, museum, and gallery are Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.– and that's also a good time to stop by Kino, Kaffee, & Kuchen (Cinema, Coffee, & Cakes). Admission to the building is free; most special events are free or exceptionally reasonable.

For private tours, additional open hours, and other requests, feel free to email the very friendly staff in advance of your visit. Certain gems of the building, such as the Schlaraffia Room and Kaiser Wilhelm portrait room, can only be seen with advance notice.