The first time I saw it, I nearly crashed doing a double take. Had I really just passed a German style half-timbered house on E. Washington Street? A second drive-by confirmed it. The Indianapolis Liederkranz building looks like it was teleported from Germany right into our neighborhood, tucked back from the street between two low-slung street front offices. It’s an Indianapolis secret that I recently had the pleasure to discover.
I’d been driving the streets around the Eastside of Indy for nearly ten years before I ever caught a glimpse of the Liederkranz. I did have an inkling of knowledge regarding Indy’s German heritage, mostly gleaned from obsession with Kurt Vonnegut’s Indianapolis roots, and the fact that the major North-South roads going East out of the city sound German-ish (Franklin, Mitthoeffer, and German Church come to mind). However, Indy’s German roots did not become real to me until I walked into the Liederkranz.
So what is it? For one, it is a very interesting looking building with a well-manicured front lawn. In my conversations with the President of the organization, Cliff Chandler, I learned that the building didn’t always look like that – the wooden beams that really bring out the German charm had been added fairly recently. The building itself is around 106 years old, built in 1911. But the Liederkranz outdates the building by about another 40 years- this year is the 145th anniversary of the Liederkranz.
Historically (since 1872) the Liederkranz has primarily been an organization to preserve German culture through song. In the latter part of the 19th century, a group of German immigrants in Indianapolis decided that they could best preserve the connection to their home country through the organization of a men’s choir. Thus, the Liederkranz was born. That singing tradition has carried on successfully for 145 years and counting.
Loesje Chandler transformed the Liederkranz when she was asked to join the house band as a piano player (along with an accordion player, trumpeter, baritone player, and drummer). After several years of playing along, learning German songs, getting to know the people and the place Loesje somewhat reluctantly (because she didn’t know German) took on the role of Choir Director. This was in 1980; three years prior, she had become the Director of the choir over at Centenary Christian Church, where she met Cliff Chandler (notice the common last names – their fortuitous meeting eventually led to marriage). Loesje, noticing that the Liederkranz lacked a strong tenor section, invited Cliff and a few others to come to the Liederkranz to help out with a few concerts (they were reluctant because they couldn’t speak German). Thirty-seven years later, Cliff is the President of the Liederkranz and Loesje is still the Director.
Cliff grew up on the Eastside, near the 10th street corridor. He had never heard of the Liederkranz. Neither had Loesje before she was asked to join the German band. They both claimed that not many people had heard about it until recently. Credit for the recent acknowledgement of its existence goes to the half-timbering, some new paint, and a new sidewalk and landscaping in the front yard. Increased activity on the Near Eastside and an increased web presence probably contributes to some of the attention, as well.
For their next project, they look forward to securing their own parking – the lot behind them is grass, and Ivy Tech and the Fraternal Order of Police own the spaces to the east and west. The Liederkranz is allowed to use those spaces with permission, but for peace of mind when tenants transition, ease of access when they hold concerts, and control over resurfacing and fixing potholes, they’d really like to secure some of their own spaces.
I say that Loesje transformed the Liederkranz because in the past few years, under her direction, they have added a Damenchor (women’s choir) and a bell choir. They also added a brass band, which is under the direction of Jeff Westfall. Today, the Liederkranz is a robust musical treasure on the Eastside that offers several concerts throughout the year at their magnificent building.
A marked success of the Liederkranz is the steady membership of the choir(s) over the years. When Loesje joined up, there were about 30 to 35 people. Today they estimate just under 30 regular singers since they lost a few when the building became smoke free.
Their yearly Weihnachtskonzert (Christmas concert) regularly sells out, to the point where they now do two concerts in one day to accommodate the interest. The men and women’s choirs as well as the bell choir and brass band all perform at Christmas. This year that concert will be held on December 10th with a matinee beginning at 3pm and an evening concert beginning at 7pm. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here.
On November 4th, take the opportunity to dust off your dancing shoes at the Men’s Fall Konzert und Tanz, where you can partake in a la carte German food, beer, and singing from the Men’s Choir followed by a dance! Click here to learn more.
And on November 18th, get your fill of German food and help the Damenchor celebrate their 20th anniversary at the Liederkranz! The Damenchor Bunter Abend includes a full German dinner and a concert by the Damenchor – learn more here.
The Liederkranz is not just a curiosity that happens to be on the Eastside. It’s an important cultural institution that Eastsiders should be proud to have in our neighborhood. The Liederkranz has something to teach Indy residents both new and established about the history of our city –how we came to be where and how we are today. On top of that, the Liederkranz continues events and programs that are more than a century old, and that build a strong and vibrant community. Sticking around for 145 years is no small feat – here’s to the next century of German food, beer, and music in Indy.