It’s that time of year when many people dedicate or re-dedicate themselves to healthful living for a New Year’s resolution. According to various reports on the internet, fitness clubs see a 12% to 50% increase in memberships in a typical January, though 50% of those new members will quit by June, and a “considerable” amount of new members stop going to the gym by March.
Advice abounds on how to make exercise a lasting habit, such as making it part of a routine, choosing convenience (like a lunch hour workout), and positive peer pressure (social media or active in-person friends). If those fail to motivate you, how about adding beer and politics to the mix?
Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, the German “father of gymnastics”, promoted the use of now-standard gymnastic equipment such as rings, parallel bars, and the high bar for training and competition in the early 1800s. Turnvereine (gymnastic associations or clubs) spread throughout Germany and were often aligned with the populist movement to unite German states. Many “Turners” were involved in the revolutions of 1848, and following their defeat, many emigrated to the United States. These Forty-Eighters established new Turnvereine in American cities, large and small, though by 1890 Chicago boasted the greatest number of Turnervereine than any other U.S. City.
One such Turnverein was here in Lincoln Park, at 1019 W. Diversey. The Turnverein Lincoln was founded in February 1885 with 32 members and their families. At the time of its founding, the Lincoln Turners offered a full schedule of gymnastics classes for men, women, boys and girls. By the end of 1885, a “singing session” and a “library consisting of hundreds of volumes of scientific and general arts subjects” were also in place, which helped attract new members. In addition, “summer outdoor activity, excursions, nature study courses, and a vacation school” were added to attract new members.
The building shown here was constructed in 1922, and its ground floor housed the Lincoln Turner Café, which offered diners a taste of German food from the old country. And the beer? According to Heinz Broderson, longtime Turner member, the beer was in the “dungeon” (basement) and it was customary for Germans to get together, go to the gym, and “after the gym, you always had a beer and bragged about how well you did.”
We have the Turners to thank for successfully advocating for public parks and physical education in schools, and many fitness clubs now boast bars (juice bars) on site. And if you need beer and politics to help you keep your fitness goals on track, Chicago still offers plenty of opportunities for both, post-workout.
To see postcards and anniversary albums from the Lincoln Turners in our Chicago and Lincoln Park Ephemera collection, visit DePaul Special Collections and Archives in room 314 of the John T. Richardson Library or contact us at libguides.depaul.edu/askspca. The Chicago History Museum holds a more extensive collection on the Lincoln Turners.
Heinz Broderson was interviewed as part of the Lincoln Park Community Research Initiative’s Voices and Visions project. The short documentary, Walls that Talk, focuses on the impact of German immigration on Lincoln Park, and the section on the Lincoln Turner Hall starts around minute 29. You can stream it free on vimeo.