History of Deutsches Haus

Since 1977, Deutsches Haus at NYU has provided New Yorkers with a unique forum for cultural, intellectual, and artistic exchange with Germany, Austria, and Switzerland through its three pillars: the language program, the cultural program, and the children's program. It is one of NYU’s prestigious international houses and is a key American institution fostering the understanding and transatlantic dialogue between the U.S. and the German-speaking world. With a diverse and cutting-edge cultural program, Deutsches Haus particularly seeks to expand its outreach to the next generation of global citizens.

Deutsches Haus is located at Washington Mews in the historic Greenwich Village district. In 1977, New York University provided the institution with a house at the corner of a cobblestone alley north of Washington Square Park. The building had originally served as one of the coach houses for the patrician mansions of Washington Square North and was carefully restored according to its original 1821 design. The building had previously housed laboratories of the first NYU Medical School, and later served as the art studio for Paul Manship, who designed the famous Prometheus sculpture at Rockefeller Center. Today this small architectural marvel in the middle of Manhattan forms part of the vibrant community of NYU’s international houses. This unique institution hosts manifold events and activities on only two floors. It offers an exhibition space, an auditorium opening onto a charming, shaded courtyard, and three classrooms. In 1996/97 and again in 2011, the house was renovated and its technological equipment was updated. Volkmar Sander, the founding director of Deutsches Haus, and John Brademas, president of NYU at the time, invested great effort to maintain the original character of this landmark. They received the annual award of the Fine Arts Federation of New York in 1984 for their hard work and dedication.

Volkmar Sander, chair of NYU’s Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures from 1966 to 1972 and again from 1978 to his retirement in 1995, initiated the planning for a German Cultural Center at New York University in the 1960s. He later became the first director of Deutsches Haus. The affiliation with NYU and its location in the lively Greenwich Village neighborhood would place Deutsches Haus at the center of a highly concentrated academic community. The mission of Deutsches Haus has always been to establish a cross-cultural meeting place open to students and the public at large. Fundraising started in 1966 under the aegis of Volkmar Sander. The project received strong support by the cultural division of the West German foreign office with a matching grant of $100,000. By 1976, enough money was available to start the project.

In the late 1970s, Deutsches Haus was commissioned by the Goethe-Institut New York (formerly the Goethe House New York) to offer professional German language courses, open to the general public. The language program has continually grown and developed innovative teaching methods, amongst them a variety of additional courses such as business German, a ‘Meet the Author’-program with Deutsches Haus writers-in-residence, book clubs, film classes, and reading knowledge classes. Our teachers are university-trained educators, well versed in the methodologies and techniques of the contemporary foreign language classroom. A parents’ initiative in 2005 built the ground for the Deutsches Children's Kids Program. It started with a small group of children who were taught German on-site. In fall 2006, the first kids classes open to the public took place.

In 1979, Volkmar Sander started an initiative to establish the Annual German Book Week at Deutsches Haus at NYU, an exhibition of recent publications, as an answer to a decreasing demand of German literature. During this week Deutsches Haus hosted an opening reception, readings, film retrospectives, meetings with editors and publishers, and workshops with translators. Among the participants were Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Max Frisch, Günter Grass, Peter Schneider, Uwe Timm, Martin Walser, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Irving.
The success of these workshops gave Volkmar Sander the idea to publish a comprehensive series of German works in English, called "The German Library". Although a sizable number of titles were translated every year, these books usually appeared in small editions and were soon out of print. Therefore, it seemed important not only to make texts available, but to keep them available. The German Library was designed to provide a representative survey of German-speaking intellectual heritage from the beginnings to the present. The complete series consists of 100 volumes including not only literary works, but also philosophical, scientific, historical, musical, psychological, political, and other humanistic texts.

In addition to the focus on literature, Deutsches Haus at NYU introduced the Elysium Theater Company to New York. Founded in 1983, the company found its first home at Deutsches Haus during its first years. Margret Herzfeld-Sander would regularly introduce the stage readings by contemporary German-speaking playwrights, such as Thomas Bernhard, Tankred Dorst, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Peter Handke, Franz Xaver Kroetz, Heiner Müller, and Botho Strauss.

Since the 1990s, a series of interdisciplinary conferences, some of them in collaboration with German universities, were held at Deutsches Haus. During this time, several smaller workshops were devoted to a range of topics in cultural history. The combination of academic and popular themes earned Deutsches Haus at NYU continuable intellectual recognition.

The literary program gained increasing significance when the writers-in-residence program was founded in 1981, spearheaded by Volkmar Sander with the cooperation and generous financial support by Deutscher Literaturfonds e.V. in Darmstadt. Today it is based on grants for four writers-in-residence every year and has supported young authors and artists from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. A series of publications entitled “Signale aus der Bleecker Street” was printed between 1999 and 2008, documenting this literary project. Apart from the writers-in-residence, Deutsches Haus regularly invites visiting authors and thinkers for lectures, readings, or talks. Among them were such significant authors as Wolf Biermann, Uwe Johnson, Daniel Kehlmann, Bodo Kirchhoff, Sarah Kirsch, Monika Maron, Herta Müller, Luise Rinser, Bernhard Schlink, Maurice Sendak, Johannes Mario Simmel, Peter Sloterdijk, Susan Sontag, Kurt Vonnegut, and Gabriele Wohmann. In 2010, Deutsches Haus, in collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Forum, Deutsches Haus at Columbia University, the German Book Office, the German Consulate General, the Goethe-Institut New York, Pro Helvetia, and the Swiss Consulate General, created the annual Festival Neue Literatur. It aims to give German-speaking authors the opportunity to network and interact with U.S. publishers. During the festival, Deutsches Haus hosts a number of events – among them the popular event The Author's Voice. Furthermore, the cultural program was extended by an additional focus on film and art during the early 2000s. In 2012, Deutsches Haus established a two month fellowship for filmmakers. Each year, the winner of the Viennale Mehrwert Filmpreis is invited to come to New York. Today Deutsches Haus is present on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, runs a Youtube channel, and a blog on Tumblr.

Although Deutsches Haus is a part of New York University, it is a self-supporting organization and therefore dependent on outside funding. The DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) has been one of the major sponsors for many years. In 2007, Deutsches Haus received a $1 million grant from the DAAD in order to support the expansion of the programming to new fields and audiences. Furthermore, a very active Advisory Committee, chaired by Klaus-Peter Statz, is ensuring the quality of the program through individual expertise, personal connections, and personal and corporate funding.

1977–1995         Volkmar Sander

1995–1996         Heidrun Suhr
1996–1997         Avital Ronell 

1997–1999         Rolf Bäumer

1999–2003         Bernd Hüppauf

2004–2005         Friedrich Ulfers

2005–2010         Kathrin DiPaola
2011–2013         Martin Rauchbauer
2014–present      Juliane Camfield

Please also view the video documentation of our panel discussion, Stories of a Haus, on our YouTube channel for more information about the history of Deutsches Haus at NYU.