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Der Rathskeller History

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Der Rathskeller is arguably the most famous room of the Wisconsin Union. Der Rathskeller translates from German to “the basement of a town hall” which in Germany is a common place for the public to enjoy refreshments at the end of the day. The hall opened in 1928 as a place for male students to unwind after a long day. In response to Der Rathskeller opening, there was a meeting place set up for women in what is now the Paul Bunyan room in 1934. Women were not allowed into Der Rathskeller until 1941, and they were only permitted after 2:30pm. 

Soon after opening its doors, Der Rathskeller became the social heart of campus. Activities and events took place all weekend for students to enjoy. Every Friday and Saturday night there were dance parties referred to as “danskeller” which cost $0.25 per couple. Der Rathskeller offered everything from silent movie nights, Sunday Sings, to holiday parties.

Being that Der Rathskeller was modeled after German beer halls, it is surprising to note that the Rathskeller did not always serve beer. In 1933, Der Rathskeller sold its first beer making UW Madison the first public university in the United States, to serve beer on campus. There has always been a priority at the Rathskeller to serve local beer, and this continues today. In addition to beer, Der Rathskeller is also known for their music programming. From a juke box in Der Rathskeller’s early days to the live bands of today, music has always been a major program at Der Rath.

For more information about the history of Der Rathskeller click here