Rule No. 1 of the Brandenburger Schützenverein: Shoot first, then drink.
On a recent Wednesday at 8pm, members of the 20-year-old schützenverein (or “marksmen club”) met on the second floor of the DANK Haus German Cultural Center. Friendly German accents mixed with the constant pop of air rifles discharging small-caliber pellets. Just off a ten-meter firing range, where paper targets are retrieved via a clothesline-like manual pulley system, German-American retirees bellied up to a bar stocked with Deutsch brews: Warsteiner, Radeberger, DAB. Little trays of Wheat Thins, generic cheddar crackers and cocktail wieners in brown gravy were set out for snacking. “The senior moments are coming more often,” a gray-haired man complained loudly to other club members at the bar. “Senior moments?” one of the women replied. “More like senior days!”
Over at the range, 70-year-old Herb Wichner was taking aim and talking about the history of marksmen clubs. “For most of us, shooting is a social event, like bowling or fishing or playing cards. We’re carrying on a European tradition, a very German way to socialize: shoot, drink and talk.” Though marksmen clubs are common in Europe, the Brandenburger group claims it’s the only org within city limits, besides the Chicago Police Department, to have an indoor firing range. “We’re getting away with it here because we have approval from the police department,” says member Al Schafer, 76, squinting into his rifle’s sight. “They know there’s no militia starting here.”
Far from it, says Ed Ott, 41, one of the youngest members, who joined to polish his German as well as his aim. The club is badly in need of new, more sprightly members to keep the organization alive, Ott says; though membership stands at a respectable 60 or so, many don’t attend regularly because of health problems. “Up to this point, it’s been a relatively tight group of friends who aren’t concerned with marketing themselves,” he says. “Most people don’t even know we’re here.”
That’s particularly obvious when a couple of DANK Haus German-language students on break from class wander down from the floor above. “This is crazy,” says one of the students, Steve Derosa, 34, gazing wide-eyed at the space. “Where else can you get some target practice and drink some beer?”
Take aim with the Brandenburger Schützenverein on Wednesdays at 8pm at the DANK Haus German Cultural Center (4740 N Western Ave, 773-561-9181). It’s $40 to join, $4 for a night of shooting, $1 for gun rental.