Inner west icon: Bratwurst and beer at Tempe's Concordia Club

NEW ERA: The former Tempe Bowling Club is the latest home of the 138-year-old German club.
NEW ERA: The former Tempe Bowling Club is the latest home of the 138-year-old German club.

On a regular weekend at the Concordia Club in Tempe, piled plates of schnitzel, bratwurst, spaetzle and giant pork knuckle parade from the kitchen to buzzing tables of inner west locals, the new backbone of this storied meeting place.

The German word gemutlichkeit is emblazoned along the top of the doorway through which the food streams to the outdoor dining area. It means "feeling of welcomeness", a sentiment that is key to the club's newest lease on life in a tumultuous history marked by glamorous highs and wretched lows.

Twice a month on Sundays there is fruehschoppen - or drinking beer before lunch - with a band and traditional German dancing.

The Concordia Club - which reopens on Friday after lockdown - had its beginnings in the 1880s in a small group of German immigrants who gathered in a home next door to the GPO on George Street to play the card game skat.

In May this year it celebrated its 138th anniversary with a semi-formal, sold-out, $50-a-head ball, special guests including Germany's Deputy Consul General Klaus Steitz.

The club had sadly lost its beloved long-time president Karl-Heinz Fusting earlier in the year; he was farewelled on the floor of State Parliament by local member Jo Haylen, who described him as being the heart and soul of Sydney's German community.

DIG IN: The giant pork knuckle, a signature Concordia Club dish.

DIG IN: The giant pork knuckle, a signature Concordia Club dish.

Skat is still played at the club, And, in the era of Facebook, the club flexes its funny muscle by posting a German word of the week, like dreikasehoch or 'three wheels of cheese tall', used to describe a kid who is no taller than aforementioned cheese but nonetheless is a bit of a know it all.

And it has its first ever female president in Teresa Sonntag, a member for 35 years, whose late husband Willy was himself a former vice-president.

"We are part of the community," Sonntag says of the club.

"German, Swiss and Austrian membership is about one-quarter of the total membership these days. The inner west community - especially families - have come on board and become our new membership base. They make it a rendezvous for their families and friends on weekends."

GRAND DAYS: The clubhouse built in 1912 in Elizabeth Street still stands. Picture: State Library of NSW

GRAND DAYS: The clubhouse built in 1912 in Elizabeth Street still stands. Picture: State Library of NSW

You can still walk around and hear German being spoken, says Sonntag. Twice a month on Sundays there is fruehschoppen - or drinking beer before lunch - with a band and traditional German dancing. Oktoberfest is celebrated every (non-COVID) year, as are other German festivals and traditions.

The no-frills premises in the former Tempe Bowling Club where it all takes place belie the club's grand heydays. The Federation Romanesque clubhouse it built in Elizabeth Street in 1912 had a double skittle alley and one of Sydney's finest dance halls. It still stands as the National Heritage-listed Australian Hall, most famous now for its role in the 1938 Day of Mourning, when Aboriginal activists gathered inside to protest the sesquicentenary of 1788.

But during and after World War I, the club was infamous for its Germanness and many of its members were interned. The focus of virulent anti-German sentiment, it sold up in 1920 and moved to Surry Hills, closing there in 1939 when World War II began.

Post-war, the club "through determination and much hard work", says Sonntag, rebuilt itself and settled for half a century in Stanmore in a sprawling building ultimately bought by Newington College in the noughties. Membership soared to a peak of more than 4000 in those Stanmore decades, but as post-war German immigration dropped in the 1970s, poker machines were introduced to help with revenue.

PROST!: The German beer on tap is among the attractions for locals, the club's new backbone.

PROST!: The German beer on tap is among the attractions for locals, the club's new backbone.

When for financial reasons the club relocated in 2005 to Tempe, its sixth premises, the pokies were left behind. Food is the big drawcard now, along with German beers on tap, and a wide open former bowling green for kids to run around on while their parents drink steiners of Konig Pils on the verandah.

When it opened in 1883, the Concordia Club was decreed as a "German House with Wide Open Doors". Its members missed their homeland but wanted to be part of the community here too, so their twin objectives were to be a meeting place for the German people of Australia, and to build relationships with non-German fellow citizens.

In 2021, says Teresa Sonntag, the club is holding true.

Have something to say? Send a letter to the editor at: editor@innerwestreview.com.au

Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: