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Thursday, November 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 6.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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Der Stiftskeller murals to be reconstructed after Memorial Union renovation
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Conservators photograph murals in Der Stiftskeller before construction begins.
Credit:Herschel Kissinger

UW-Madison officials know how attached students and alumni are to anything related to Der Rathskeller and Der Stiftskeller -- the murals, the German beer steins and the wooden tables, inlaid with decades of carved graffiti.

Alumni come back to the Union years after graduating to see if they can find the tables where they scratched their initials or name, says Union spokesman Marc Kennedy.

So Union staff are expecting some degree of panic among the thousands of students returning to campus this week when they find most of Der Stiftskeller boarded up tight as part of the Memorial Union renovation. But they say that nearly all artifacts, artwork and furniture will return after construction, save for one casualty: the murals painted on the walls in 1978 by German-born artist Kurt Schaldach. These will be destroyed to provide for an elevator that will make the west end of the building handicap accessible, says Kennedy.

But even these murals won't be gone for good.

Conservators from the Conrad Schmitt Studios in New Berlin have already come in to trace and photograph them. These murals will be "reconstructed at the end of the renovation," says Kennedy.

The other murals, painted on canvas, have been dismantled and crated, adds Kennedy. They will be reassembled when renovation is complete. This includes the large, detailed mural titled "The Battle of Beer and Wine."

And the some 75 beer steins, collected by first Wisconsin Union director Porter Butts from alumni, students, faculty and staff and installed in 1964, have been removed for safekeeping during construction. The location of all the steins was recorded so that they can be returned to their original spots once renovation is completed in 2014.

"We know exactly where each one goes," says Kennedy.

A bit over the top? Not necessarily, given Badger mania, in general, and Der Stiftskeller's place in history. When the first keg was tapped in 1933, UW-Madison became the first public university in the country to serve beer.

As for the rest of the Union, the murals in the Paul Bunyan room, which were all done on panels, have already been disassembled and stored. Artist James Watrous began painting these murals, which depict the Bunyan legend, when he was a graduate student in 1933.

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