Haus zum Walfisch – Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany - Atlas Obscura

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Haus zum Walfisch

A psychedelic, late Gothic building-turned bank once housed Erasmus for over a decade before becoming a set location for a cult-classic horror film. 


In a corner of Freiburg’s old town stands the Haus zum Walfisch, or the Whale House (likely after the Biblical legend of Jonah), a Late Gothic bourgeois house known to fans of horror cinema as a major filming location of the 1977 cult classic Suspiria. With a vivid crimson façade and psychedelic spiral decorations, it’s no wonder this atmospheric building was chosen for the film’s setting.

Cult fame aside, the edifice is rich in philosophical history as well. Built circa 1516, the Haus zum Walfisch was originally home to the wealthy Villinger family, who provided a room for famed philosopher Erasmus rent-free from 1520 to 1531 as he fled the Reformation.

In 1905, the city of Freiburg purchased the building for 310,000 Goldmarks to preserve this historic monument. At around the same time, a nearby bank urgently needed new premises, to which the Whale House was ideally suited. Eventually, it was sold to the bank for the same sum in 1909 and became part of a seventeen-building complex.

During World War II, the air raid of Operation Tigerfish burned down the house and, though much of the façade survived the attack alongside two of the original Gothic portals, the entire interior had to be reconstructed once the war ended. Today, the building still belongs to Sparkasse Freiburg-Nördlicher Breisgau and stands in extravagant, almost bizarre grandeur—for a bank, especially.

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