Thanks to the influx of German brewers in the 1840s, Milwaukee was at one time the beer capital of the world, breweries such as Pabst, Schlitz, Miller and Blatz were the dominant brewers in town. I was surprised to learn that out of all of these heavy hitters that only Miller remains as an active brewer in Milwaukee. The Blatz brewery has been turned into condos, the Schlitz brewery an office park.
You can still see some of the history if you visit Milwaukee, the Miller brewery has factory tours, you can visit the Pabst Mansion or visit the graves of the brewery founders in "Beer Corner" in the Forest Home Cemetery on Milwaukee's South Side.
The Great Circus Parade in nearby Baraboo isn't until June, so why did we see a herd of clowns on Water Street heading into a bar in April? Were they practising?
There is an international Clown Hall of Fame in Milwaukee, perhaps they were all on lunch break :-)
They were very friendly clowns, but I didn't expect anything less being that I was in Milwaukee, the city of friendly people.
And while we're on the subject of clowns I just don't get why so many people are frightened by clowns, there are entire websites devoted to discussion of clownophobia, actually the technical term is coulrophobia. Maybe if you developed the clownophobia after reading "It" by Stephen King or seeing a picture of serial killer John Wayne Gacy decked out in his clown suit but most people develop this fear in their childhood.
One of Milwaukee's claims to fame is that it is the home of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle company. This American icon was founded in 1903 by two young men just barely 20 years old - William Harley and Arthur Davidson. The company has had a very successful history and, after some recent bad times, is now fully recovered and sales are surging. The week that we were in town was the buildup to the coming weekend celebration of 100 years of production! Various HOGs (Harley Owners Group members) were streaming into the city in preparation for the spectacle. Grandstands were being erected down on the lakeshore and it was expected that 200,000 or more bikers would be in attendance. While we were there, we mostly saw many small groups of bikers riding the city streets with the throaty roar of the engines constantly in the background. Still, it was not as bad as I have seen it in Daytona Beach during March break! That could have changed with the weekend. The photo shows some of the machines at rest while dinner is served at a downtown restaurant.
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Okay, there aren't any real Polar Bears around Lake Michigan, but if you are in Milwaukee on New Years Day go to the lakeshore to see human polar bears. On New Years Day, it is a Milwaukee tradition for a few crazy souls to swim in Lake Michigan (I am in the back of the photo above, with my hand on the snow bank). This all takes place at noon on New Year's Day; The polar bears hop into Lake Michigan, but people cook out for hours beforehand on the snow covered shoreline waiting for the action.
Remember, it is coooooold in Milwaukee on New Year's, so dress warm. A little nutty, but quite an experience.
Cold water, cold air, little clothes...talk about shrinkage.
The Inferiority Complex
We have an inferiority complex. Every Milwaukeean will verify this. This "aw shucks, I'm only from Milwaukee" thing has been with us a long time. One could read this as modesty, but this inferiority complex really gets in the way of progress sometimes. But that's changing.
Probably the most likely cause for our inferiority complex is the mere presence of our friend and neighbor, the third largest city in the country, what some of us call "the southernmost suburb of Milwaukee." This is of course Chicago, a great American city if there ever was one. Milwaukee to Chicago is kind of like Canada to the United States -- we feel overshadowed, overpowered, pretty much over-everythinged by our neighbor. But like Canada we've learned to hold our heads high and be damn proud of what we've got, of course fully aware that everything we've got they've also got, and probably got better. But if Canada is a kinder, gentler version of the United States, then damn it, Milwaukee is a kinder and gentler Chicago. Smaller, less brash and "noticable." Less traffic, crime, corruption, pollution. We could be like Canada and get over our inferiority complex by changing our flag or trying to host the Olympics or something. But instead we've just tried to build a better city. Eventually we may get recognition, but, as any Milwaukeean will tell you, that will be a long, long time from today.
I found the people we ran into in Milwaukee to be extremely friendly, from the folks who suggested Karl Ratzsch's over Mader's to the folks working there to the folks at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center who didn't mind if we wandered in even if there was a wedding reception going on.
The Butter Burger
The Butter burger originated in Milwaukee but you can find them only in the Midwest. It is a burger made with goobs of butter, the whole experience is a means to a triple bypass. Very greasy, fattening but also good. It is very different from a burger that we a used too.
You'll hear most Milwaukeeans say that we drink a lot of beer. Is this really true? I don't know. If you're in town during the summer months you can go down to the Lakefront on almost every weekend of the summer and find either Summerfest or one of the many ethnic festivals. These festivals, especially the grand-daddy of all outdoor music festivals, Summerfest (3,000 bands in 11 days), is really a giant celebration of beer. Music is secondary to most visitors behind the beer. A ha! Evidence of Milwaukee's infatuation with beer? Not quite, because on any given night the majority of Summerfest goers are from out of town. So people come to Milwaukee for the beer, apparantly. The most popular ethnic festival is Irish Fest, which is largest festival of Irish culture in the world outside of Ireland. I should not have to tell you that there is a lot of beer at Irish Fest as well.
But what of the proliferation of taverns serving beer? There are many, many of these establishments all over town. But the last time I checked there were also a lot of bars in St. Louis, a city quite similar in size to Milwaukee. St. Louis is home to the largest brewery in the world by far: Anheuser- Busch. So how come they're exempt from the "beer town" label?
I've met people who have never been to Milwaukee who seriously believe that our freeways must be named after beers. ("Yeah, you might want to take the Pabst today to work; the Blatz is really backed up at the Miller interchange.") One thing people always comment on when they first arrive in Milwaukee is: "where's all the beer?" Maybe these are the same people who, when visiting San Francisco in March, ask: "isn't it supposed to be nice and sunny all the time in California?" The moral of the story? Don't judge a place based on what you've seen on TV or in the movies. It's almost always wrong.
Not a local custom, but a local issue...
You may have read my tip on the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), anyway, there is a crazy little spat between the Art Museum and a group that wants to build a pier building near by.
The new Pier Project is surprisingly similar looking in design to the Calatrava (MAM), and was originally set just near MAM. Recently, the pier project has said they will move south from MAM, which has helped some, but many, including Calatrava himself are not happy with the proposed design. It will be interesting to see what happens, personally, I would like to see a new design for the new project, but whatever happens it should add character to the lakeshore.
Vocal Segregation at "Tenor High School"
I'm not sure how I feel about the Roman Catholic Diocese of Milwaukee having a separate high school just for tenors. On the one hand, we all know that tenors are special people who require careful treatment. On the other hand, I've always felt that "mainstreaming" is a good idea for them, because the more time they spend in the company of "normal voices" the more likely it is that they will become well-adjusted and productive members of society.
I'm not sure where the "Alto High School" is, but the Tenor High School is next to the Cathedral of St. John, at 840 N. Jackson.
Oh, a drinking fountain
In Milwaukee you will hear people ask, "where is the bubbler?", or something like that. Bubbler, for all non-native Milwaukeeans, is a drinking fountain or a water fountain. I have no idea the derivation of the name, but that is what they say.
Okay, I just looked it up, here is what Merrian Webster says, "Date: 1914
1 : a drinking fountain from which a stream of water bubbles upward"
Polish Festival in Milwaukee is the largest in the country, with around 25000 attending over the course of three days. Its a golden opportunity to dance, to eat, to drink, and to enjoy the music. We saw demonstrations from the Polish army, Polish-American dog breeders, exhibits from the EU, and Polish handicrafts, crystal and more.
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spring time lasts about 2 maybe 3 weeks up here, fall is about the same; the rest of the time is either freezing cold, or swelteringly hot. people are friendlier as the weather warms up, but don't expect to speak to a kind person in the freezing winter months everyone is too cold to be polite. if you are driving a car; gas is very expensive and often is raised 10-11 cents over night. and then takes a week to drop down to a decent price. Also don't be surprised if people pass you on the shoulder while you drive the interstates, it seems to be the norm here in Wisconsin.
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A Midwest tradition!! Bring your mini-grills, plenty of meat and beer and load up before the game. A great way to beat the high price blues of the ballpark.
Note about the photograph: No, my friend Taso (far left, wearing blue Cubs jersey) does not have one leg. And although I have a tendency towards shagginess, I don't usually look as unkempt.
a mysterious climate affect
as a transplant living in WI I have noticed that in the winter time when the snow coats the ground, and the temp drops into the teens people become rude, cranky, impatient, etc.
on odd winter days when the sun pokes out, and the temp rises to a whopping 35 degrees (that is a heat wave for us) you will discover that people's moods will change they will be friendly, more patient, and maybe they might even smile at you.
this phenomenom also occurs in Summer, on hot blistering days people are cranky, on cooler abnormal days people are nicer.
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