Milwaukee is not the first place that comes to mind when people think about traveling in the USA. Incidentally, the city’s own population gets a bit startled when you tell them you’re there just for fun, without any other intention.
No less than three times in the timespan of a week, my line: “I came here just for fun for a week” was received with surprise.
First time it was at the hotel check-in: “Six nights?! Well, you’ll have time to do everything”. What is impossible to describe just writing, is the expression on the face of the young lady, a mix of incredulity with curiosity, as if she was before aliens.
Second time was the rather nice lady at the customer’s desk in the Barnes & Noble at the Mayfair Mall: “Fun? In Milwaukee? Really? Don’t get me wrong, I love here, but for fun… Well, welcome.”
And the third, the waitress at the delicious “Wicked Hop Brewery”: “All the way from Brazil for fun in Milwaukee? That’s weird!”
However, that’s human nature anywhere in the world. The impression you have is that who was raised in the place doesn’t notice how special is where they live.
The streets are clean, everything is well taken care of, there are no people living on the streets and the architecture is absolutely wonderful. There are a lot of old buildings, which gives the city something of a more European air in some points. That’s easily explained by the huge German influence the city received through the years.
This same influence is responsible for the title Milwaukee carries for some time: “Brew City”. Yes, the amount of breweries in a city of about 600 thousand people (Wikipedia, numbers from 2017) borders on unbelievable.
And yes, there’s in an explanation for that: although freezing in the winter, Milwaukee has a great extension of rather fertile lands. Besides that, there’s the great water that can be obtained from Lake Michigan. The beer culture was always present, due to heavy German immigration. At Prohibition time, the Germans didn’t like the idea of not being able to drink a beer and, as you couldn’t buy the end product, they decided to buy the ingredients and brew it at home. And then the Milwaukee breweries were born. All that story is available with illustrations and objects in the small, but interesting, “Brew City MKE Beer Museum and Beer Bar” located at the Wisconsin Center downtown. Tickets are 10 dollars and you can visit the museum and have a beer in the end, of course!
Art, literature, shopping and sport
As it was said above, the architecture is wonderful, but nothing compares to the Milwaukee Art Museum. Projected by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (the same guy who, among others, projected the shopping center located where once stood the twin towers of the World Trade Center), outside and inside, is really something beyond amazing. Among the attractions, works by modern artists (Andy Warhol, Roy Liechtenstein) and Impressionists classics (Camile Pissarro, Edouard Manet) and a very interesting part showing old toys. And there are also the temporary exhibitions. When I was there, they were showing quill pen paintings by the Spanish Francisco de Goya.
In a quick Google search, you’ll see that Milwaukee has a lot of used bookstores. But you don’t need to look too deep. The best one by a mile (and I can safely say, one of the best I ever been in my life) it’s “Downtown Books”. As the name implies is located at the heart of downtown, across the wonderful Hilton Garden Inn, and is nothing less than spectacular. I swear there are books on every subject: music, fiction, science fiction, movies, esoteric, crime… The comic books part can drive collectors crazy. Think it’s all? No! There are also VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, CD and Vinyl, everything at very low prices!
The shopping where Barnes and Noble is located (the one with the old lady who was surprised with someone in Milwaukee for fun) is located in the small and wonderful town of Wauwatosa, in the Milwaukee surrounding area. Mayfair Mall is a typical mall with shops and restaurants, but what is much worth is the path you ride until you get to it. It’s really like those small towns in the movies. But here’s a tip: it’s well worth coming and going riding a bus! First because public transportation there works very well, second because not only is ridiculously cheap (less than 3 dollars) is a much better way to see the landscape.
If you want, the bus is also a great way to catch a baseball game. However, there’s an even better way: the bars offer vans to the game! The price? Just get in the bar and drink or eat anything. You win a wristband and transportation to the game and back.
The Wayne’s World Connection
All that is pretty cool, but here at my blog I do like to assess geek culture from time to time. And Milwaukee indeed has something rather interesting on this field.
In the end of 1991, the world was shocked with the death of Queen’s singer Freddie Mercury. As it’s usual on this cases, the band’s catalog had a huge boost on sales, but it was also helped because the following year movies were screening “Wayne’s World” with that historic scene of four friends headbanging inside the car to the sound of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
However, there’s another iconic moment in the movie: the famous part where Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) bow to Alice Cooper in the backstage area of the show, saying “We’re not worth it!” when they are invited to stay and hang out with the band.
The concert, in the story of the movie, is being held in Milwaukee and before Wayne and Garth throw themselves on the ground Alice gives them a real lecture about the city (the information is all true):
“… Milwaukee certainly has its share of visitors. The French missionaries and explorers were coming here as early as the late 1600s to trade with the Native Americans.”
“In fact, isn’t Milwaukee an Indian name?” asks guitarist Pete Friese.
“Yes, Pete, it is. Actually is pronounced ‘Miliwake’ which means ‘The Good Land’ in Algonquin.”
“I was not aware of that”, says Wayne.
“I think one of the most interesting aspects of Milwaukee is that it’s the only major American city to have ever elected three socialist mayors”.
What a lot of people don’t remember is the beginning of all this sequence. Wayne and Garth get to Milwaukee with some time to spend and decide to go to “Shotz” brewery.
The thing is “Shotz” brewery is fictitious and was the setting of a rather famous seventies sitcom called “Laverne & Shirley”. Both women worked there (which only corroborate long years of brewing tradition) and the opening sequence is satirized in the movie. That’s why they appeared riding a bike, hopping, etc. Note that Garth’s overalls have an “L” (because of Laverne) in the upper left corner. Incidentally, the music in the background in this moment is the series theme. Besides, one of the most famous Milwaukee breweries is called “Schlitz”. The sound of the name is pretty suggestive.
However, if it doesn’t exist what’s so special? Well, “Shotz” doesn’t exist, but the brewery where the scenes, both the series and the movie, were shot, does.
It’s Lakefront Brewery. And, once again, the easiest, better and cheapest way to get there is riding a bus.
The building is located in a beautiful neighborhood, on the banks of the Milwaukee River in an extremely pleasant place. It’s mandatory to get in there and have Lakefront beer with a side of the local cuisine specialty: cheese curds. Just amazing!
“The good land” is not an accurate translation for Milwaukee. It should be “the excellent land”. If you have the opportunity, be sure to spend at least one week there. It’s well worth it!