My favorite things about Milwaukee all relate to its heritage. This may seem odd from someone who didn’t grow up here and who didn’t move here until just before I turned 30. But sometimes an outsider can appreciate things that others miss.
Campaigns for justice
A deep vein of dissent has run through the city’s history and throbs to this day. From the fight for labor rights that can be traced back to the 1886 Bay View Massacre, when workers died protesting for the eight-hour day, to the open housing marches led by Father Groppi that made national news, to struggles for immigrant rights and full racial equality, symbolized by instutions such as the Black Holocaust Museum and groups such as Voces de la Frontera, Milwaukee has nurtured voices calling our society to live up to its promise of justice for all.
Diversity of faith
Whatever your religious outlook, you are likely to find it represented vibrantly here. Catholic and Protestant — in almost infinite variety — but also Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish and atheist and agnostic movements all have a presence. And bringing many of them together is the Milwaukee Interfaith Conference, a vehicle for celebrating that diversity and promoting understanding across so often polarizing lines.
Long before my time here, Milwaukee was a transportation hub in its own right, dwarfed by Chicago, perhaps, but still significant enough that its footprint remains, however faint. Great railroads like The Chicago and North Western and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific — headquartered in Chicago, but dubbed The Milwaukee Road — helped shape the city and the state in the first half of the 20th Century. Can we hope that the new streetcar line might be the seed of a return to one of the most civilized forms of mass transit our society has ever known?
As I wrote for this magazine in 2010, this city is to model railroading as it is to motorcycles, machine tools and beer — a place that, thanks to businesses like Kalmbach Publishing (publisher of Model Railroader and Trains magazines, as well as countless books on the hobby), and William K. Walthers (a distributor of hobby products), along with scores of anonymous enthusiasts who build worlds in miniature in their basements and spare rooms, helped nurture a hobby that perseveres as it approaches the century mark.
And, yes, beer
The one-time leading brewer Schlitz claimed it was the beer that made Milwaukee famous. Perhaps, but Schlitz left long ago, and this is still a beer town. Whether your taste is for Miller and Leinenkugel, or for Lakefront and Sprecher, or you bottle up your own as a home brewer, consider raising a glass to thank all those German immigrants who first brought the working person’s beverage of choice and built a thriving industry that continues to evolve. Bottoms up!