2014: in review

The WordPress.com stats minions prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. In seeing it, I am reminded that even a well-forme habit can erode with time. Life gets in the way sometimes. For me, taking on a adjunct professing gig at a local university sidelined me. But, we all need escapes. And so, I will endeavor to make room for a mere 1200 words a week. See you in 2015, with new adventures and obsolecences.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Alte Milwaukee: Kapital des Deutscheramerikaner

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“Old Milwaukee,” as a naming convention, is much more than the handle of a rather cheap beer. No, Old Milwaukee is also known as the German Athens. My first impressions of Milwaukee were fermented over a decade ago, a bit before the Renaissance of the downtown core with its cosmopolitan Riverwalk, shiny new sports arenas and the Calatrata-designed art museum, and clean Business Improvement Districts, all of which making for a pleasant business-trip experience. However, what struck me was how Teutonic the old city remains–the enduring influence of immigrants who contributed mightily to the American experience and the love of their sons and daughters of their German heritage.

die Grosses Auswanderung

German immigration to the US came in waves over the 19th century, each wave met with a nativist scorn that remains an undercurrent in contemporary, impolite society. Early German settlers landed in Pennsylvania (the Amish) and other colonial areas. But by the 19th century, Germans, fleeing the world of Prussian and Bavarian princes in great migration, settled farther afield from the eastern shores to the Midwest. The greatest concentration of those German Americans are found in Wisconsin, as nearly 68% of the region can claim German ancestry.

Wissenschaft, Technik, Kultur

German science, methods and culture influenced American society in myriad ways. The whole re-ordering of America can be understood through the direct influence of German-Americans, as they both assimilated and contributed in a very unique way. Our public schools are based on the Prussian model–compulsory, professionally-led, and segregated by grade levels. Not to mention Kindergarten–the first German word every America learns. The Lutheran protestant theory of individualism and personal relationships with deities fuels evangelical thought to this day. Prior to the arrival of brewmasters like Anheuser and Pabst, the choice of beverage for the quaffing in the US was hard cider. All of that changed with the German love of fermented grain. Food-wise, the Hot Dog is the son of the German Wiener or any other encased meat on a bun. And the craft of public administration was also a German invention, efficiencies perfected by Max Weber.

Beer Steins Are Raised as the Concord Singers Practice Singing German Songs in New Ulm, Minnesota...

Untergang und Auferstanden

The survival of German culture in America is a testament to the resilience of its people. Prohibition wiped out beer culture for a generation in the United States, shuttering beer gardens and breweries nationwide. Few were able to thrive in other ventures, or survive at all. Concurrently, Germany was the antagonist of two World Wars. And so, the love of German culture in America declined precipitously. German families were accused of Kaiserist or Nazi sympathies depending on the conflict. Names were Anglicinized. Beethoven, Bach and Brahms disappeared from radio. German was discontinued in public school education. Lutherans stopped preaching in their native tongue. Yet the concentration of Germans in Milwaukee were able to withstand the bigotry. After all, those German Americans were far removed from, and fled the persecution of, Imperial Prussians and Fascist Bavarians.

The Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee, heute

Today’s Milwaukee is of course, a frisson of the old world and new. Its town hall is modeled after the grand German Rathaus found in Hamburg, Nuremburg and Munich among other town centers. Old church steeples pepper the industrial and modern skyline. Brewery building stacks add to the cityscape. The Milwaukee Courthouse, a massive WPA era stone building, has a perfect sightline to the old Rathaus, and reminded me a bit of the “Maximillianeum“ in Munich—a palace on a hill.

Old World Third StreetOld World Third Street

Alte Welt Strasse

Old World Third Street preserved a strip of German-American bierstuben. The Old German Beer Hall serves up German food and the Royal Bavarian Hofbrauhaus beer. Having been to all of the new Hofbrauhaus breweries in the US, the Old German Beer Halll has the history and authenticism that the sterile, Bavaria-meets-Disney locations cannot emulate. The latter are, this author is sad to report, an antiseptic corporate pastiche; a pale copy of the Ur-pub–the Hofbaruhaus am Platzl in Munich. These places appeal to the for the venture capitalist that thinks those new pubs are what Germany feels like, or what Americans must think Old Germany feels like.

Meanwhile, in the Old German Beer Hall, locals walk in, hailed by the bartender, as their personal stein is pulled down from the rack. You cannot recreate the glory and honor of being welcome at the “Stamtisch” table—regular’s table—overnight. Those seats and steins are earned, week after week, decade after decade, father to son.

Beste Wuerst

Across the street from the German pubs is Usinger’s—a family owned sausage shop in business since 1880. Their buildings are painted in folk art with brick streets surrounding the deli. Finding it impossible to pass on the array of natural casings and fine grind, I couldn’t leave such delicacies behind. I found that Usingers will package cases for the road, with ice packs. They’ll even ship.

Valhalla

Farther afield is the gem of the German revival in Milwaukee, the first public beer garden in the US after 90 years of meaningless exile. A mere nine-minute drive from downtown Milwaukee is Estabrook Park, a riverside emerald glen hugging the Milwaukee River. In 2012, after years of lobbying, the Parks and Recreation department opened bids for the creation of a beer garden as both a tribute to the city’s German heritage and an obvious source of revenue. The Biergarten is in its second season of providing the community with Gemütlichkeit–a German word with a poor English translation of “cozyness.” I prefer to describe it as “existential merriment.”

Based exclusively on the design of the beer gardens found throughout Germany, the manager told me they spared nothing to get the feel exactly right. German tables and giant glass Masskrugs for the beer are ample. Garten-goers make a deposit to drink from the 1L glass steins, and return the stein and token for their deposit as they leave. The ATM sign is in German, and the signage feature the “Fraktur” font that the world knows as “Old German.”  Linden shade trees, common to Europe, are replaced with native trees–Maple. Locals not only play accordion and polka tunes, but the crowd knows the words—and sing along. Their grandparents certainly passed on the old songs to them.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8002/7420760170_11df21c3ee.jpgIn all of my travels, rarely does the word “transcendent” come to mind as it is a worn, cliched word. However, the closest I have ever felt in the US of being transported someplace else, someplace familiar and beloved, was here in the Biergarten. I could have been in the Englisher Garten along the River Isar, or the Spree under the linden trees if not for the nasal WisKAHNsin dialect around me. I was somehow in Munich again, absent the flight. Wanderlust fulfilled. If only Americans could embrace this aspect of German culture more openly—the love of nature, of enjoying the craft of the beer for its quality and simplicity rather than a vehicle for drunkenness–we’d be a happier Volk. Here, in Old Milwaukee at least, that spirit thrives, from the downtown preservation, the artistry of finely crafted food in the old style, and in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie at the beer garden table.

Grinning German American Boy, Milwaukee Germanfest Photo credit: Chris Totsky / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Immigrants Photo Credit: Public Domain published in Harper’s Weekly, (New York) November 7, 1874

Milwaukee City Hall Photo credit: Jim Bauer / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Old German Beerhall Photo Credit: http://onmilwaukee.com/bars/articles/oldworld3rdstbars.html

Old Third Street Photo credit: puroticorico / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Beer Stein Singers Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives / Foter / No known copyright restrictions

Mader’s Photo credit: kke227 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Usinger’s Photo credit: .michael.newman. / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Usinger’s Brats Photo Credit: http://www.worldsbestbrats.com/Section/Brat_Vendors/index.html

Estabrook Biergarten Photo Credit: Milwaukee Parks Department https://www.flickr.com/photos/milwaukeecountyparks/7420760170/

Traveling

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The problem with business travel is that leisure time comes few and far between. So many road trips have derailed my dispatches by a bit. I will soon clear of the travel fog, and file reports soon. Stay tuned for Minneapolis food, Columbus’s German Village and Keeping Madison Wisconsin Weird.

Hiatus: Moving Again

Covered Wagon

Back in September, I noted that I was moving back to the Midwest after having spent (and spent is the correct term) 6.5 years in Washington, DC. My move was to a temporary sanctuary as I endeavored to plant my roots more firmly in the Hoosier soil. This month, I move again, to a permanent station, and take on the mantle of homeownership.

So, my attention is spent amidst the packing peanuts and cardboard and rental trucks and moving men these days. But worry not, upon my return, I will pick up where I left off. Having recently spent some time in Michigan, I have a trove of travel stories, including:

  • Detroit Found–The Motor City is not as run down as the media tells. Green shoots abound.
  • Grand Rapids–Gerry Ford, Amway and restored cityscapes, not to mention the quacking of the flat Michigander accent sum up all that makes Michigan, well, Michigan.
  • Bigbee Coffee–Lansing’s little coffee shop takes on the big boys, and is worthy of the quaffing.

I also noticed, that since my last hiatus, I have managed to get through only half of my promised compendium. Here are a few more stories to come:

The Arch–Eero Saarinen and St. Louis

Cheyenne Frontier–A quick visit to Wyoming, the Egg and I, and recollections with former Governor Jim Geringer

Archie McPhee and Me–Ever been a “kid in a candy store?” Seattle’s landmark junk shop offers up bacon scented paper, larger than life cockroaches and every bit of junk “made in China” that you don’t need, but can’t live without.

Harbor Walk: San Diego–the ghost ships in the harbor, the USS Midway, and a not-so-bad fish and chips stand.

Rockefeller’s Cleveland–The richest man in history called Cleveland, Ohio home. Yes, Cleveland.

Taliesin West–To understand Frank Lloyd Wright, you really need to visit the places he called home. How a childhood gift of wooden triangles made for America’s most famous architect.

Anyway, I’ll be back in the saddle in a few weeks.

–Henry’s Eclectic.

 

Voice of the Past: Oscar Wilde on Drollery

A Wilde time 3

In high school, I had a Lex Luthor. Most people have and do have one and know the type–the kid that was out to get your goat no matter. Sometimes the adversary was indeed a bit smarter than you. Like Lex however, the ego that came with the intellect was often his undoing.

Kitbash Lex Luthor

Later in life, Lex found his way into trolling on facebook, often making incredibly lethal remarks on the postings of my peers. However, the other day, I caught Lex engaging in vile plagiarism. He posted a quotation that looked a bit too familiar on his page, without attribution:

“Our Democracy is self-destructing because it abused the right of freedom and equality, because it taught it’s citizens to consider rudeness as a right, breaking the law as a freedom, audacity as equality, and anarchy as blissfulness.”

Sounds great, right? His toadies fawned over his wisdom, but not me. A simple web search of the the quote proved that he gleaned it from an ancient Greek philosopher, Isocrates.  Intriguingly, the quote is a mis-attribution. No matter, Lex expropriated it to burnish his own name.

Isocrates pushkin

Now, my inclination was toward humiliation, but my better nature took over. After all, in this analogy, I am Clark Kent, and well, Superman doesn’t use the tools of evil for good. I let it go. But I relate the story here. And that might have I said to Lex? As irony would have it, I would have employed Oscar Wilde, who famously said:

“Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.”

This of course raises a lovely analogy game for Lex:

If Quotation:Wit,

then Plagiarism::Asininity!

Lesson: Always quote your source material. Understand that you are borrowing their wit, not being witty yourself.

Oscar Wilde Statue, Dublin

Isocrates Photo credit: Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Lex Luthor Photo credit: shaun wong / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Oscar Wilde Photo credit: Foter.com / Public Domain Mark 1.0

Oscar Wilde in Dublin Photo Credit: Photo credit: anaxila / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Starbucks: Five Easy Pieces

Caffeine, Heal Thyself, Heal Thy Planet

1. A woman stood in front of me in line at Starbucks, a bit of a fish out of water, and is perplexed by all of the options. To her credit, festooned in gypsy-like garb, she clearly was not a policy wonk nor law school student, nor Senator or local. She quizzes the Barrista on all the possible combinations of chocolate that she can get into a coffee. She first orders a white chocolate mocha.

She then asks “Do you just have plain mocha?”

“Okay, I’ll just have hot water for tea.”

“No wait, I’ll have a double-chocolate chip Frappuccino”

“Does that come in extra-large?”

“Oh, can you make it with half-and-half and extra chocolate?”

So, to review, she ended up ordering a Trienta (30 oz) double chocolate, double chocolate chip mocha frappuccino made with half-and-half. It is important to note that most transactions at an urban Starbucks are instantaneous–people know what they want, or they get the same damn thing every day.

This episode (annotated) took about five minutes. An eternity for the wonk in need of an afternoon perk. The Barrista, upon the final draft, did a double take and nearly laughed out loud. I swallowed my own laughter too. The woman paid with a free drink postcard, the sort that Starbucks offers up to get a new drone hooked on the nectar (because this HAD to be the most expensive single order I have ever seen, you know, get your free money’s worth!).

Lesson: I am pretty sure a .32 caliber would make for a more humane suicide.

2. Reprise….A gruff chap, perhaps fresh in from the mountainside given his beard length, tried to order a “white milk shake.” Perplexed, the Barrista asked him if he meant a smoothie, and proceeded to ring him up. He insisted it wasn’t a smoothie, but a cappuccino. He saw an ad for it, he said. The Barrista explained that the cappuccino is of course, foam and espresso. At this point, the senior Barrista-in-charge stepped in. He backed up, asking if our mountaineer would like a “Blended Beverage.” This was lost in translation from the original Starbuckeese. There was a bit of a pause, long enough to palpitate the inability of our vagabond to speak to the natives. Then, from the line, an increasingly impatient customer offered up “Frappachino!”

Lesson: At Starbucks, it is un-PC to say “white milk shake.” “Blended beverage,” please.

3. I have seen ten year old princesses of the yuppie kingdom speak such fluent Starbuck-prose, that Yeats or Byron would weep upon a hearing. Certainly their parents claim their children to be bilingual! The addiction seems to start with frappaccino fueled by a parent’s wallet. Admittedly, that is how it happened for me, except in those days, Starbucks could only be found in major urban centers and not at Target. Buckys wa a treat, not a need.

By the time the young whippersnapper gets his first job, it is on to more potent caffeine. I marvel at the cost of this daily habit. People used to try to discourage cigarette smokers by showing the cost per year for a pack-a-day person (what is that nowadays, $3650?). Starbucks, at $3 a pop gets into quadruple digits–a plane trip to Europe perhaps.

Lesson: Maxwell House can get you both a morning coffee AND a trip to Europe.

4. A friend of mine, engaging in hyperbole, “checked in” at a Starbucks on that Orwellian app, “Foursquare.” His comment?

“A gallon, please.”

I took up the challenge–how might your order a gallon? Granted, you could get the office kit of a gallon with a nifty carrying handle, but I envisioned the “Big Gulp” of Starbucks. “I’ll have a Cento-venti-otto, please.” Certainly if one wanted death by Starbucks, this is the way to go. Coked out like a 80’s Hair-banger, not smothered under caramel syrup.

Lesson: If you say it in Italian, it doesn’t seem like excess.

5. Another acquaintance, perhaps longing for his halcyon college years of dropping shots of whiskey in his beer, opts for a shot of espresso dumped into a venti (large) bold (dark) coffee.No cream, no sugar. “An act of terrorism,” he calls such additions. The beverage is not on the menu, but is part of the secret lexicon. One shot is a red eye. Two is a black eye. Three is a green eye. Four is an overdose.

Lesson: If you want that much caffeine, take it in pill form.

Personally, I have had better coffee. Starbucks is the McDonald’s of coffee (that is not fair to McDonalds, as their coffee has always been okay.) Uniform and ubiquitous, and reliably found in every travel destination, Starbucks is every bit a Kraken or Cthulhu, rather than a mermaid. Perhaps the better analogy is a Siren that lured the seafarers into the rocks.

I have since kicked my daily habit, opting for better brews and a little more lead time at home (whilst blogging!). But it is hard to imagine an America, 30 years on, without the Green mermaid.

Photo: Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter / CC BY-NC