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Wisconsin

Cultural Heritage: German Heritage

New Glarus (Swiss) and Mt. Horeb (Norwegian) are examples of rural towns that reflect the traditions of the original residents’ homeland. An emphasis on historic preservation is evident in logging towns and mining communities that have maintained the flavor of the past. With the greatest number of Native American tribes and bands east of the Mississippi, there are Native American powwows, arts and crafts exhibitions, and museums. Few states in the nation have maintained cultural ties with their European ancestors as diligently as Wisconsin. From the ornate German restaurants of Milwaukee to the Swiss cheese factories of Green County to the Scandinavian attractions of Door County, Wisconsin's European heritage is proudly on display, providing visitors with a fascinating glimpse of the state's ethnic heritage.

Wisconsin's German Heritage
While immigrants from many nations shaped Wisconsin's history, none were more influential than the people of Germany. Their legacy can be seen across the state, particularly in Wisconsin's largest city, Milwaukee, as well as a number of smaller cities in the state's Lake Michigan coastal area.

Once known as the "Munich of the West," Milwaukee is famed for its historic German restaurants such as Karl Ratsch's and Mader's. The 147-year-old Miller Brewery is another popular attraction, with tours and tastings offered daily. In July, the city's Henry Maier Festival Park hosts Germanfest, one of several large ethnic festivals held at the lakefront venue every summer. Also of interest to travelers are the Pabst Mansion and Pabst Theater. Built in 1892 for Pabst Brewing Co. founder Capt. Frederick Pabst, the Pabst Mansion has been hailed as the nation's finest example of Flemish Renaissance Revival architecture. The Pabst Theater is one of the few remaining structures in the country associated with the golden age of the German theater in America. Built in 1895, this detailed German Renaissance Revival structure was restored by the city in 1976 and is now part of the Milwaukee Center complex. Tours of the theater's interior are available, and the facility regularly hosts performances.

Just outside of Milwaukee is the Dheinsville Settlement and Bast Bell Museum in Germantown. Established in 1843, the crossroads settlement includes original half-timber (German expression: Fachwerk) buildings as well as log, brick and Victorian structures that reflect the influence of settlers from the Hunsruck area of Germany. Farther north, in Sheboygan, visitors can head to the Sheboygan County Museum and see the former home of German immigrant and pioneer judge David Taylor. The Weinhold Log House (1864) and Boedenstab Cheese Factory (1867) are also part of the complex. In New Holstein, armchair historians can experience the Pioneer Corner Museum and Timm House, both of which contain memorabilia associated with the Schleswig-Holstein German founders of that community. Wine connoisseurs will be drawn to the von Stiehl Winery in Algoma, where the tasting salon features a collection of German military artifacts and Belgian tapestries. During the fall, Wisconsin's German heritage may be at its most visible, with Oktoberfest celebrations taking place in cities throughout the state. La Crosse's Oktoberfest celebration is one of the largest in the world outside of Munich.

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Document Information
Source: WI Dep. of Tourism
Last modified: 20070516
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