Milwaukee is — or was — a city of children, churches, and cheese. At its best, it is plainspoken and decent and solid: people here still think of themselves like that, and they’re not half wrong.

But those who know this city know, too, that it can be a place of secret codes, of ineffable longing for the far-away and subtle signals that only the keen eye sees.

A lot of these signals emanate from Milwaukee’s buildings. We call them Milwaukee Wormholes. These are magic portals that can zip you to another place and time, if only you know how to enter.

When you grow up here, of course, you take it all for granted: City Hall is just a filing cabinet; the Central Library a bin for books.

But when you begin to travel you find that the buildings of Milwaukee have prepared you for the trip. Is this Leipzig or Wisconsin Avenue? Dresden or Cathedral Square? Rome or Lincoln Avenue across from the Serbian restaurant?

Though it’s not in our nature to tout it, Milwaukee’s got architectural chops, and most of the best buildings went up just a few decades after the wigwams were rolled away. They were built by displaced Europeans. The longing of exile limns the lintels like scrollwork. It frosts the acanthus leaves on every Corinthian shaft. The anxiety of civilized men huddled on the fringes of their world added spiritual urgency to the work of the plumbline and the square.

Now embarrassed with a richness of grand buildings, our city teaches gently — almost undetectably — just like the best teachers do. It says: there is more. The world is wider than Water Street. Forget not my cousins, far from here.

Why did I feel at home the first time I walked into Saint Peter’s? Because I had been to Saint Josaphat’s. Where was my idea of Teutonic heaviness forged? At City Hall, just as surely as Siegfried forged his sword. And it was all so pleasant — in the learning and the later application. That graciousness is all Milwaukee.

There are connections to other places, too: New York, Virginia, Hollywood. You may be aware of some of them; others, you probably don’t know.

And we may have missed some. Check out these pairings, and if you know of a Wormhole that’s escaped us, let us know!


Milwaukee City Hall, designed by Henry C. Koch, opened in 1895 vs. Hamburg Rathaus, designed by Martin Haller and others, erected between 1886 and 1897

Saint Josaphat Basilica vs. Saint Peter’s Basilica
Milwaukee Public Library, central branch, on Wisconsin Avenue, opened in 1898, designed by Ferry & Clas vs. Bibliotheca Albertina, or University Library, in Leipzig, Germany, opened (in its present form) in 1891, designed by Arwed Rossbach
Entrance foyers of Milwaukee Central Library vs. Bibliotheca Albertina
Mitchell Building, on Michigan Street in Milwaukee, designed by E. Townsend Mix, opened in 1876 vs. Hotel de Ville, (City Hall) of Paris, renovated between 1873 and 1892
Tripoli Shrine, designed by Clas & Shepard, opened in 1928 vs. Taj Mahal, in Uttar Pradesh, India
Cathedral of Saint John vs. The Hofkirche, Dresden
Goodrich mansion, on Terrace Avenue in Milwaukee, gift of Frederick Pabst to his daughter Marie, built in 1894 vs. Château de Blois, in the Loire Valley, France, especially the 15th-century “Louis XII wing”
Goethe and Schiller monument in Washington Park, erected in 1908 vs. Goethe and Schiller monument in Weimar, Germany, erected in 1857
Chase Tower, formerly known as the Marine Plaza building, on Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee, opened in 1961 vs. The Seagram Building on Park Avenue in Manhattan, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, opened in 1958
Beth Israel Synagogue on Teutonia Avenue, in Milwaukee, constructed in the 1920s and vacated by the Jewish community in 1960 vs. Synagogue in Groningen, the Netherlands, dedicated in 1906
The “water stairs” at Villa Terrace on Terrace Avenue in Milwaukee, built in 1924 vs. The “scalinata” at the Villa Cicogna Mozzoni in Lombardy, Italy, built in the 1560s
Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church on Greenfield Avenue in Milwaukee, opened in 1901 vs. The Martin-Luther-Kirche in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt, Germany, finished in 1900
The Quadracci Pavillion of the Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by Santiago Caltrava, opened in 2001 vs. The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain, designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, opened in 1998
Notre Dame Hall of the Visitation Convent of the (Bavarian-descended) School Sisters of Notre Dame, on Watertown Plank Road in Elm Grove, completed in 1899 vs. Hohenschwangau Castle, southwestern Bavaria, finished in 1855
The bandshell in Washington Park, Milwaukee, erected in 1938 as the gift of Emil Blatz vs. The Hollywood Bowl in California, designed (in an early incarnation) by Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright, erected in 1929
The Pabst Mansion, on Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee, designed in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style by George Bowman Ferry, opened in 1892 vs. The Graslei, a medieval port in Ghent
Christ King Catholic Church on Swan Boulevard, opened in 1950 vs. Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, opened in 1866
The Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center in the Third Ward, Milwaukee, constructed in the early 1990s vs. The Palais Garnier, completed in 1875 for the Paris Opera
The Oriental Theatre on Farwell Avenue (built in 1927) vs. the Bab Zuweila, a gate in the 12th century walls of Old Cairo