November 2015 Archives

Sun Nov 29 20:57:08 CET 2015

Quick Visit to Poland, Nov. 2015

I wrote this riding the train back to Berlin from Warsaw, returning from a quiet and enjoyable nine days with Mirabelka in Poland, visiting friends and family, and taking it easy. It seemed like a warm November, with temperatures as high as 15C some days, though a lot of (light) rain.

Central Warsaw continues its rapid development. The Metro stops that were under construction for a few years are finally open, and there are many new skyscrapers surrounding the Palace of Culture and Science.

And, most relevant to me, a selection of really delicious veggie and vegan restaurants have sprung up. A year ago, there were only a few choices, including the recent arrival VegeMIASTO, which is still extremely good.

Veggie Food

Just a year later, HappyCow says there are nearly 50 veggie restaurants in Warsaw. Of course we didn't get to all of them. In addition to VegeMIASTO, we also went to:
  • Momencik is a delicious burrito bar, run by a Spanish guy who really seems to enjoy creatively exploring the various Mexican (or Latino) recipes. Everything was really delicious, but i especially enjoyed the Salsa Roja.
  • Very creative with recipes is the Vegan Pizza place. I think they take the all-time record for generosity of toppings, as far as i can remember. The first pizza i got from them was so loaded, it took me three days to get through it.
  • Lokal was also super delicious, with a number of vegan Polish dishes that were amazing. I ordered the cutlet both times, and it was great, and accompanied by spectacular sides: mashed potatoes, and beets. Both incredibly flavorful, without relying too much on oil or fat. I could clearly taste a really good potato in the mash potatoes.
  • Tel Aviv, a Middle Eastern-themed restaurant. I had a vegan schwarma here, that rivaled the Veggy Pirates schwarma that is a perennial fav. (at Berlin street food and vegan festivals).

Road Trip to Masury

Polish sheep With the aid of cousin Macek who drove us all the way to Masury, we made a quick trip to see Mirabelka's folks, though just for the weekend. It was a good visit, but felt all-to-brief compared to the other visits we've had.

What i un-learned this past Summer...

I didn't think i'd learned enough Polish to forget, but apparently i have. Or perhaps i've learned just enough German that i realize how little Polish i actually know. Either way, it's humbling (or embarrassing, depending on the context). Strangely, i feel like it's easier for me to "hear" Polish than German, probably because i'm immersed in it when i am there, vs. Germany, where i hear English nearly the entire day in the office.

Parks and Very Bold Squirrels

Back in Warsaw, we took a bus to Belweder Palace and walked back through a chain of paths and parks. In one of them was a rather fearless squirrel that climbed straight up us like trees and rooted around in my jacket pockets for food. Video!

Heroes, Remembrance, Nationalism, War

Josef Pilsudski seems to be enjoying a resurgence of ... "celebration" these days, which perhaps might be due Poland's right wing attempting to increase their popularity, or maybe due to Russia's recent aggression. I don't really think of Pilsudski as being especially right wing (he mostly seemed to belong to the PPS). But he did win several a major battles against the Soviet Union and gain some land for Poland, though the Soviets reclaimed it less than 20 years later.

Pilsudski Square at night 11 November is the day Poland celebrates it's re-establishment as a country, at the end of World War I. It happened to be the 11th when we were in Warsaw, staying just around the corner from Pilsudski Square, where the ceremonies are held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Combined with the many other permanent Warsaw monuments to Poles killed during WWII, and the markers in the sidewalks showing where some of the Ghetto walls used to be, walking around central Warsaw, i often find myself thinking of Poland's suffering during the war, in a very "raw" way.

11 November is also a big day in the UK -- "Remembrance Day" -- with red poppies everywhere. I'd describe it as more solemn than nationalistic -- aimed at reminding people of the sacrifices and lives lost in the two World Wars. Once, when working in the office on 11 Nov. in London. i thoughtlessly asked a rather insensitive question of a German coworker -- I asked him if Germans did anything on the 11th. Without looking away from his computer screen, he replied "No. You don't have holidays when you lose."

Having lived in Germany nearly a year now, i think the absence of a major holiday on 11 Nov. isn't Germany's attempt to forget past losses or crimes. Maybe it's better described as an attempt to break from a past cycle of wars, death, memorials, and more wars. Once, when i was in Hamburg, a German friend of a friend pointed out a memorial to German soldiers that died in WWI.

Part of the reason he pointed it out was because of its rarity. The "de-Nazification" of Germany after WWII seems to have included a (general?) prohibition against new memorials to Germans who died during the war. Despite, for example, two giant memorials in Berlin erected by the Soviets (and still standing today) to fallen Soviet soldiers who died in the battle for the German capital at the end of the war.

All of this makes me wonder if a country can (especially annually, and ritualistically) "recognize" soldiers or others who were killed, without in some small way, encouraging animosity and future conflict.

But looking a few hundred kilometers to the East into Ukraine, at Russia waging the latest of a number of "limited" wars in former Soviet states, it's easy to understand why the Polish government may be beating the drum more insistently these days.

War (and Refugees) Without End

The horrible attacks in Paris on 13 Nov. seem to have harden this martial stance in Poland, but the danger of such an attitude is that one sees (and perhaps even creates) more and more enemies. Poland, some other EU countries (and many U.S. states) have announced they will no longer take in the Syrian refugees as they promised, and demand greater control over their borders, in apparent contradiction fundamental EU (and US) principles.

All of this seems to highlight the awkwardness of political unions, especially the European Union. At a time when countries should be drawing closer together for security and a coordinated response, some of the states are pulling away.

Oder My train from Warsaw to Berlin made a stop at Frankfurt am Oder, the first German city on its route. While stopped, i noticed on the platform two police officers, one with a smallish automatic weapon, presumably because the the attacks in France.

After what seemed like a longer than usual stop, a woman in a hijab with luggage and three children in tow walked past, in between several other police officers. No one really seemed stressed or unhappy -- it was a quiet procession as they headed down the stairs from the train platform, and presumably out of the station.

Of course i can't know for certain what was going on, but placing the scene into contemporary events suggests that the woman and children were refugees, applying for sanctuary in Germany, because they could not in Poland, or anywhere else they'd passed through on their journey from the Middle East.

There are parallels with people crossing into the U.S. from Central America -- women and children that head directly for the nearest U.S. Border patrol officers -- because they'd rather be confined in U.S. prisons than risk being assaulted or killed in their home countries. Quite possibly by soldiers who were trained by the USA.

The strife and these wars, at least in part, has been caused or sustained by the US and European countries. So in addition to the simple and compelling humanitarian argument to help those in need, i think, despite the "danger," acceptance of these people is the only moral choice. If one needs a pragmatic reason, helping refugees from the Middle East lessens the numbers who feel betrayed or attacked by Europe and the U.S., and reduces the potential recruits for the terrorist groups.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: de, politics, Traveling