Polish Toledo

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Football: Very, very good to Poland

Soccer (Football to Europeans) is a really big deal to nations and fans. Hundreds of thousands on the Continent travel to attend Championship matches. But hardly a Polish-American I speak with realized the Euro 2012 Football Championship Games were being hosted in Poland and Ukraine this past June.

When Poland was awarded hosting rights five years ago, they set out with a multi-billion dollar plan to erect new state of the art stadiums, build hundreds of kilometers of super highways, remodel and upgrade airports and take on various and sundry other infrastructure projects. It provided for lots of jobs in construction and related trades. Even the private sector, particularly the hospitality and retail industry also poured money into upgrades and renovations in their hotels and shops.

Although there are many reasons for Poland’s continued economic growth, taking on the task of preparing for the quadrennial Euro Championship Games may have played a small part in the reason Poland was the only EU country to escape having negative growth during the financial crisis and continued outpacing the growth of other EU countries.

I guess you could considerate getting ready for the games as a stimulus package with actual tangible structures and infrastructure improvements to show for it, much like our Main Library, high level bridge, amphitheater at the zoo and Glass Bowl built during the Great Depression by Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.

Those just completed hefty projects will immediately and in the long-term provide utility and increased quality of life for Poles unlike the stimulus instituted about the same time here in America. In Poland it appears shove-ready means exactly what it means. Poles didn’t hear what Americans did a couple months ago when the President joked, “Shovel-ready was not as shovel-ready as we expected.”

Even though a tremendous amount of money was spent by Poland’s government in preparations for the games, next year’s budget defect is expected to decrease by nearly half to around three percent of GDP according to Cabinet Ministers.

While normally inexpensive compared to other European countries, hotel room rates did increase significantly for the tournament month as had other tourist services including prostitution, which by the way is legal in Poland, leading to increased profit margins for proprietors of hospitality related businesses and stimulated local economies around the country.

While travel website reviews of vacationing and touring Poland over the years have been very positive, the tourist segment has not been a very large slice of the economic pie. However, the million and a half or more football fanatics many who visited Poland for the first time will give the country more exposure to foreigners who will hopefully come back again and spread the word to their friends on how friendly and enjoyable a stay in Poland can be for sightseers.

Unfortunately, Poland didn’t fair as well as predicted in the tournament. They tied with Russia and Greece and were eliminated by the Czech Republic by the score of one to zero preventing an advance to the quarterfinals.

But, overall football was very, very good to Poland. While the defeat in sport will be soon forgotten, the vast improvements in infrastructure will leave a legacy worth having and give Poland another leg up in attracting even more industrial and business investment to keep their growing economy on the fast track.

Pierogies: a tasty double plural

In school we were taught to never use a double negative. An example would be, “I ain’t got no pierogies.” OK, so we were also taught not to use the word ain’t. But, nobody ever mentioned not to use a double plural.

It’s a little bit odd to hear the word pierogies for those who speak Polish rather than Poglish, because pierogi is already plural. The singular is just pierog.

However, pieróg is a rarely used word in Poland because it refers to a Ukrainian pie type dish with similar fillings found in pierogi. So, in the old country the plural is virtually always used. Perhaps because Polish hospitality is so generous – “Take two or more they’re small” – is the fashion to follow.

For those readers unfamiliar with pierogi they are made of thinly rolled dough filled with various fillings. They were first served in the 13th century and the first written accounts come from recipe books published in the 1600s.

Common fillings for entrée pierogi are farmers’ cheese, potato and cabbage or sauerkraut. In Poland meat with onion fillings are more common. Dessert pierogi are filled with various fruits including bilberry, blueberry, strawberry and I’ve also tasted them with gooseberry on the inside.

The most common pierogi in the U.S. and Canada are known as ruskie pierogi in most of Poland. The filling is made of a combination of potato and cheese, but is not the most popular versions in the motherland. Ruskie by the way has noting to do with Russia; it refers to a prewar region in Poland called Red Ruthenia (now part of Ukraine).

In Poland its more common to fill pierogi with ground meat, mushrooms and cabbage, boiled rather than fried like here, and usually served with melted butter and sugar, or melted butter and bacon bits.

There are also regional pierogi variations. In the northeast a variety filled with lentil is popular, while around Lublin cheese and potato spiced up with dried mint makes a slightly tangy variant.

Poles traditionally dish up two types of pierogi for Christmas Eve supper. One kind is filled with sauerkraut and dried mushrooms; another – small uszka is filled only with dried wild mushrooms are served in clear borscht satisfying part of the meatless wigilia.

Once upon a time pierogi were prepared exclusively on special occasions or holidays. Interestingly, each holiday had a particular kind of pierogi assigned.

Pierogi of a completely different shape and non-meat filling was served during Christmas Eve and Easter. Weddings had a special kind of big pierogi called kurniki filled traditionally with chicken meat. Knysze were made for wakes. During a period of Christmas caroling - special pierogi known as koladki were baked.

Unfortunately, these intricate traditions are no longer cultivated in Poland and probably they are not even known to most Poles these days.

If you visit Poland you will come across some restaurants called Pierogarnia. These are eateries designed to offer pierogi in a broad array of variety. Closer to home, there were fast food/drive-thru pierogi restaurants in Cleveland and Pittsburgh in the recent past.

Although Toledo’s Echoes of Poland dance troop make a lot of pierogi each year as a fund-raiser, the Guinness record in making pierogi belongs to ten students in Wrocław, Poland. They made 1,663 pierogi in 100 minutes.

Just for fun, the Pittsburgh Pirates have so-called pierogi races during some of their home games. Suited up in pierogi costumes Sauerkraut Saul, Cheese Chester, Jalapeno Hannah and Oliver Onion take part between innings or during pitching changes.

Now you know just about everything there is to know about pierogi except perhaps: Legend has it that the largest edible pierogi ever made was during the annual Pierogi Fest in Whiting, Indiana. It was a huge 92-pounder and certainly in this case deserving of the word pieróg. Założę się, że nie można jeść dwa. (Bet you can’t eat two)


Pierogi’s cousins

Making pierogi is a bit time-consuming. Is it possible to easily combine the taste of pierogi dough and its filling? Well, yes it is. At least in case of sweet pierogi filled with curd cheese. Here comes lazy pierogi in Polish known as pierogi leniwe. Lazy pierogi has quite the same shape as another Polish food called kopytka (nice, small dumplings) but this is something completely different. Pierogi leniwe are made from a curd cheese, eggs and flour, then cooked in lightly salted water. Most often lazy pierogi are dished up with whipped cream, sugar & cinnamon.

Another traditional Polish stuffed dumplings, much smaller than pierogi, are known as uszka. In Poland uszka are not recognized as a kind of pierogi. Word uszka means 'little ears'.

Uszka are smaller, with a more complicated shape, usually filled with mushrooms or meat and never eaten on their own. This special kind of Polish food is dished up during Christmas Eve within red beet clear borscht or traditional dried mushroom borscht.

From Tasting Poland

Infamous property for sale

Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair in English) is a place that still casts a dark shadow on the events of human history. It was the only place Adolph Hitler felt really safe during the height of World War II. He spent half his time (more than 800 days) there in bunkers and buildings with 8-foot thick walls.

Today, it is up for sale by the local forestry authority in what was formerly East Prussia before post war border shifts made the area part of Poland.

It was at this infamous site that decisions were made about the attack plans on the eastern front and about the construction of new death camps like Auschwitz, Birkenau, Trelinka and 40 others constructed by slave labor and scattered about in Nazi occupied Poland. It was also at the Wolf’s Lair that murderous decisions were made regarding the fate of many war torn nations of Europe.

Among those who resided and worked at the Lair were: Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goring, Heinrich Himmler, Martin Bormann, Wilhelm Keitel, Joseph Goebbels, Dr. Fritz Todt, Albert Speer and others.

The now shambled fortress in the very heart of the northern eastern Mazurian forests near present day Kętrzyn, Poland (then known as Rastenburg, East Prussia) is legendary for being the site of an assassination attempt on Hitler by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. Most recently the briefcase bomb event was popularized in the 2008 film “Valkyrie” starring Tom Cruise former husband to Toledo’s own Katie Holmes.

The bomb went off just a few feet away from Hitler, but the Nazi madman survived.

Though people have rambled through the remains of the fortification located on public lands for decades and sometimes with hired tour guides, Poland is now looking for an investor to turn the "Wolf's Lair" of der Führer into a tourist attraction.

The remaining ruins were open to the public until this past January, but did not attract many visitors because they are hidden deep in a forest and accessible only by treacherous dirt roads.

The site – whose name refers to Hitler's nickname, "Mr. Wolf" – consists of a hidden town in the woods containing nearly 200 buildings including shelters, barracks, 2 airports, a power station, a railway station, air-conditioners, water supplies, heat-generating plants and other structures for self sufficient operations. A minefield of immense size that surrounded the complex took Poles more than ten years to clear after the war.

The original intent for the complex built in 1940 was to act as a combat operations center and fortified shelter to protect Hitler and other top Nazi officials from air bombardment during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa.

The Lair held many secrets concerning war atrocities. In 1945, toward the end of the war when Russian divisions were advancing on the complex deep in the sheltered woodlands, the German’s themselves used an unfathomable amount of explosives to destroy every fortified structure and thick walled bunker.

The local forestry official Zenon Piotrowicz said, “"We are waiting for offers, but so far we have none”.

"The requirements are quite high because we want a new leaseholder to invest a lot, particularly in a museum with an exhibition that could be open all year long."

Although the Polish real estate market is not as nearly depressed as those in Western Europe and the United States, the Wolf’s Lair still might be a very tough sale to make.