Eastern Europe moves ahead despite looming threat of Soviet bully Putin

Pro Bono Barrister Abroad

December 2, 2014 By Charles F. Otey, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Taz Loves Everything Brooklyn: Brooklyn Restaurant owner Taz told the Eagle, “I love everything Brooklyn. Brooklyn is really the best these days.” Taz, a native of Turkey, and two other partners own another Brooklyn Restaurant in Warsaw and plan to open a third one in a few months. Photo by Chuck Otey
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Krakow, Poland — After spending most of two weeks touring Eastern Europe (Germany and Poland, in particular), this visitor is struck by the remarkable desire of the people here to build their nations anew after first the devastation of World War II, and then a brutal Soviet occupation that lasted until the infamous Berlin Wall came down in November 1989.

Enough of the wall remains to announce to all exactly where the Soviet Empire finally fell 25 years ago. Berlin was packed with more than a million people who came to mark this very significant anniversary.

There are signs of progress everywhere and, it seems, the other constant in their lives is the ever-present fear that Vladimir Putin will try to “reclaim” Poland, Ukraine, Hungary and the Baltic Nations in the name of the empire that ended when he was ascending the ranks of the hated KGB.

Today, it’s accepted as a fact here that Putin, working with other former KGB operatives, is really in control of Russia. Even more visible is the clear affection with which younger Poles regard the United States in general and Brooklyn in particular.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Upon arriving in Warsaw, we immediately spotted the Brooklyn Restaurant — a classy duplex hipster place on the bustling Pope John Paul II Boulevard, named, of course, for the Polish primate.

The Brooklyn Restaurant’s co-owner, who goes by the name of Taz, was enthusiastic about his business and the “pulling power” of the Brooklyn brand.

Outside the restaurant, we met the delightful Nadia Urbanska, who was thoroughly surprised to learn that there was indeed a newspaper called the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A University of Warsaw student majoring in health service, she had high praise for the restaurant and agreed that “the name Brooklyn carries very special meaning for people of my generation.”

There are so many memorable places on this swing through Eastern Europe that it’s hard to single out one, but there are two inspirational sites that we would go to again: the neighborhoods (now razed) where the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising ended in slaughter; and the later (1944) Polish Uprising, which was crushed by the Nazis because the perfidious Joseph Stalin refused to let Red tanks intervene in the battle, even though they were only a few miles away. Thousands of Poles died as a result.

Not to be missed by anyone who wants to know what really happened in Poland is the Polin Jewish Museum, which depicts “A 1,000-Year History of Polish Jews” and covers 10 centuries of Jewish-Polish life, explaining how Jews first arrived. Its many moving exhibits show what literature maintains when it states that “the history of Poland is not complete without the history of Polish Jews.”

In closing this too-brief review, I’ll answer the question I’ve gotten from many friends: Would you travel again with Grand Circle Tours?

My answer: First, I must point out that I paid the full cost of this trip without any discounts or “press” favors. That said, I’ve never been more impressed with any tour organization as I have with GCT. From the time I signed up until my return plane touched down at JFK, each and every person I spoke with at GCT was honest, knowledgeable and helpful — especially our Polish guide, Krystian Wojtowicz.

* * *

Back in Brooklyn: In fact, when I developed a cold after a rainy, damp day in Krakow, Krystian arranged for me to see a doctor, Barbara Sokolowska, who was on night duty at the private Diamond Clinic. He actually accompanied me to the clinic.

It’ll be hard to forget this physician because she was so direct, concerned and, well, charming. In addition, Dr. S. went out of her way to retrieve my Pittsburgh Steelers scarf (which I left in the waiting room) and mail it back to Brooklyn.

I later learned that she is a noted author, a specialist in clinical immunology, has published more than 100 articles in national and international medical journals and has produced a number of chapters in medical textbooks.

Guide Krystian was also impressed with Dr. Sokolowska, but, of course  (as he reminded me on the way back to the Radisson Blu) he is happily engaged.


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