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How I found Europe in Chicago

Even before I came here, I noticed in my travel guide that Europe is ever present on the map of Chicago: The Ukrainian Village. Little Italy. Greektown. Pilsen, as in the Czech town. The Holstein Park, as in the region in Northern Germany. Not only were there geographical allusions, but many places were named for famous Europeans: Humboldt Park. Goethe and Schiller streets. Pulaski Park. Dvorak Park (yes, they have a LOT of parks in Chicago!). I thought it was interesting how a country whose population is traditionally made up of immigrants to some extent tries to reconstruct its heritage this way, and I was curious if I would find Europe elsewhere in Chicago, too. I was not disappointed.

The neighbourhoods that take their names from Europen countries or cities are not only named that, but many are inhabited by immigrant population. This leads to funky combinations, like the neighbourhood with the Czech name of Pilsen being inhabited mainly by Mexican Americans today. Also there is the Old Town which used to be the German neighbourhood – and not only do you find a big European grocery store there, said grocery store also has a rooftop terrace on which you can have beer and, brace yourself, Currywurst!

Currywurst, Old Town, Chicago, IL

Germany in America: Currywurst with Sauerkraut…

Maibaum, Old Town, Chicago, IL

… and a Maibaum!!!

You also can hardly fail to come across signs of the Polish population. At the blue line stop Division, you will find the so called Polish triangle, and there is the renowned restaurant Podhalanka, a place that supposedly has really good Polish food. Along Milwaukee Avenue I saw several Polish Restaurants with Polish names that Americans who don’t share this descent probably cannot even pronounce – or how would you say Czerwone Jabłuszko (Little Red Apple)?

Polish Triangle


And at the Polish Triangle another piece of Poland: The Chopin Theatre! (Yes he was Polish – NOT French!!)

 Not only do you see the Polish influence in the cityscape, you can also hear it. I went on the blue line one morning and waited at my stop for the train to come in. Two middle aged guys next to me were chatting animatedly in Polish. The first thing I noticed was how much they cursed. Every sentence was generously lined with the word „kurwa“, Polish for whore or bitch. While that amused me only slightly, my face split into a wide grin when they started discussing about Germany and what a dirty country it is. Sweden, yes, Sweden was clean, but Germany, kurwa, unbelievable, the amounts of rubbish in the streets. I chuckled.

Obviously, all of this stems from immigration, like I already said. I found this noticeable not least at Graceland Cemetery, a beautiful graveyard well worth a visit which I have written about here. A lot of the tombstones displayed foreign heritage, like this one showing that the deceased had been born in Hungary.


Also, the Germans were here again, not only with their names: Many tombstones did note say „born“ and „died“, but „geb.“ and „gest.“ – short for geboren and gestorben. It means the same, obviously, but I found it quite remarkable that the Germans kept their own culture alive to the point of having their tombstones signed in their own language rather than English.


Austria came into play when we went to a cute coffeehouse called Julius Meinl that saved the famous coffee and had interieur that resembeld classical Vienna coffeehouse furniture. The coffee was fantastic, and the menue carried things such as Einspänner, Melange and Verlängerter – with the umlaut writing!



Finally the immigrants have not only named places after people and brought parts of their culture in food and drink and architecture, but they also saw to the fact that their greatest heroes would be commemorated in the city. There is a memorial for Alexander von Humboldt, one for Kosciuszko, one for Copernicus, one for Havlicek, one for Hans Christian Anderson, one for Goethe and one for Schiller – and I would have been bound to find more if I had been able to stay longer, I’m sure.






Have you ever found Europe on another continent? Where was it and what made it so European for you?


6 Kommentare

  1. Hahaha I love this post!
    You know I don’t speak Polish, but when I was in Poland I could distinguish only kurwa! It’s so funny and I chuckled everytime I hear that word since it’s the only word I remember fondly!

    Enjoy the rest of your stay my dear :*

    • bridgekeeper

      August 21, 2013 at 9:47 am

      hehehe yes, it is one of the first words most people learn in Polish 😀 I did enjoy my stay, thank you darling! xx

  2. did you know that Chicago is second biggest Polish city, after Warsaw, when it comes to the number of Polish inhabitants? So is New York second Hungarian city 😉
    and „kurwa“ doesn’t mean only bitch or whore, it’s also damn or fuck. these days people, sadly, use it more as a comma…

    • bridgekeeper

      August 21, 2013 at 9:49 am

      Hey Kami – yes, I had heard that statistics, isn’t it crazy?? But I guess similar things are true for Berlin and the Turkish 😉 Thanks for that add-on to the meaning of kurwa – I had already forgotten that it may not be obvious that it is used like „fuck“ in English because I am so used to it. It is in fact a bit overused, isn’t it… it was surreal hearing Polish being spoken like that in the States. I also went to the Polish Museum of America and had a long talk with one of the ladies who worked there in Polish. I will write about it! xx

    • Haha Kimi, good one about the Hungarian city! 🙂 And those stats about Chicago being „second biggest Polish city“ have been constantly repeated for the past 30+ years and are no longer so true… There is not a million Polish people living in Chicago, unless you count 3rd and 4th generation, who don’t know the language, never been to Poland, and likely don’t have much to do with the Polish culture in their everyday life (e.g. my former boss). We have a much larger Latin immigrant group here, esp. from Mexico. That being said, when I crave Polish food, I have plenty of delis to go to, which is a huge plus of living in Chicago. 🙂

      Marielka – I’m glad you found one of my favorite hangouts: Julius Meinl! I love the Euro vibe there. It reminds me of a coffee shop in my hometown…

      I hope you visit us again!

      • bridgekeeper

        September 1, 2013 at 6:36 pm

        Thank you so much for the additional info, Pola! I have wondered about the stats for a while, because while I felt that there were many Poles, I couldn’t see that it could be THAT many. I will come back, I am sure. Chicago really spoke to me 🙂

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