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!
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)?
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?