A Lviv Idyll, 1936

Porter of Peace 

Before World War II Lvov was a Polish city. Today it is in West Ukraine, and known as Lviv.

Some flavour of life in multi-ethnic, prewar Lvov may be gleaned from an advertisement in a Catholic journal of the period, Lwowskie wiadomości parafialne. Marjan Kafka, a delicatessen owner, placed it on March 29, 1936.

From the archive of Libraria in Ukraine:



Kafka traded at 3 Kopernika in Lvov. Google translation renders the ad this way:

MARJAN KAFKA and before A. SZKOWRON LVIV, Copernicus 3. Phone number 226-72. recommends; roasted coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, sugars, cakes, biscuits, biscuits, gingerbread, healing mountain honey, almonds, raisins and all kinds of roots, Głogov, Dembowiec, Jewish, Lithuanian meats, fish and meat servings, pates and all kinds of herring. Quality and liquor vodkas, French and domestic cognacs, liqueurs, grape and fruit wines, shampans and orig. English porter. Every day fresh Spas butter manor house. We buy and sell fattened poultry. -, Price lists on request. Very moderate prices!

The unintended effects of mechanical translation only add to the charm. His establishment offered a kaleidoscope of Mitteleuropa liquid and solid delights. Porter was well-appreciated in East Europe of the 1930s but almost forgotten in Britain, the land of its origin.

Beers in Lvov

 A 1924 ad in Chwila (the “Moment”) touted beers of the Lvov Brewery in the city. Chwila was a Polish-language newspaper oriented to the Jewish community:



Listed were Export (pilsener-style), dark Bavarian (Dunkel), and Imperial Porter. Lvov Brewery was the town favourite but Chwila and other media also promoted out-of-town beers. Okocim and Zywiec, famous names then and now, had good distribution in Lvov although from elsewhere in Poland.

Local breweries tended to hold sway in smaller Polish towns, as in the UK then and elsewhere. In more cosmopolitan Lvov, breweries from outside the city vied for a slice of Sernik (Polish cheesecake), one might say.

Lvov appears charmingly in old European dress, ca. 1924, in this image via Wikipedia.

The Scythe of war

On the eve of World War II Lvov was half ethnic Polish, a third Jewish, and the remainder mostly Ukrainian.

Today the city is almost all Ukrainian, the result of a cataclysmic war, the Nazi madness that killed most of the Jews (some 200,000), and policies of the postwar Communist regime.

The Soviets arrived in September 1939, enforcing great changes of their own. This included deporting much of the Jewish and Polish business class. But for the Jews, nothing could match the Nazi ferocity. It was preceded by pogroms instigated by the new overlords. Thousands of Jews died or were injured, and robbed, in this alone.

Before the war Jewish Lvov exhibited religious and cultural vibrancy. And Jews had  contributed significantly to the professional, scientific, and business elan of the city. All this was wiped out by a 20th-century brutalism.

We can say a civilization was destroyed along with the human toll, a sub-set of one certainly. For those who would like more information, Dr. Philip Friedman’s report of 1945, included in the Yizkor (memorial) volume for Lvov, tells the tale in graphic, numbing detail. An excerpt:

The death of the Lvov Jews is not just a horrendous act of physical extermination of 130,000 to 150,000 people, but is also, at the same time, one of many blows directed by Hitler barbarians at the heart of the human civilization. Their pursuit in the goal of exterminating people caused, in addition to material and moral damage, also an injury to the entire human civilization.

He elaborated by listing many citizens eminent in their fields, in journalism, science, law, and beyond  –  all victims of the Holocaust. Many Poles also experienced Nazi terror, the killing of 25 academics in Lvov is a well-publicised example.

3 Kopernica Today

The building where Marjan Kafka tended shop still stands. Google Maps shows a modernist, interwar structure with an undulating exterior. A food store of some kind is still at the base.

A detail from the image:



Further views are set out in this Wikipedia Commons collection. The street or that stretch seems rather unchanged from the ’30s, but that should not be taken as symbolic of the city as a whole; as noted, there is little that connects the pre- and post-war cities.

The Future That Never was

Before the war Kafka – how eerie the name – would have greeted his customers expansively, in numerous languages. Surely they joked in amity, intent only on the delicacies in his display cases, or mulling the quality of an unfamiliar porter brand.*

One customer to another: “That herring in oil looks wspaniały, Franz!”. Kafka nods proprietorially.

Hopefully his healing mountain honey assuaged the mental and physical aches of aged or unwell customers – or those of particularly sensitive temperament. His good liquors must have, including the midnight black porter of Stanley Baldwin’s Britain.

An inauspicious colour, as it turned out.

His was the old Europe, quite imperfect, with a contorted ethnic and cultural history. Once again it led to convulsive war, and unprecedented genocide – but it did not have to.

Things could have been different but for an accident of birth here or there, a political decision this way or that. Any one of a million other circumstances might have made a difference, too. We will never know: the diktat of history is irreversible.

Note re images: source of each image is linked in text. Images are used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property thereto belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


*See our next post for a discussion of Lvov Brewery’s aptly named Imperial Porter.



4 thoughts on “A Lviv Idyll, 1936”

  1. My wife and I spent about a week in Lviv in the summer of 2012 around Independence Day. Your article brings back memories. We had a lunch along with a bottle of Lvivsky Porter in the old cellar restaurant at Carlsberg’s Lvivsky brewery. You note that the building at 3 Kopernika dates from the ’20s, but might not be representative of the city. In fact the city center took almost no damage from the WWII fighting itself, and is almost unchanged. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not all of the structures have been maintained as nicely as 3 Kopernika. I think a shorthand description of Lviv might be a down-at-the-heels Vienna. We stayed at the Wien Hotel. Some of the city’s trams are hand-me-downs from Vienna itself (1 meter gauge). Independence Day included a dance and music celebration of Lviv’s history of ethnic diversity, which has been mostly lost over the last 100 years. At that event in the town square, we caught Polish, Austrian and several Ukrainian ethnic groups.

    • Very interesting Arnold, thanks. I am glad you tasted the Livskie Porter, in fact that brand as made interwar is subject of my next post, so look for that. Point taken about the city centre surviving, I probably didn’t express it well, but I meant the prewar look of the street does not denote that the city retains its prewar character (in general). It is a rather different city today, due to the absence of the large Polish group (forcibly relocated after the war, by my reading) and the murder of almost all the Jews. I think increasingly the past is being remembered though, as we discussed earlier, and the kind of events you mentioned reflect this. Some of the museums are doing good work too.

      How was the beer, like some craft porter or stout?

      • The 8% Lvivsky Porter was good, but by no means craft, probably similar to the apparently extinct Polish Carlsberg Okocim Porter. As for the history of ethnic diversity, we visited the Lychakiv cemetery. The oldest graves are those of the early prominent Austrians. In the rear is a huge, well-kept field of Polish military graves for those who died fighting the Ukrainian rebels just after WWI (my wife’s father was about 20 at the time and might have been one of the Ukrainian rebels). Of course, almost all of the Jewish historical record in the city was wiped out in the Nazi occupation. A couple of streets in the old Jewish neighborhood are now named for named for notables Shalom Aleichem and Yakov Rappaport.


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