A Lviv Idyll, 1936

Porter of Peace 

Before World War II, Lvov was a Polish city. Today it is in West Ukraine, known as Lviv. Some flavour of life in multi-ethnic, prewar Lviv/Lvov may be gleaned from an advertisement placed in a Catholic journal of the period, Lwowskie wiadomości parafialne.

It was March 29, 1936, and Marjan Kafka, a delicatessen owner in Lvov, advertised his wares. The ad, archived by Libraria in Ukraine, appeared thus:



Kafka traded at 3 Kopernika in the city. Google Translate renders the notice 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 just enhance the interwar charm. The establishment offered a kaleidoscope of mitteleuropa liquid and solid delights. At the time, porter was well-appreciated in East Europe but almost forgotten in Britain, land of its origin.

Beers of Lvov

 A 1924 ad in Chwila (the “Moment”) touted beer from the city’s Lvov Brewery. Chwila was a Polish-language newspaper oriented to the Jewish community. From Libraria again



Listed are an 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 beer names then and now, had a good market in Lvov despite being based far afield.

Local breweries tended to hold sway in the smaller Polish towns, as in the UK then, and elsewhere. But in more cosmopolitan Lvov distant breweries were not shy to claim a slice of Sernik, one might say (Polish cheesecake).

For evocative views of Lvov both before and after World War II see its Wikipedia entry. This example shows the city in pale greenish-gold of a 1924 winter:


(Image attribution: By M. Münz – Światowid: ilustrowany kurjer tygodniowy, 11-11-1934, nr 46, str. 12, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56886006).

Scythe of war and Mass Murder

On the eve of World War II Lvov was half ethnic Polish, one-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 its Jews (some 200,000), and the policies of postwar Communism.

The Soviets arrived before the Nazis in September 1939 and enforced 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, were injured or robbed in this alone.

Before the war Jewish Lvov exhibited religious and cultural vibrancy. Its people made significant contributions to the professions, science, and business in 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 subset of one certainly. The survivor Dr. Philip Friedman described the catastrophe in his 1945 report included in the Yizkor (memorial) volume for Lvov. It 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, from journalism to science, arts and theatre to law  –  all falling victim to the Holocaust. Many Poles in Lvov also experienced Nazi terror, the killing of 25 academics in the city is a well-known 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 still inhabits the base. A detail from the image:



Further views of the street may be seen in this Wikipedia Commons collection. The street or that stretch seems rather unchanged from the 1930s, but that should not be taken as symbolic, as little connects the pre- and post-1939 cities.

The Future That Never was

Before the war Kafka – how eerie the name – would have greeted his customers expansively, in numerous languages. We can imagine they joked in amity, intent on the delicacies in his display cases, maybe mulling the quality of an unfamiliar porter.

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

An inauspicious colour, as it turned out.

This was the old Europe, quite imperfect, with a contorted ethnic and cultural history that once again led to convulsive war, this time accompanied by unprecedented genocide. But it did not have to be that way.

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

Our next post discusses Lvov Brewery’s Imperial Porter.

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





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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