If you’ve never heard of The Session, get acquainted. No time like the present.
I’d like to thank Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey for their suggestions for this session. Of particular import is the the tie-in to social researchers. This is something that is very dear to me both on a personal and an academic level. My father is a Sociologist and has been since he earned his PhD in Sociology from Princeton University in 1969.
Boak and Bailey encouraged participants in The Session to write “whatever you like spurred by the idea of ‘The Pub and The People” so I captured very quickly the scene at my local, stealing stylistically from “The Pub and The People.” I then wrote about the pub and the people of my father’s childhood whom I will only ever know through stories and photographs. The following is a bit of a light-hearted observing and reporting followed by a somber reflection. My father’s forthcoming memoir is both light hearted and somber so it seemed right to take a snippet of his work that won’t make it into his memoir after completing the prompt prescribed by Boak and Bailey.
Observing & Reporting
Small spot, not far from downtown, the White House, and the other monuments the tourists come to town for. 13 people in the place, 5 women, 8 men, one child, one young man, not yet 21-years-old and without fuzz on his face. All seated. All drink beer, save the child and young man. The child has a bottle of formula or pumped breast milk and the not-yet-21-chap has a hot tea. Most sip pale ale, while some sup pale lager. 9 are tied to their mobiles. Most checking feeds, watching videos, one playing a voicemail from her dear old mum, as its her birthday. A pint of pale is on the house for the young woman with the birthday. The tv shows the Euro Cup, with no mention of Brexit. Highlights include Iceland making it into the next round with 8% of the country in attendance and Ireland defeating Italy. This seems to please most of the audience. No parrots, pot plants, or pool. No one leaves to smoke or vape. No quiz played no darts thrown yet everyone appears happy and content with their beer.
Last weekend I celebrated the US holiday of Father’s Day. Taking my wife and 1-year-old son to a beer festival, I was speaking on a panel about the current and future state of Virginia beer. It got me thinking about where my father and my grandfather were on the third Sunday in June when my now nearly 80-year-old father was a 1-year-old.
It would have been Sunday, June 19, 1938, and my father would have been 21-months-old. The setting was a suburb of Prague, then Czechoslovakia, a neighborhood called Branik. His father would have been 34 years old. Would my grandfather have taken my father to the pub at such a young age? It seems doubtful. But there is certainly the chance that my grandparents would have some bottled beer on hand or my grandfather might have slipped down the street to u Zlaty Piv, the pub’s name roughly translates to the Place of Golden Beer, and filled a pitcher of beer which the barman would have put on his account.
A dark shadow would have been cast on the day as the rising tensions of what was happening in Germany and the general unease of Europe. It was June in Prague, a most enjoyable time when golden lager flows. Yet at this time, June 1938, Czechoslovakia was 3 months from having the Sudetenland given over to Germany and 5 months from Kristallnacht, the glass from Jewish storefronts was shattered, temples were burned, and Jews were beaten in the streets. Most of Prague’s Jewry escaped harm but if respectable Jewish businessmen in suits, ties, and hats could be marched through the street of Erlangen, just outside of Nuremberg, why couldn’t the same happen in Prague?
Edvard Beneš, the second President of Czechoslovakia, who lead the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, had mobilized Czech troops to the north of the country in May 1938. Had my grandfather gone north with the ordered mobilization, a golden pint in Prague would have been the best welcome back home, after seeing his wife and 21-month-old-son, of course.
While currently researching the details of my grandfather’s military service, we do know that he was the only one of eight family members who survived the Holocaust. He went into Terezin, or Thereseinstadt, late in the war. And while his mother perished in Terezin, his siblings died in Maly Trostenets (modern day Belarus) and Auschwitz (modern day Poland). If he sighed a breath of relief after mobilization in 1938, he must have been overcome with emotion returning from the horrors of a concentration camp in 1945.
But, life resumed, as it had to for Victor, his wife Helen, and his son Peter. My father, Peter remembers a Sunday in 1946, being a 10-year-old and running to the pub to get a pitcher of beer per his father’s request. The following is a scene that was cut out of my father’s forthcoming memoir:
Kurt Marcus was my father’s cousin—he was an ardent socialist and Marxist before the war and spent the War years as an officer in the First Czechoslovak Army Corps fighting on the Eastern Front alongside the Soviet Red Army.
He was wounded and when a Russian nurse, Malvinka, helped him back to health, he proposed marriage. I was looking forward to hearing stories about the war and about Russia.
“Peter could you go downstairs to U Zlaty Piv and get us some beer for Kurt and Malvinka? They both like our local Branik beer.”
My father handed me a glass pitcher, patted my head, and off I went. It was 1946 and I was 10 years old– about a year after World War II ended. My father, Victor Stein, survived the Holocaust doing slave labor and time in the Terezin ghetto. He was the only person in a family of eight to survive. My Catholic mother Helen, who was a single parent during much of the war, was relieved to have him back.
I grabbed the pitcher carefully and instead of running down the stairs I walked as slowly as a 10-year-old boy can. I made a right turn when I reached the street and in a few minutes reached the Branik Beer Garden, U Zlaty Piv.
It was barely after noon and the garden was already alive with groups of men drinking their first half-liter of the day. A few families were waiting to be served by one of the two waiters. The day’s special, Svitckova na smetane, beef sirloin in cream sauce, gave off an inviting aroma. It came with a slice of knedliky, a bread dumpling, which would soak up the cream sauce. It made me hungry.
Flowers and planter boxes alongside the wooden banquet tables created the pub’s beer garden. The man behind the bar wearing a white shirt, vest, and a box tie atop his button down, motioned for me to approach. His outfit spoke of an era well before the German occupation.
I politely wished him “Dobry den,” good day, and then asked for beer, “Pivo prosim”. I handed the bar tender the heavy glass pitcher which had the logo of the local brewery etched into it. The bartender knew I was Victor Stein’s son; we had lunch in the garden a few weeks ago. The barman turned the wooden-handled faucet as he tilted the pitcher on its side, creating a 45 degree angle. The golden colored beer began to flow with very little foam.
But as the pitcher started to fill, a rocky white billow began to bloom atop the golden lager. The barman set the pitcher down to settle the foam. After a few minutes he again filled up the pitcher so that the head rose above its rim. He picked up his skimmer and ran the straight edge over the surface of the glass to behead the froth with his steel tool. He pushed the pitcher towards me and as I picked it up he cautioned me to be careful, echoing the advice my mother had given me earlier.
The walk back presented a real challenge. The sidewalk was bumpy; there were three steps down into the courtyard of the apartment building, then up 3 flights of a narrow winding staircase. I had a few breathless moments but kept my balance and did not spill a drop. I arrived feeling very proud of myself. And I’d have a story to share with my school friends on Monday.