Zee Juuhman's Chreesmus Mahkehts, Poland In Germany, and A Glimpse Of The Dark Past part II

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Oberhausen, Germany

Robert, Trivium's pal from Warsaw had flown in to visit us all in Oberhausen, and he found just the kind of dinner spot we needed. Gdanska is a very traditional Polish place in Oberhausen; having just returned from Poland right before being in Oberhausen, I felt as if I were warped directly back to Warsaw. The same newspaper-menu, flyers advertising Polish concerts and artists adorned the walls. The place felt as if Grandma's long-tabled dining area was somewhat punk-rock-ized. It felt traditional and semi-modern-underground-kid Polish - a good vibe. 

My love for Polish beer even after the glass-eating incident (see the Warsaw episodes) should be a stern indication of the severe delectability of Polish brews. I start with a Zywiec (the very beer that was partially responsible for my scarred up gums) and we began ordering our feast. We order a Polish "Test Plate," a Gdansk plate (3 kinds of meat, chips, dumplings, cabbage with mushrooms, red cabbage, salad), Polish dumpling plate, and bratkartoffeln (a German fried-potato dish and a personal favorite of mine). 

All the food here was without a doubt in my mind certainly Polish (well… the fries (let's call em what they were) were not very Polish) and certainly good. The dumplings reminded me of Mama B's dumplings from a week back; meat and cabbage is always a theme when talking Polish food. When it comes to the spectrums of food-goodness on tour, catering is at the bottom, then restaurants, then  home cooked. Of course the home cooked food I had at Magda's mother's pad would reign supreme over all Polish food I'll probably ever eat in my life again - but this place was definitely "aiiight" (as Rob, one of my food soul mates and singer of Koufax would say when regarding something pretty good and not mind blowing). 

We finished our meal with a shot of some Polish vodka (there is always Polish vodka being consumed by the typically not-vodka drinking me when at a Polish spot) and were off across the street to a cocktail bar Extrablatt. 

The place was… sorta aiiight. When talkin cocktails - I'm a fan of the proper cocktails. Speakeasy style. Words like pre- and post- usually precede "prohibition" in the kind of cocktail place I'll be frequent. I had a decent Caipirinha, then we were off to whatever bar we'd hit on our trek back to the hotel. 

Here came the Lynch-moment (a term I've dubbed during a David Lynch film when all the sudden everything turns… well - insane). We found a random, quiet little bar - unmarked, un-filled. We ordered some German beers at a table - Robert, Paolo, Ella, and myself at a four-person booth, Dennis sitting at a stool at the head of the table; in walks a random drunk guy (this happens everywhere in the world right?) - then he sorta gets in Dennis' face/ear. 

Whether you spoke the language or not, it was clear the dude was talking shit - trying to either start a fight or start kissing Dennis. We kept a close eye in case it was about to get Roadhouse up in that bitch… but it didn't quite escalate to that point. The dude heiled Hitler… HEILED… talked a quick line of shit and stumbled off. Craziness. Yeah - that kind of ignorance and belligerence can (and does) happen anywhere on the planet - but dude… let us not forget the atrocities our planet has suffered over stupidity. It was an insanely rare occurrence; of all the years I've been touring Germany I'd never seen that before… but let's face it - the dude was a drunk… and wanted Dennis. 

Warsawa (Var(d(roll that r))shava) III

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Warsawa (Var(d(roll that r))shava) III

Warsaw, Poland

I awaken. Half-alive, belching a flavor not unlike rubbing alcohol. The reminder of recently peppered glass-flakes coating my gums doesn't like the toxic fumes emanating from my definitely acid-reflux-ing wodka-gas-chamber-stomach. Am I on a cruise ship? Better yet… a 1920's cruise ship? Sure as hell feels like it. Alas - the reminder of why I don't drink the hard stuff if it ain't in a Pre-prohibition-era cocktail… My eyeballs feel like they're swimming in a fish tank that is my skull; my stomach sloshes with each moaning turn I make to attempt to congeal onto the floor to find some water. I try to look at my hands - they're quivering - or wait. Is that my vision quivering? 

Fuck vodka.

I crawl out and chug water. 


Water after a night of drinking a lethal amount of stuff that looks like water - makes you think you're drinking that toxic gunk from the night previous. My stomach turns.

Robert crawls into the room - his eyes are blood-shot red as mine; we speak in gravelly-mutterings and hand signals. He begins pulling stuff out of the fridge.

This is how you know a friend is a friend. Even amidst a crippling hangover - he still pulls it together to make some breakfast for you; some Polish breakfast. The name escapes me - but it's comprised of an Eastern European-style cheese, chopped radish and chives, some diced onion - mixed together until creamy, then spread on lots and lots of bread. That stuff was good. Exactly what I needed to soak up the still churning vodka-soup bowl in my gut. Revitalized, we prep for our traditional Sunday feast at Mama Bielecka's. 

Mama B is Magda's mother. Apparently she's been working non-stop in the kitchen for a day and a half already prepping a feast for Robert, Hubert, Madga, Magda's sis, and myself. We show up to the apartment and are greeted by Magda's super sweet mom. Home-cooked food beats all. Home-cooked food is cooked with love - it's an ingredient you can't buy in a restaurant… Mama B was so ecstatic to have us all in her place, that we were greeted with a cheerfulness you can only get from a mother. 

The smells pouring out from the kitchen stop you in your tracks - you can almost taste the exquisite feast that would soon take place. We're at first, given a tour - we check out Magdalena's painting room, get a glimpse of the food being finalized and plated up - then we take our seats. 

Hubert's hurtin' just as bad as Robert and I, and he's brought us a cure: home-made beer. This is the stuff Hubert's been cooking up in tanks in his own home - damn good pils. Strong stuff. 

I wasn't able to notate that day - only eat. We all gather around together and chat food, family, friends; we go through the family photo albums and get a heart-warming look at the family that is the Bieleckas. We start with a delicious soup - chunks of sausage inside, with a rejuvenating sourness to it that has become so instantly-recognizably Polish to me. Home-made pickles come up next - just as good as any pickle I've ever had. A pair of traditional salads soon follow: one semi-reminiscent to coleslaw/potato salads of back home, and a beautiful pickled, warm beet salad.

Potatoes simply roasted with dill and salt is the side for the pan-fried, breaded, pounded-thin pork cutlets. These things are magical. They remind me of katsu in Japan, which is just flattened, breaded, fried, delicious pig-product. I love me anything piggy. Multiple kinds of hand-made pierogis come out next, producing a table-resounding "ooooohhhh." Those dumplings were something special. A couple veggie-types, a couple meat types - I had about 20 of them. The cabbage meat stew was a highlight for me - unlike anything I've ever had before really. The flavors were similar to pickled cabbage and pickled beets, the bits of ground meat and vegetables paired into the thick broth-like substance were jaw-dropping. 

As if that wasn't enough… next came all hand-made, home-made desserts. A jam-filled doughnut with powered sugar and some kind of coffee-cake. Mama B could sell those doughnuts out of a truck in Austin and sell out within opening-hours… that good. Big, baseball sized dough-balls filled with a tart, yet sweet fruit jam. 

I threw in the towel. I was beaten, lovingly into submission and food coma. Mama B even gave me my Polish name: "Mateuz." It sounds like "Matoosh." It means "Matthew" in Polish. 

I don't get to be with my family when I'm out on tour… but when I am able to spend time with my friends' families around the globe - it's like a sampling, a taste, an encouragement and revitalization to keep doing what I do. It reminds me that there is no greater thing in life than family and friends. I was brought in as one of their own - and I will never forget my time shared with my friends in Poland. 

Warsawa (Var(d(roll that r))shava) II

Warsawa (Var(d(roll that r))shava) II

Warsaw, Poland

After a well-deserved sleep, Robert and I headed off to meet with Magda and Hubert (Magda's bf, Polish soldier, and soon-to-be good new pal). The lunch spot we met up at was The Inn Under The Red Hog; a Polish communist-era themed restaurant. They had an old commie-car out front… the menus were all designed like the communist propaganda newspapers… this was a rad spot. Apparently some celebrities from back in the States will even pop into this place occasionally. Bruce Willis with your pork lard anyone?

We started with the "Luxurious Lard Of The Polish People's Republic." Lard made with apple, onion, cracklings and sausage, served with bread and pickled cucumber. Yes. Lard. Friggon good lard at that. It's essentially like butter mixed with maybe pate'? Spread that artery-clogging deliciousness on some Polish-bread… and you are set my friend. The Krolewskie beer went just right with it. The Pickles are Polish and freakin' great. Our main was "Edward's Board." A "miner's" platter of "the choice of meats and sausages with a heap of potatoes and other extras." This is what I want. All the time. A steaming heap of meat - meant to share with your nearest and dearest pals. Meat, condiments (like the necessary mustard), pickled cucumber, and other Polish typical-ities. A Polish meat-board with beer and bread is all you need to kick start your heart back into life. Couldn't have been any better.

We hoofed it from lunch to the city; we passed where the old Polish ghetto wall was. It is painful to think that all that nightmare happened not too long ago; I was shown buildings where bullet holes still left pockmarks on the face of the city… people would be lined up and executed by firing squad right in public where they stood. Remnants and reminders of the past left scars littered about Warsaw on our journey to the next spot.

Our walk took us to a local art gallery with a show of Beksinki - one of Magda's favorite painters; one of Poland's most accomplished and famed, late artists. Beksinski's works hurt to look at. The anger and depression that he is able to depict in his surreal works will chill you to your source. Somewhere between the lines of Picasso's surrealism and H.R. Giger's grotesqueries is what you'll find ever-present in Beksinski's works. You can't miss this stuff - look him up; a show of his near you? Go see it. It'll change you.

We went to a skyscraper that overlooks all of Warsaw, then to E. Wedel for some dessert chocolate with chili and whipped cream in a hot chocolate drink. Needless to say - that rocked. Polish sweets and chocolates are done very well in this country - ya gotta try it. 

Robert and Hubert were explaining to me the bars in Poland… apparently they have bars where you do a shot of vodka that is paired with specific foods… things like pickles, pickled herrings - all that good salty, vinegary stuff that chases that brutal Polish vodka down. Since I always want a new bar experience unlike the typical ones I get to see - I was giddily reinstating a lot of the fact that we needed to go to one of the "vodka pickle bars." 

We hit Meta for some Kasztelan beers and Zoladkowa vodka. With our shots (and there were to be many) came pickles, pickled herring and other pickled vegetables and bread. It's rare that I drink anything other than a craft beer or two, some good red wine, or a proper cocktail on tour - in strict moderation… but when in Poland… drink as the Polish do. We slugged down shot after shot after shot, trading off between pickles and pickled, salted fish; I started getting a little… loud… a little… rowdy. 

Amazingly, my journalistic instincts were still semi-functional: I still remembered to take some photos and take some notes. My notes from here depict my obvious over-toxification: "more and more bars." "broken glass." 

From Meta, we went to a jam-packed wodka bar - their food becoming even more Grandma-meets-sophisticated than our previous haunt. There was more fish, sausage, this Polish sour cream/ cheese-chive stuff with potatoes, far-more-vodka-than-ought-to-be-drunk, terrine. More vodka. By this point, we had some more mutual local-friends show up, and me and Hubert had begun settling into a good, loud, drunken new kinship.

I traded old tour stories, Hubert traded old military-life stories. One amazing one I can vividly recall: Hubert mentioned his unit was doing training off in the wilderness of the Ukraine. Their objective was basically to survive the harsh conditions of the Eastern-wintertime - scavenging, camping, foraging, hunting - to survive. They one day found a chicken… but didn't exactly have a way to cook it. They put the chicken in a clay-pot sort of formation… buried it… and heated it. Ate it. Pretty intense. Militaries all around the world work very hard. My father was a Marine - and would share stories of their partying here and there with me; Hubert had similar intense drinking stories to share. My goal? I wanted to drink "like the Polish do." I certainly held my own. 

If you know me, you know I seldom get nuts. Warsaw? I started yelling (in Polish) "It's fucking cold, you cunt!" down the streets… started buzzing peoples apartments in the wee hours of the a.m. yelling something similar to that classic quote… then… the broken glass. 

Through some foggy alleyways and by a river, we went into this red bar. Ordered some beers and some more shots. I have this… tendency… to chew my plastic cups on tour whilst drinking alcohol. Call it a nervous tick or whatever… but I guess I completely forgot that I was drinking out of a glass glass. Started chewing - kinda hard. I feel a pop. The glass shatters and spills all over me; chunks of broken glass rain down on the carpet and on my soggy lap. But wait… 25% of the glass is… shattered… still on my tongue. I carefully extract the leftovers, wipe myself down, then the owner comes by and buys us a round of drinks for the "glass-eater." I gain a round of applause and title of being able to drink with the Poles. I am the belligerent king of Warsaw for the night. 

I have zero recollection of how we got back - but we did. 

I sleep a spinning, randomly-waking-up comatose sleep. 

I am Matt's toxic, gasping liver. 

Warsawa (Var(d(roll that r))shava) I

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Warsawa (Var(d(roll that r))shava) I

Warsaw, Poland

Thanks to a few of my good friends in Poland, I am beyond delighted to say that Warsaw, Poland holds a very special place in my heart. I don't know how many people know fuck-all about Poland outside of what we learned in school… but I tell you - if you don't and you don't want to get out and eat what the Polish eat and see what the Polish see - you are missing out severely my closed-minded "friend." Let's face it - I've brought it up numerous times, and I'll bring it up again: musicians have an amazing job - they travel the world essentially for free and have hours upon hours of spare time to see and eat the world. I've met more touring guys who hate being overseas than love it; who hate the food overseas; who could care less about the ways of life of the people around the world who make it possible for them to do what they do (and take that for granted). It pains me to think of these kinds of people. If you have a mindset like that… we probably aren't friends and probably won't be. You're probably a picky, finicky, know-it-all, jaded prick anyways. Me? I know you only live once… life is short - live that shit!

I met Robert years back through Paolo, when we were touring with Iron Maiden. Robert is a devout Maiden-fan who travels pretty much all around the world to see them play. We supported Maiden back in '06 and I guess sorta converted Robert into a Trivium-fan as well. We'd run into each other here and there around the globe as he travelled out to our shows - and keep in sparse touch. Well - one day, I found out we had a 2-3 day drive after our Warsaw show to get into Sweden. I wasn't stoked on that… I mentioned to Robert that I was considering flying early to Sweden, to which he said: "You should stay in Poland!" 

I'm far more adventurous and social than I used to be. Dare I say that I may have been on the path to becoming one of the aforementioned kinds of jaded-musicians that I nowadays despise so much… thankfully - I saw the light. The light of food. So the plan was that I would stay at Robert's pad for those days, eat, sightsee, hangout with friends, then meet up with the bus in Sweden via a flight (and not a hell drive). I don't know if in every case globally that it's a great idea to stay in someone's home who you didn't really know that well… but this time I lucked out. 

First things first. It was show day in Warsaw (a headlining show, still on the way up to meeting the In Flames headlining tour) and it was lunch time. Robert did invite the rest of the band to stay in Warsaw only to be greeted by a unanimous "no" - but I was keen. Paolo, Robert, and I all went to lunch in the old town square. Bazyliszek was our lunch spot. Tyskie beer to start. I've previously mentioned how Czech beer is considered to be one of the greatest beers on earth. For me? I say Polish tops Czech. I love Polish beer. I don't know how to describe in perfect accuracy what it is exactly that Polish pilsners do so differently in comparison to it's German and Czech counterparts… but I can tell you that I like it better than the others. It's drinkability surpasses German beers by a long-shot - and I typically always want a German beer. 

The obligatory bread came out first; zurek (sour barley soup with smoked bacon, seasoned with grated horseradish, served with egg and white sausage) followed. Zurek is an insanely Polish dish. Everyone knows zurek in Poland. The sourness is of a similar characteristic to things like sauerkraut and pickled cabbage and pickles (there are a lot of sour flavors in Poland) the chopped egg and chopped sausage and bacon within add nice textural treats in the broth - delectable soup I must say. Pierogis are very Polish as well. Kind of like Poland's version of gyoza or an empanada even. We had meat, cabbage and mushroom, and cheese and potato - all served with bacon cracklings. It's hard not to eat all of them yourself. Pierogis, like all things in dumpling-form - is something I always get quite ravenous about. 

The other style of food that gets me hot and bothered? To quote Anthony Bourdain: Meat in tube form. A platter of Polish sausages served with sauerkraut and mustard was our main. Blood sausage you say? Oh my god yes. Sound creepy to you? Don't think of the name - just try it. If you like sausage and sausage breakfast-patties - you will like this. Yeah, it's a little iron-y… but you're a mammal - your steak had blood running through and around it - let's eat the isolated source! It's freaking good!

From here - it was time to head back to the venue in Warsaw to meet up with another one of our long-time friends from Poland: Magdalena. Magdalena - to say the least - is an artist. Her painting skills when I first met her were near-legendary… nowadays? She's progressed so much to a point that I am convinced in a few more years of honing her skills - she will be one of the only modern-day painters who paints like the classical-greats. She's that good. 

We heard about her back in the day due to her renditions of Trivium band members. At the show, she brought along her mother (a big Trivium fan as well!), sister, boyfriend, and a few others. Magda soon presented the four of us with her newest creation: updated paintings of the Trivium boys in their In Waves garbs. Impeccable. She even nailed Nick's classic… uh… Nick look. Ha!

The first time we played Warsaw, I think 80 kids showed up. That night? 1,000 kids. Sold out show. Incredible. My Polish keeps getting better too. It's gotta be all that Polish alcohol and food I consume. 

We wrapped up an incredible show (some of the Behemoth dudes even came by!) and I was off to Robert's for a nightcap beer with some friends and a doze to prep for my day of Warsaw the next day.