Warsaw, July 15, 2018 (AFP) - Two Hungarian tourists have admitted to trying to steal bricks from the ruins of a crematorium at the site of the former Nazi German death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, according to police. The 30-year-old woman and 36-year-old man were caught on Saturday when another pair of foreign tourists saw them stuffing the bricks into a bag and notified security. "The man and woman were charged with theft of a cultural asset. They both admitted to wrongdoing," said regional police press officer Mateusz Drwal. "They explained that they had wanted to bring back a souvenir and didn't realise the consequences of their actions," he told the Polish news agency PAP.
The Hungarian tourists were each fined 1,500 zloty ($400, 350 euros) and handed a suspended sentence of one year in jail. Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of Nazi Germany's genocide of European Jews, one million of whom were killed at the camp between 1940 to 1945. More than 100,000 others including non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Nazi resistance fighters also died there.
Date: Wed, 4 Jul 2018 12:29:01 +0200 By Michel VIATTEAU
Warsaw, July 4, 2018 (AFP) - A grey Ferrari comes to a halt in Warsaw and a young woman emerges. Wearing Chanel sunglasses and carrying a little dog, she enters the Raffles Europejski hotel, a symbol of the luxury that has returned to Poland. Her destination is the historic pastry shop Lourse, which is located at the hotel, where guests pay between 250 and 4,000 euros ($290 and $4,700) a night and can count on perks like a personal butler.
The legendary Hotel Europejski, which was considered eastern Europe's best in the 19th century, has just reopened after five years of renovation work spearheaded by the Raffles brand. Poland's first Hermes store could be housed at the site, a source told AFP, though the French luxury goods giant would only confirm that it was looking into a project "in Warsaw in late 2019, early 2020". Luxury has become increasingly visible in Poland after a long absence due to the country's devastating losses during World War II and the policy of egalitarianism later touted by the communist regime.
Decades on, a new class of wealthy Poles has appeared, whose members include heads of successful family businesses, real estate agents and high-flying bankers. Many of the elite live in the 44-floor Cosmopolitan apartment tower in the heart of Warsaw. Opened in 2014, the building boasts a minimalist design by German-American architect Helmut Jahn, who also designed the European Union's headquarters in Brussels. Of the 100 most expensive real-estate sales in Warsaw between 2015 and 2017, 79 concerned flats in the Cosmopolitan building, said Karolina Kaim, president of Tacit Investment, the Polish firm that financed the building's construction.
- 'Vertical village' - The apartments vary in price depending on the floor and view. The most sought after units look out onto the Vistula River and the old part of town and cost nearly 10,000 euros per square metre -- a figure that may not shock Parisians or Londoners but is staggering to the average Pole who earns around 1,100 euros a month. Most of the apartment owners are Polish but there are also a handful of foreigners living in the "vertical village", which cost more than 100 million euros to build, according to Kaim. Residents include pop stars, football players and actors.
Other luxury symbols seen around town include high-end cars from brands such as Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce. Only a few years ago, the appearance of a sports car with the famous horse logo would have drawn a small crowd of onlookers, but today, Ferraris no longer stop traffic in Warsaw. The Italian luxury car manufacturer has two Polish dealerships, one in the southern city of Katowice and another in the capital. Their marketing head Karolina Szulecka prefers not to reveal sales figures but says that client interest is constantly on the rise. Were it not for the company's policy of limiting production, Poles would snap up "10 or 15 percent more" Ferraris, she told AFP.
- On the rise - From the collapse of communism, a new social group of entrepreneurs rapidly emerged, often former managers quick to buy shares in the newly privatised companies and develop them, or small entrepreneurs and artisans who swiftly adapted to the new conditions to create or grow a family business. EU funds and foreign investment into the country followed and increased after Poland's 2004 EU entry. Between 1990 and 2015, gross domestic product (GDP) more than doubled. Exports are growing and, according to International Monetary Fund forecasts, growth is expected to be just over four percent this year partly on "strong domestic consumption". Today, Poland's wealthiest are often the third generation of those small business owner.
- A dozen Ferraris - Meanwhile some Poles have many more than just one sports car. A land developer, who declined to be identified, admitted he had three Ferraris parked in his garage, while the brand's biggest collector in Poland has 12. He also prefers to remain anonymous. The general manager of the Bentley and Lamborghini dealerships in Poland, Piotr Jedrach, expects to sell around 50 British limousines in 2018 -- an increase on previous years thanks in part to the recent addition of an SUV model.
Prices start at around 230,000 euros. As for Lamborghinis, displayed in Warsaw in a car dealership that looks more like a futuristic temple, they too are forecast to see a boost in sales, with 60 expected to sell in 2019, thanks to the SUV Urus. The average Pole has nothing against the ultra wealthy. "If I had that much money, I'd also buy myself a Ferrari," said Hanna Mrowiec, a retired middle manager who lives in a small one-bedroom apartment. "But to have three? That's absurd. You can't drive three Ferraris at once," she told AFP. Nevertheless, luxury in Poland generally remains discreet, more the purview of cultural sponsorship than bling-bling excess.
The Swiss owner of Raffles Europejski, Vera Michalski, paid for around 500 modern Polish works of art to adorn her hotel. She also lent some from her own collection. As for the Cosmopolitan, there was an art exhibition earlier this year on the 42nd floor. It featured work by the late painter and sculptor Wojciech Fangor, the only Pole to ever have a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The Cosmopolitan exhibition was free for anyone to attend -- not just the happy few living there.
Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2018 12:39:18 +0200 By Bernard OSSER
Sromowce, Poland, June 29, 2018 (AFP) - Stanislaw Migdal sinks his long wooden pole into the water with a practised hand. For decades now, the mountain river guide has been propelling rafts full of tourists down southern Poland's Dunajec River Gorge in keeping with a 200-year-old tradition.
Wearing a vibrant blue waistcoat embroidered with colourful flowers and a black mountain cap, he expresses how proud he is to be part of the elite group of 500 men who hand down the job from father to son. "To be a river guide here, you have to be a mountain man from the Pieniny! You have to be born in one of the five villages by the Dunajec River, live here, be part of a family of guides," he told AFP. "We've begun accepting guides from elsewhere, but only if they settle down to live here."
The Dunajec River Gorge, which marks the border with Slovakia, offers breathtaking scenery. Over the course of millions of years, the river dug its bed across limestone mountains dotted with trees to create a dramatic valley. Its vertical walls can reach up to 300 metres (984 feet) in height and plunge straight down into the water. Seen from above, the rafts, which carry up to 12 people, look as small as ants.
- White water adventure - More than 230,000 holidaymakers from around the world took part in Polish rafting between April and October last year. The descent takes two to three hours, depending on the water level. At times, the current accelerates, giving rafters a wild adventure with white water and whirlpools. "It's amazing. It's not like anything I've ever seen before," said Kevin, a 30-year-old Irish tourist. "They don't have landscapes like this in Ireland... Not to such a scale," he told AFP.
For safety reasons, there are strict rules on recruiting guides. "To apply, you have to be a man between the ages of 18 and 30. No women allowed. For the first three years, you apprentice with an experienced master before taking theoretical and practical exams," said Migdal, who has done the job for 35 years. "Only masters are allowed to navigate when the Dunajec is running high because its depth varies from just a couple of centimetres to 18 metres, which comes with a number of dangers."
Marek Kolodziej has been propelling his raft since the age of 18. "My father did it before me, so did my grandfather. My brother does it with me and now my son has also joined in," he told AFP. "Since we were little we dreamt of becoming river guides. It was natural, no one thought we would do anything else."
- Man overboard - The job comes with its share of hazards, especially for the young men just starting out. "I fell into the water many times when I started as a guide. I was the helmsman and my pole got stuck between stones on the river bottom," said Czeslaw Kowalczyk, a 56-year-old who is on his 41st season as a guide. "I was young, inexperienced and I didn't want to let go. So I fell in the water!" Before they began offering tourists wild river rides, for centuries the guides floated logs down the Dunajec and Vistula rivers to the Gdansk port on the Baltic Sea.
Legend has it that for every trip the guide would add another seashell to the ribbon around his hat. They only began to carry tourists at the start of the 19th century to supplement their income -- first using boats dug out of a single tree trunk, then on wooden rafts after running out of large enough trees. In 1932, they formed a river guide association.
In the early days, it was a particularly tough job. Once done with the descent, the guide would have to use muscle power to fight the current and pull the raft upstream. Today, trucks do the job. Some things have changed but the guides' love of the job and their region remain intact. "The idea of quitting never even occurred to me," Kolodziej said.
Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2018 22:14:35 +0200
Warsaw, June 15, 2018 (AFP) - Poland's veterinary service on Friday recalled some 4.3 million eggs contaminated with an antibiotic, just days after Dutch eggs were pulled from supermarket shelves in Germany. Officials ordered the eggs, on sale in the domestic market, to be removed following an inspection. "The recall is caused by the presence of residues of the antibiotic lasalocid at a rate exceeding its maximum allowed value," a statement said.
The head of the Polish veterinary service Pawel Niemczuk said the drug was added "erroneously" to the feed given to laying hens on a farm near Poznan. "The feed for fattening chickens (which legally uses the antibiotic) was mistakenly given to laying hens," he told the Polish news agency PAP. On Tuesday German authorities pulled around 73,000 Dutch eggs from supermarket shelves after they were found to be contaminated with fipronil, the same insecticide that sparked a huge food scare last year.
The agriculture ministry of Lower Saxony said the batch of tainted eggs had come from an organic farm in the Netherlands, but insisted there was no danger to human health. The scare revived memories of last year's fipronil scandal, when millions of eggs contaminated with the insecticide had to be destroyed in 45 countries around the world. Commonly used to get rid of fleas, lice and ticks from animals, fipronil is banned by the EU from use in the food industry. When eaten in large quantities fipronil can harm people's kidneys, liver and thyroid glands, according to the World Health Organization.
Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2018 20:24:30 +0200
Warsaw, June 6, 2018 (AFP) - Poland has been synonymous with vodka around the world for years, but it is only next week that the country's first museum devoted to the national beverage will open in Warsaw. Housed in a 19th-century vodka factory that has been abandoned for decades, the museum is located at the heart of the former working class Praga neighbourhood that has been undergoing regeneration. "Our museum is a tribute to the history of vodka production in Poland, a history spanning more than 500 years," Andrzej Szumowski, president of the Polish Vodka Association, told reporters on Wednesday.
Since Poland entered the European Union in 2004, "Polish Vodka" strictly applies to spirits that are produced in the country according to traditional recipes using local potatoes or grains. "Poland is the cradle of vodka," Szumowski said, adding that the country's early distillation method was imported from Western Europe. "It's only 100 years later that vodka appeared in Russia," he said, wading into the eternal debate of which of the two neighbours can claim ownership of the alcohol. The museum, which offers vodka tasting, features five rooms whose floors are made out of wooden staves from old vodka barrels, and which show how the alcohol was made and drunk across the ages.