Archives for category: Eastern Europe

I Went Home And Cried

Haresh Shah

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Sitting across from me in a small windowless meeting room of the Holiday Inn in Warsaw is stunningly beautiful Beata Milewska. She is dressed in a conservative grey dress with the sharp U shaped neckline, trimmed with black satin ribbon. Underneath the geometric U are black brass buttons that run down to and below her breasts. Blonde, she wears fashionably shorter hair, reaching down just a little above her neck. Her eyes are sparking blue and smiles are amused but slight and measured. I guess her to be in her late twenties or the very early thirties.

Sitting next to her is Tomasz Raczek – supposedly to translate from English, but Beata herself is quite proficient in the language, so other than some whispered consulting, Tomasz is there more as an observer who would eventually be the editor-in-chief of the Polish edition. On my left is our Hungarian Publisher Deszo Futasz and on my right is Rolf Dolina, the man who has gotten us together in hopes that I would be positively impressed by Beata and her ability to gather a qualified team of professionals to create the Polish edition of Playboy.

After landing in still the old and the dilapidated Warsaw-Okecie Airport, as we drive into the city, I witness the remnants still of the city heavily bombed first by the German Luftwaffe in 1939, and then by the Russians in 1944 to quell the Warsaw Uprising. Both sides of the road are lined with the communist era’s drab and dark harsh apartment blocks. Making them further sinister is the shroud of the cold and the cloudy month of January. I cringe at the thought of the lives lived and of deaths and destruction and the dismay that still must permeate the day-to-day lives of its citizens. After all, it’s just little over a year since the fall of the Berlin wall.

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Always Ready For A New Business

Haresh Shah

 

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Must have been early 1990 when landed on my desk is an impressive corporate brochure of Autraco Holdings based in Vienna, Austria. In the cover letter signed by its CEO Rolf Dolina, he expresses his desire to want to publish Playboy magazine in Czechoslovakia. But we are already in negotiations with Vladimír Tichý of the Gennex Corporation, the publishers of magazines, books, films and video that included the Czech language edition of ComputerWorld. That in itself wouldn’t have stopped me from entertaining another option, especially because the Autraco Holdings boasts of its wide reach in the former eastern European countries that include Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The countries where they are sole distributors of Memorex USA, Honda automobiles and Fuji films. Enclosed with the letter are some issues of the Czech language version of Germany’s Burda Moden, widely distributed and hugely popular women’s magazine – similar to the Simplicity patterns in the United States. The magazine he was publishing with Hana Wagenhofer – his Prague based business partner in several joint ventures. And it is mainly for Hanna that he is so keen on doing Playboy. It would give her a stronger presence on the Czech publishing scene.

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Haresh Shah

A Touch Of Communism In The Capitalist Culture

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In the fall of 1989 over the weekend of October, 6/8, Carolyn and I went to the Duneland Beach Inn in Michigan City, Indiana and returned with an agreement that the best course of action for us as individuals – to use the corporate cliché, going forward, was for us to go our own way. Not even a tiny blip on the world stage. That very weekend on October 7, Hungary becomes independent and on October 23rd, the acting President, Mátyás Szűrös declares the country a Republic in the public ceremony held in the same Kossuth Square where the first mass rally of the 1956 revolution was held.  The historic moment for which I happened to be in Budapest and along with the Hungarian  editors, would go to the square to hear the declaration proclaimed. We come back to the office and begin to put together the first issue of Playboy to come out a month later – the first of the three I would launch behind the iron curtain. On November 4, I turn 50 with a big fanfare and the nine liter Salamanzar  bottle of Lanson champagne, compliment of my boss and the friend Bill (Stokkan). The Berlin Wall falls on November 9th, the Velvet Revolution unfolds on Národní třída in Prague on November 17th, and in-between on the weekend of October 14/15, Playboy headquarters in Chicago move some three plus blocks south east  to 680 N. Lake Shore Drive from it’s imposing skyline presence at 919 N. Michigan Avenue. The Bunny Beacon that illuminated the Chicago skies for 23 years, is no longer and neither are the floor high letters PLAYBOY, lit bright.

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Haresh Shah

From Sleazy Sex Show To The Celebration Of Suave Saxophonist’s 50th

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When I was based in Munich, it wasn’t unusual for me to start my day with breakfast in Munich, have lunch in Essen and land in Paris just in time for dinner and the next evening have dinner in Milan. Georg Kührer of the printing house Girardet once observed: you hop on and off the plane more often than I do a bus. Amazing. But true. Even so, the eleven days I remember the most about my relentlessly on the go happened years later when I was living in Chicago. What to me is mind-boggling still, is the intensity of those days, being in constant motion and deprived of sleep. And I don’t even drink coffee, let alone take any other stimulants. I thrived on the natural adrenaline and the high I got from interacting with people.

I began my journey in Chicago on the afternoon of Thursday, October 15,1992, arriving in Budapest the next morning.  I loved the way the airlines wine and dine you in the front of the plane on their intercontinental flights. No phones ringing, nowhere you can escape. I am not for watching movies or doing any real work on planes. Reading yes. But mostly what I love the most is to really let my hair down, enjoy the treats, perhaps snooze a little bit and arrive at my destination, if not well slept, quite relaxed.

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