Vienna’s “Little Greece” and the First Greek Newspaper

Greek church in Vienna
Designed in Neo-Byzantine Style by architect Theophil Hansen, built in 1858 financed largely by Greek Austrian Merchant Simon Sina . Credit: Vilma Billinis

When we consider key communities of the Greek Diaspora, Vienna rarely comes to mind.

However, if we are to consider historically significant communities for modern Hellenism, the Austrian capital should certainly be on the shortlist.

Like other Greek communities in the former Austrian Empire, the Greeks’ large-scale migration to the seat of Hapsburg power followed the wars between the Austrian and Ottoman Empires.

After the Ottomans’ two failed attempts to capture Vienna, the Austrians, at the head of a multinational European force, pushed the Turks southward and eastward to the gates of Belgrade, which today is the capital of Serbia.

Greek merchants set up shop in Vienna

After the Treaty of Passarowitz, signed in 1717, the borders stabilized. There was a push to reopen commerce and reconstruct a vast area devastated by decades of war.

Along with fixing the boundaries between the two empires, another key provision of the agreement was that Ottoman and Austrian subjects had right the right to engage in commerce in the territory of the other.

However, the Austrians lacked knowledge of the Ottoman Empire, and the Turks themselves disdained commerce.

Hence, as a practical matter, the opportunity fell on Ottoman minorities — Orthodox Greeks and Serbs, as well as Jews and Armenians — to fill the gap.

As the capital of a large multiethnic state, Vienna was a key center for these “Ottoman” merchants.

The Vienna Greeks hailed primarily from Macedonia, and Epirus, as well as from Thracian cities such as Constantinople and Philippopolis (the modern Plovdiv, Bulgaria).

Bulk goods, particularly cotton, were the lifeblood of the trade.

Though legend has it that Greeks set up the first coffeehouse in Vienna, Dr. Theophanis Pampas, a local Greek Viennese doctor with an encyclopedic knowledge of the community, informed Greek Reporter this singular honor goes to the Armenians.

The Greek community there, as it did everywhere it set down roots, grew and prospered.

But in typical Greek fashion, factions soon appeared. Some Greeks took Austrian nationality and, in many cases, even entered the Austrian aristocracy.

Others retained Ottoman nationality, which had the benefit of lower taxation but restricted their activities to the mercantile sphere.

Vienna’s “Little Greece” and the first Greek newspaper

Each faction then founded its own church, both within a hundred meters of the other, in Vienna’s Greichenviertel (Greek Quarter).

These churches remain to this day, and liturgy alternates every Sunday from one church to the next.

Education and literacy in Greek were key endeavors of the Greek community, regardless of faction. The Vienna Greek school is older even than the Greek state, itself, being founded in 1804.

Standing in a church older than the modern Greek state, watching Greek-language instruction classes which have been held continuously since 1804, is an experience never to be forgotten.

Greek appeared in print for first time in Vienna

Aside from the educational efforts that were ongoing since that time, Vienna is where the Greek language first appeared in print.

The actual site of the first Greek printing press is gone. Still, within the Greek Quarter, a stately baroque Viennese building houses the second Greek printing press, where Rigas Pheraios, the protomartyr of Greek independence, edited the Greek newspaper Ephimeris.

All Greek publications, particularly those in the Diaspora, in a genuine sense descend from this press.

Every time I think of a Greek newspaper or publication, in print or online, particularly those abroad, my mind returns to that building, if only for a moment.

By the time of Greek independence in the 1820s, the Vienna Greek community was at its acme, with about 5,000 members and an increasingly diverse socio-economic structure.

The members of the educated and prosperous community naturally agitated for Greece’s liberation from the Ottoman yoke. Still, at the same time, they were conscious that the Austrian Empire, a bundle of nationalities under a relatively benign but absolute autocracy, was violently opposed to and fearful of revolution.

Austrian Greeks, therefore, had to walk a very thin line between joy at Greece’s prospective independence and their personal safety and livelihood in the Austrian Empire.

After all, it was the Austrians who had arrested the Greek revolutionary Rigas Pheraios in the key Austrian port of Trieste and handed him over to the Turks, who strangled him in Belgrade in 1798.

Greek community is a shadow of its former size

Greek independence did not result in the large repatriation of Austrian Greeks.

A few returned, but the impoverished little kingdom could offer nothing compared to the vast Austrian Empire.

The inexorable tide of assimilation began to absorb the Greeks into Austria’s ethnic goulash.

Other Greek Austrians began to move to Britain or France or even New Orleans in the United States, where the economies were more dynamic than Austria.

However, a trickle of new immigrants arrived in Austria through the years, which, along with the long-established members’ efforts, kept the community intact.

The two world wars increased pressure on the Greeks to assimilate, particularly during the barbaric Nazi era, but their religious community survived.

After the war, Austria had none of the mass immigration of Greek “Gastarbeiter” or guest workers, like in neighboring Germany. Still, a fair number of Greeks went to Austria, particularly for study, and afterward, they often stayed in the country.

Like Austria itself, Vienna’s Greek community is a shadow of its former size but it is still prosperous and elegant. Like the “Greektowns” of America, today’s Viennese Greeks rarely live in the original area where their ancestors settled.

Still, some do have businesses there, and the church and community center, as always, function as the community’s center of gravity.

Greek society in Austria witnessed and participated in key events in the history of Hellenism.

For those of us who are Diaspora Greeks in America or Australia, the remarkable survival of such long-established communities should be a source of pride and hope that our communities, too, will also pass the test of time.

Convicted Terrorist Koufodinas on Hunger Strike for 45 Days

Koufodinas hunger strike
Koufodinas leaving Korydallos prison in November, 2018 after being granted a leave from prison. Credit: AMNA

Convicted terrorist Dimitris Koufodinas, who has been on a hunger strike for 45 days demanding to be moved to an Athens prison, announced on Monday he will stop drinking water as well.

Koufodinas, a leading member of the November 17 (17N) terrorist group, is serving 11 life sentences for a series of murders. He has never expressed remorse for the killings.

In 2018 he was moved from Korydallos Prison in Athens to a low-security agricultural facility after the prison council approved his parole request, citing “exemplary behavior.”

He was granted at least six temporary prison leaves during the period 2017-19. During one of his leaves he was spotted leisurely strolling the streets of Athens.

In 2020 Koufodinas was sent to a high security prison in Domokos, in central Greece.

His supporters claim the move to the new facility is unlawful and punitive. He started a hunger strike in early January of 2021.

On Monday the convicted killer announced he will also stop drinking water, until his demand is met.

Costa-Gavras appeals for Koufodinas’ life

Greek-French film director Costa-Gavras on Monday appealed to the Greek PM, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to save the life of Koufodinas and order his return to Korydallos Prison.

“Based on the principles of humanity, (I appeal to Mitsotakis) to fulfill his obligation under the rule of law and to order the return of the convicted prisoner Dimitris Koufontinas to the prison where he was serving his sentence,” Costa-Gavras declared.

Last week, dozens of academics and artists also sent a letter of appeal to the Greek government asking for Koufodinas to be moved.

However, the Greek government insists that it is abiding by the law. It says that democracy cannot be blackmailed by a convicted terrorist.

Supporters on the rampage

Some leftist groups supporting Koufodinas have launched attacks against media outlets and government ministers.

On Monday evening his supporters vandalized the offices of Action24 TV station in Athens.

They threw paint and rocks, damaging the glass entrance of the building. They also threw printed flyers in the building as a way to show solidarity with Koufodinas. One suspect was arrested.

A little later, a different group vandalized the office of Education Minister Niki Kerameus. It sprayed red paint on the walls, calling for solidarity with Koufodinas.

Koufodinas was hit-man for terrorist group

17N was formed in 1975 and led by Alexandros Giotopoulos. Koufodinas was the main hit man for the group.

The terror group conducted an extensive urban guerrilla campaign against the Greek state, banks, and businesses, as well as American, Turkish, and British targets.

It committed 103 known armed robberies, assassinations, and bombing attacks, during which 23 people were killed.

Emirates to Restart Flights Between US and Greece

Emirates to restart US-Greece flights
Emirates to restart US-Greece flights. Credit: Adrian Pingstone/Public domain

Emirates Airlines, based in the United Arab Emirates, plans to restart flights between the United States and Greece on June 1, 2021.

This is the second major announcement regarding the restarting of flights in the new year, with American Airlines stating earlier in February that it would begin serving Athens again as of June 3.

However, the Emirates aircraft will be the only carrier which will offer first-class service along the route.

The Emirates announcement came as airline companies look toward the future in restarting their routes, with the UAE company pledging to restart its Newark to Athens service. This is the same route taken by United Airlines, although the Emirates flights had previously been year-round; all others had been seasonal.

The Newark-Athens flight actually connects to Dubai, for those who are interested in going on to the Middle East.

The flights will employ the same Boeing 777-300ER aircraft as they had used previously. The first-class cabin will be the same as used during the previous operation of the route.

Flights will Depart Athens at 5:35 PM and arrive in Newark at 8 PM the same day; they will Depart Newark at 11:55 PM and arrive in Athens at 4:05 PM on the next day.

American Airlines

American Airlines announced that they will launch a new service for the summer 2021 season from Athens to John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) in New York, starting June 3.

Flights on a Boeing 777-200 are now available for booking.

The Fort Worth, Texas -based carrier announced that it will start flying a seasonal daily flight to Athens that will operate seasonally through October 30.

“We are looking forward to launching our new route between New York and Athens, which will offer enhanced connectivity between these two great cities,” said Tom Lattig, Vice President of EMEA Sales and Distribution at American Airlines.

“The safety and comfort of our customers and team is always our top priority and we look forward to serving our customers on this popular business and leisure route,” he said.

Other options for vacationing in Greece in 2021

Flights to Athens will likely be popular among those looking to vacation in Greece once more.

In Summer 2021, Delta is slated to fly two daily nonstop JFK to Athens flights, while United will fly once daily from Newark along with the Emirates flight, according to Cirium schedules.

Of course, timetables could change depending on vaccine rollout and worldwide COVID-19 case counts.

For its part, American flew once-daily seasonal service to Athens from Chicago (ORD) and Philadelphia (PHL) before the pandemic, and it remains to be seen if either of those will return, in addition to the new JFK flight, as demand recovers.

On May 6, 2021, American will also take off for Tel Aviv, Israel once again, marking the carrier’s return to Israel. It last operated a nonstop flight there in 2016, from Philadelphia (PHL).

Boosting connectivity

Both new long-haul JFK flights will be featuring 37 seats in fully flat business class, 24 premium economy recliners, 66 extra-legroom main cabin extra seats and 146 standard coach seats.

Wi-Fi and seat-back entertainment will be available on all flights.

American and JetBlue are also working together to provide flights and both promised to boost connectivity in the region, with a focus on Boston and New York. JetBlue will provide much of the domestic connectivity to American’s international routes from the area.

American Airlines is the world’s largest airline when measured by fleet size, scheduled passengers carried, and revenue passenger mile.

Before the pandemic, the airline handled more than 200 million passengers annually with an average of more than 500,000 passengers daily. As of 2019, the company employed nearly 130,000 people.

Protesters Clash with Police Over Education Bill in Thessaloniki

student protests thessaloniki
Credit: Greek Reporter

Police made over 30 arrests in Thessaloniki on Monday after they clashed with protesters who were demonstrating against a new education bill that calls for the presence of police on university campuses.

The protesters had occupied a building on the campus of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki for several hours on Monday, voicing their dissent against the controversial bill, which recently passed in Parliament.

Clashes between Greek riot police and protesters ensued after the police entered the building and began to remove the activists.

The Dean of Aristotle University, Nikos Papaioannou, notified the police of the presence of activists on campus after he received notice that they had occupied one of the university’s main buildings early Monday morning.

Employees of university, which is currently closed to students due to Covid-19, were barred from entering the building by the demonstrators.

In an attempt to block others from being detained, protesters were seen gathering around police vehicles and preventing arrests.

Greek riot police utilized airborne chemicals and other crowd dispersal methods to keep the protesters from reentering the building.

After the clashes on the Aristotle University campus ended, protesters made their way down Aristotelous street, one of the city’s most central roads, carrying banners in opposition to the education bill.

Accusations of excessive force by police

Social media users shared images and videos from the protest, decrying what they considered to be excessive shows of force by the police.

SYRIZA, Greece’s left-wing opposition party, denounced what they considered “police violence” at the protests in Thessaloniki on a statement Monday:

“The police forces used chemicals and proceeded to arrest students. We denounce police violence, which constitutes the expression of the current government’s antidemocratic deviation from and flagrant violation of university asylum and democratic freedoms.”

The protest comes in a long line of similar such demonstrations against the education bill.

The education bill and university asylum

Notably, the controversial bill allows for the presence of 1,000 uniformed, unarmed guards on Greece’s university campuses.

These guards will answer to the Greek Police Force, and have similar policing duties.

Unlike in almost all other countries around the world, where having police on campus is the norm, the move is incredibly controversial in a nation where the presence of police in universities has been banned since the 1980s.

Police were barred from Greek university campuses in 1982, in a move called university asylum. The decision was made in response to the Polytechnic uprising years earlier.

In 1973, students protesting the country’s right-wing military dictatorship were brutally murdered by police and military forces at Athens Polytechnic University.

Since then, university asylum has been held as sacrosanct in the country, especially by the Greek left, who consider the latest education bill to be an antidemocratic attempt at curbing student freedoms.

Greece’s current center-right government has moved away from this tradition, contending that nearly all top universities around the world are patrolled by police officers or security forces.

Turkey Announces Massive Military Exercise in the Aegean

Turkish naval exercise
Turkey to conduct a major military exercise in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. Credit: Twitter/Turkish Ministry of Defense

Turkey announced on Monday that it will conduct large-scale naval exercises in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea between February 25 and March 7.

The announcement came from the Turkish Ministry of Defense, which said that Turkish Naval Forces will launch the exercise dubbed “Blue Homeland 2021.”

The Turkish Army and the Air Force will also participate in the drill.

More than 80 ships to take part

According to the announcement, the purpose of the exercise is to evaluate the preparedness of the headquarters, units and ships affiliated with the Naval Forces Command.

A total of 82 ships, 5 maritime patrol aircraft, 12 naval helicopters and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Amphibious Marine Corps troops will participate.

In addition, general purpose and attack helicopters from the Land Forces Command, and F-16, F-4 and HIK (Airborne Warning and Control) aircraft from the Air Force Command, will also take part.

Vessel Cesme continues research in the Aegean

Meanwhile, the Turkish research vessel Cesme was on Monday sailing in international waters in the sea area between Limnos and Agios Efstratios.

Sources in the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Sunday that the ship had begun conducting “hydrographic research” in the northern Aegean Sea, and will continue until March 2.

The activity of the Cesme was being monitored by a Greek Coast Guard vessel.

Greece protested to Turkey last week over Turkey’s plan for the survey.

Officials in Ankara said recently that the surveys by the vessel Cesme will be restricted to the surface of the sea, as the vessel will not lay its cables on the seabed.

The Cesme carried out hydrographic surveys in the same area in 2018 under the close monitoring of Hellenic Navy ships.

Greece-Turkey talks

Turkey’s military activity in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean comes at a time when Athens and Ankara are supposedly organizing the next round of exploratory contacts.

Talks are expected to take place in Athens sometime in March. Greece has sent an invitation to Turkish officials, but, to this date there has been no official confirmation of the date.

Greece has clearly stated that it is coming to the 62nd round of exploratory contacts with confidence, in good faith, a spirit of cooperation, a constructive climate.

It has stated it hopes that the talks will lead to de-escalation and that the Turkish side will come in a similar spirit.

RelatedAre Greece-Turkey Talks Doomed to Fail?

Coronavirus: 880 Cases, 24 Deaths in Greece Monday

Credit: Greek Reporter

A total of 880 cases of the coronavirus were diagnosed in Greece on Monday, which represents four fewer than those recorded in the country on Sunday.

Nearly half of the total cases diagnosed in Greece were found in Attica, home to the Greek capital of Athens, where a total of 396 instances of the coronavirus were identified.

Transmission of the virus is particularly high in the center of Athens, where 95 cases of the virus were identified on Monday.

In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, a total of 85 cases of Covid-19 were identified in the last 24 hours.

Tragically, 24 people with the coronavirus passed away in the country over the past 24-hour period, which is just one more than those recorded Sunday.

Currently, 346 patients with Covid-19 are intubated in Greece, a marked increase from the 326 patients undergoing the serious treatment on Sunday.

Pierrakakis: Vaccination certificate will make travel easier

Greece began to issue vaccination certificates, or forms that prove one’s inoculation status, on Friday.

While some view the certificate as a way to discriminate against those who refuse to receive the vaccination, Kyriakos Pierrakakis, Minister of Digital Governance, considers the form to be an important step toward returning to normalcy.

“If you have a certificate and you have been vaccinated, you do not need to do a border test,” Pierrakakis stated, referring to the proof of a negative Covid-19 test currently required to enter the country, during an interview with SKAI TV on Monday.

Over 55,000 vaccination certificates issued since Friday

Pierrakakis, who is also a computer scientist, has been leading a massive effort to digitize Greece’s notorious bureaucratic system as Minister of Digital Governance.

He announced that, since the digital vaccination certificates were made available on Friday, over 55,000 have been issued to those who have received both doses of the shot across the country.

Those who have been fully inoculated against the coronavirus are able to acquire the vaccine certification, which comes in virtual or printed form, the day after they receive their second dose.

The certificates feature the vaccinated person’s data, including which shot they received against Covid-19 and when they completed both doses, along with a unique QR code.

Applicants can fill out their information on a digital platform, including their AMKA number and their codes for the government platform TaxisNet, to receive record of their inoculation.

The virtual record of one’s vaccination status is not mandatory.

Total 180,672 coronavirus cases diagnosed in Greece

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total 180,672 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in the country, including all those who have recovered from the virus.

Of the cases diagnosed in Greece in the past seven days, just 43 are associated with foreign travel and 2,399 have been linked to contact with a known case.

Of the 346 patients intubated currently, 85.5% are over the age of 70 or suffer from preexisting conditions.

Additionally, a total of 1,280 patients have been discharged from ICUs around the country since the beginning of the pandemic.

The 24 new deaths recorded on Monday bring the total number of fatalities in the country to 6,321, and 95.7% of those who have passed away with the virus were over the age of 70 or suffered from underlying health issues.

The Greek Shepherd Who Became Chicago’s Greatest Marketing Genius

Marketing Genius Bernie
Bernie Sanders pictured outside the Billy Goat Tavern in another of his ubiquitous memes. Credit: Facebook/Billy Goat Tavern

Marketing genius can take many forms — from the “Music Man” salesmen of the early 1900s, selling band instruments to poor townspeople — to the person who started the “Bernie with Mittens” phenomenon, prompting the veteran Vermont senator to be seen spending some time with Greek yiayias in the chorio.

A Greek-American tavern owner may have well been the marketing genius to top them all, however. William Sianis rose from being a penniless shepherd in the hills around Tripoli to become the owner of a legendary tavern and one of the greatest marketing geniuses of all time, transforming his “brand” into part of Chicago folklore.

Billy Goat Sianis
Billy Goat Sianis shows off his goat’s dog tags during the Second World War. Credit: Facebook/Billy Goat Tavern

It all started in 1895 in Greece, when William, later known as “Billy Goat,” Sianis was born. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1912 — where he taught himself English by reading newspapers. He became a devoted Chicago Cubs baseball fan and bought the Lincoln Tavern across the street from Chicago Stadium, where the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team team played.

According to legend, Sianis repaid the debt for the tavern after a baby goat fell from a truck just outside the building. He decided to adopt the goat as a pet, and named him “Murphy.” Sianis became Murphy’s number-one fan, and somewhat of a goat aficionado, which led him to rename his bar “The Billy Goat Inn“.

Genius marketing moves during political convention of 1944

Sianis was quick to earn a reputation for being a shrewd business owner and an expert in publicity stunts. His first hugely-successful promotion — using a bit of reverse psychology — was in 1944, during the Republican National Convention in Chicago, held at Chicago Stadium.

Sianis posted a sign outside his tavern stating “No Republicans Served Here.” Angry Republicans — naturally — stormed inside to inquire as to why, only to find themselves getting served, and being welcomed with a smile.

You might very well ask yourself “Who does things like that?” And how could this type of marketing genius pop up out of nowhere, out of the fields of Greece?

Sianis and goat
William “Billy Goat” Sianis and his goat named Murphy getting kicked out of Wrigley Field during the World Series. Credit: Facebook/Billy Goat Tavern

“The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more”

But it was the fateful moment just one year later, in 1945, when Sianis decided to bring his cherished pet to the World Series game the Cubs were playing at Wrigley Field, that brought him everlasting fame.

Clad in a jaunty Cubs jersey, who wouldn’t have let the adorable goat named Murphy take part in the momentous day at the hallowed ballpark?

Ballpark security, that’s who. Ordered to take his “smelly” goat back home, Sianis angrily declared before all who were within hearing distance “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more! The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed on Wrigley Field.”

Of course, the Cubs lost that game, which lost them the entire World Series — and they never even made it back to another Series until 71 years later, in 2016. Sianis’ words echoed all across America and what became known simply as “The Curse” has gone down in sporting history, becoming a touchstone in the nation’s cultural life.

In spite of — or maybe because of — The Curse, to this day, the Billy Goat Tavern proved to be a great success story, with the establishment boasting a high-stacked burger known — of course — as the “Cheezborger.” Made with baseball and the Cubs in mind, it has become a home run for all who feast on it.

Today, there are several Billy Goat Taverns in the greater Chicago area, at O’Hare Airport and even in Washington D.C.

The origin of his genius

Who does things like that, growing an empire across the US after immigrating as a 17-year-old who didn’t know any English? William Sianis, the marketing manager from the fields of Greece, that’s who.

His grand-nephew, William Sianis, spoke to Greek Reporter recently about “Billy Goat'”s particular genius and how his early life in Greece shaped him, and the journalists, actors and other public figures he came to know in his lifetime.

He related that “Billy Goat” was born in 1894 in a small village called Paleopyrgos. When he was young, he heard his dad, George, and his brother Frank talk about their experiences in the United States. “They had traveled to San Francisco in 1903 and came back to Greece in 1906 after the big earthquake,” Sianis recalls.

Just six years after that event, Billy Goat and Frank decided they would up stakes and throw their lot in with the United States once again. Sianis says that all he knows for sure about this decision is that his own father, Sam, had told them that there was a substantial Greek population in Chicago at that time and that the city was growing and looking for workers.

“After a long 40 to 50-day long boat trip across the Atlantic they ended up in New York, where they took a train to Chicago,” Sianis says.

Shining shoes and delivering newspapers

After the duo ended up in the Windy City, they put to work doing anything they could to get along, including shining shoes, delivering newspapers, selling small items like cigarettes, candy, magazines and any other such work that they could find.

In 1916, William became an American citizen and began work as a copy boy for the Chicago Tribune. “This is where he gained the love of newspapers and the reporters who write for them,” Sianis says. “He learned to speak English reading the paper and working for the paper,” he explains.

“After years of saving money and with prohibition just ending, Billy Goat had decided that he wanted to own a bar. In early 1934, he saw a place at 1855 W. Madison Street, called the Lincoln Tavern,” he recalls.

And that was the fateful moment that eventually made William Sianis into the “Billy Goat” and catapulted him into the legend that would live forever. Across the street from the Chicago Stadium, the bar was in a perfect location for attracting the crowds who flocked to hockey games, as well as the sportswriters who covered them.

Goat becomes national icon

And it was a harbinger of his native business prowess as well, because the two checks — for $205 — that he used to pay for the property ended up bouncing. Somehow — no one knows exactly how — Sianis convinced the owner that he could come up with the money in one week.

As the current owner says, “There must have been events that weekend because was able to pay him after the first weekend.”

And it wasn’t long before the famed goat that made the legend possible showed up, literally at the door of the tavern. After few months of being open, “he heard a thumping sound on the front door. He opened the door and saw a goat outside,” Sianis recalls. At that time, of course, Chicago was known for its big stockyards where animals were taken for slaughter.

A truck destined for the stockyards had gone by earlier and the goat had fallen from the truck, he explains, and he simply had ended up at the front door of the establishment. “Billy Goat took the goat in,” Sianis says, and put it out in the back of the building where there was a small yard.

“That night there was an event at the stadium and the place was busy with customers, so he decided to bring the goat in and parade him around the bar,” Sianis relates to Greek Reporter. “The people loved the goat. He saw the reaction of the people after having the goat around for few nights and decided to keep the goat and name him ‘Billy.’ He then decided to name the bar Billy Goat Inn.”

Billy Goat Tavern
Billy Goat Tavern became the place to be thanks to Sianis’ genius marketing moves in the 1940s and 1950s. Credit: Facebook/Billy Goat Tavern

The Place to Be in Chicago

Never one to miss a trick, William himself adopted the nickname Billy Goat for himself –and he even grew a goatee.

Sianis related that Billy Goat simply had a “fun personality” which people enjoyed, telling jokes and telling tales about his adventures getting to Chicago.

The Billy Goat Inn soon became the place to be on account of Billy Goat’s personality. “He wanted to provide a show to his customers with a cast of characters like few goats, duck named Susie Q, and a one-toothed cat named Ruby,” Sianis says.

“When there were sporting events, the bar would attract reporters who Billy Goat enjoyed talking to, because of his days working as a copy boy. He would tell reporters stories and they felt comfortable there. He even set up a wall of telephone booths where they could call in their stories after the event and then stay at the bar,” he noted — yet another mark of Billy Goat’s unique marketing genius.

“To keep the practical jokes going, he had one booth set up with a phone where if he squeezed a rubber balloon attachment, he had behind the bar, it would squirt water through the phone while the person was holding it,” Sianis says. “When the circus was in town, the entertainers would come and sometimes bring an animal with them to the bar, from a donkey to even an elephant. Billy Goat had created this atmosphere,” he explains to Greek Reporter.

Billy Goat Sianis for President
Billy Goat runs for US President in another of Billy Sianis’ many marketing stunts. Credit: Facebook/Billy Goat Tavern

On the first day of the 1944 Republican Convention, held at the Chicago Stadium, the Billy Goat Inn had only managed to do $20 in sales, however. Billy Goat, angry that the extra media that was there to cover the convention had blocked the bar with trucks, knew he had to come up with some kind of way to attract conventioneers and reporters to the bar.

From the depths of his native genius, he came up with the idea of putting up a sign saying “No Republicans Served Here.” Naturally, it wasn’t any time at all before word spread about this sign — and before long, the place was packed with Republicans for the remaining days of the convention. “He was clever and promoted the place as much as he could,” Sianis adds.

The Curse of the Billy Goat

“In 1945 the Chicago Cubs had made it to the World Series against the Detroit Tigers and Billy Goat had decided to buy two box seat tickets, one for himself and one for his goat named Murphy,” he relates.

Normally, “the owners and ushers were accustomed to have Billy Goat show up with a goat for a sporting event or political event and they would let him in,” Sianis explains. But it was a different story that day — and that made all the difference.

“When he showed up at Wrigley Field with Murphy, the ushers let him in the stadium until they could get confirmation from ownership that it was ok to stay. That day it was raining, and a wet Murphy had a strong goat smell, so Cubs owner William Wrigley told the ushers to allow ‘Billy Goat’ Sianis to stay — but not Murphy the goat because he smelled and he didn’t want him amongst the fans,” Sianis says.

And that’s when history was made. “Billy Goat got mad because he had brought Murphy there with him to help provide good luck for the Cubs, as the different goats he had owned had always brought him.

“As everyone knows, the Cubs lost the game, and the Series, prompting Billy Goat to send sent a telegram to Mr. Wrigley saying, ‘Who Smells Now?’ Sianis recalls.

Curse lasts 71 long years

“The Cubs had not won a World Series since 1908 but had been a good team often winning division titles and going to the Series up until 1945. After 1945 they started to lose and a few years later the reporters asked Billy Goat if he put a curse on the Cubs. He told them that as long as they wouldn’t let the goat in the stadium, they would never win a World Series,” Sianis states.

What became known as “The Billy Goat Curse” lasted for a total of 71 years.

William “Billy Goat” Sianis, one of the greatest marketing geniuses of all time, passed away in 1970 — and as his grand-nephew adds, “was never allowed to bring the goat to the stadium” during his lifetime.

World Series
The new Billy was brought to the World Series in 2016 in a successful attempt to break the curse for all time. The Cubs won. Credit: Erik Drost, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

However, Cubs management attempted to assuage this slap against the dignity of the family in 1984 — or, most likely, attempted to reverse the curse. “My father Sam was invited by new owners of the Cubs, the Chicago Tribune, in 1984 to walk the goat around the field in Wrigley Field to remove the curse,” Sianis recalls.

“So Sam and the goat ‘Socrates’ walked around the field on opening day. That year the Cubs won the Division Title and made the playoffs for the first time since 1945, ” he states.

Sianis’ marketing genius knew no earthly bounds

Billy Goat’s unending promotions of his tavern provided interesting stories that reporters were only too happy to write about in the papers. In March of 1970, however, he showed his prowess in yet another way when he wrote a letter to US Secretary of State William Rogers to apply for the “first food and liquor license on the moon.”

He wrote, “The Greeks charted the heavens, and it’s only fitting that a Greek open a restaurant on the moon to serve our astronauts when they arrive so they don’t have to eat the synthetic food the space agency has been serving them.”

In 1964 The Billy Goat Inn had to move out of its original location and relocated to 430 N. Michigan Ave. It was known as the Billy Goat Tavern and Grill from that point onward. Sianis says that his grand-uncle kept the land at Madison Street for parking during events at the stadium, but the city wanted to tear down the buildings around the stadium to provide for even more parking.

At the Michigan Ave location, which is still there, he decided to put a grill in, which later would become an inspiration for a famous Saturday Night Live skit and — in true Sianis form — this turned out to be another stellar way to promote the tavern nationally.

Mike Royko recounts Sianis’ adventures, praises work ethic

This location was centrally located to four newspapers, The Chicago Tribune, American, Daily News and The Sun-Times, making the new Michigan Ave location into a hub for journalists in all media as never before, Sianis says. It was a place where they could come and discuss topics, or just unwind with a quick burger and beer.

One of the most famous journalists was Pulitzer Prize winner Mike Royko, who became a close friend to Billy Goat and had an almost brother-like bond with Sam, writing about the duo often in his articles.

Sianis relates that Royko loved the work ethic and the “American dream” story that Billy Goat had lived, to come here with nothing and develop the legacy that he had. When Billy Goat passed away, the journalist wrote an article about him in which he said: “It was typical Billy Goat that he would die during the only five hours of the day when his place wasn’t open for business. That’s how good a businessman he was.”

Like so many Greek-Americans who came to the Americas, Billy Goat never forgot where he came from, and he helped the family back in Greece by no only sending them money but also sponsoring them one by one to come to the United States and work or get an education, his grand-nephew says.

He had three brothers and two sisters who all came to the US for a few years to help at the restaurant,  later returning home with the money that they could never have earned in Greece at the time.

“He also started bringing his nephews to the US, which included my father and uncles,” Sianis relates to Greek Reporter. “My father, Sam, came to the US in 1955 and worked along side Billy Goat until he passed in 1970.

“Sam then inherited the business because Billy Goat did not have any kids. While working at the restaurant with Billy Goat my father learned what kind of work ethic it took to run the place and promote his uncle’s name, which he has passed on to us the third generation.”

After Billy Goat Sianis passed away, he adds, Sam kept his name and legacy alive. He kept the special relationships Billy Goat had created with the newspapers alive and thriving. In addition, he says, he would also continue to take the Goat to different events, “including trying to take the goat into Wrigley Field,” he remembers.

John Belushi, playing Sam Sianis as he serves up “Cheeseburgers, No Coke – Pepsi!” in a Saturday Night Live skit. Gilda Radner plays one of the Tavern patrons. Photo: Screenshot from

The Cheezborger — with Chips and Pepsi only!

Then in 1978, the Billy Goat Tavern was catapulted onto the national scene yet again after a Saturday Night Live skit called “Olympia Diner” aired on television. From that point ever after, the famous phrase “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! No Fries – Chips! No Coke – Pepsi!” has remained in the American lexicon.

Don Novello, the writer of the skit, had been a regular at the Billy Goat Tavern and Grill on Michigan Ave when he worked for the Leo Burnet advertising agency. “He would come in for a burger and drink after work and saw how the business operated,” Sianis says.

“He would see Billy Goat walk around with his cane and jokingly tap people with it to keep them alert. He said that a few times he hit Don on the head with a toy hammer that made a squeaky noise and told him to go get a haircut.

“Billy Goat would walk the floor to entertain people and keep an eye on the bar,” he explains. “Sam would be behind the counter with few other uncles yelling out the orders as they were taken from customers lined around the counter,” Sianis recalls.

“He would yell out ‘Cheezborger! Cheezborger!’ People would then ask for fries and get the response of ‘No Fries-Chips!’ And then order a Pepsi and get ‘No Pepsi – Coke!’ This was something Don Novello never forgot, even after going to New York to work for Saturday Night Live,” Sianis recalls, and he would regale John Belushi, Bill Murray with tales about Billy Goat as well.

This most recent contribution that the former Greek shepherd made to American society proves yet again that he will never be forgotten, for his marketing genius, his work ethic and his remarkable personality.

Greek National Theater Director Investigated for Abuse of Refugee Children

National Theater director
Former Greek National Theater Artistic Director Dimitris Lignadis. Credit: Facebook/National Theatre of Greece

The public prosecutor’s office of Greece launched an investigation on Monday into the possible involvement of three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with Dimitris Lignadis, the former head of the Greek National Theater.

Lignadis resigned his politically-appointed position recently as a result of what he stated was a “toxic climate.”

He is the focus of the new investigation, which involves unaccompanied minor refugee children taking part in theatrical activities under his direction.

During the past several days, a media firestorm has erupted over the charges that refugee children who had taken part in the activities may have been victimized during the years 2017-2018.

Refugee children unwilling to return to drama classes

Sotiria Papageorgakopoulou, the head of the court prosecutors, has now ordered the investigation of all articles and social media posts claiming that the NGOs responsible for running shelters for unaccompanied refugee and migrant children at that time arranged for them to have drama lessons with Lignadis, who is currently facing charges as a serial rapist.

Meanwhile, Irini Agapidaki, the Special Secretary for the Protection of Unaccompanied Minors in the Migration and Asylum Ministry, on Monday sent a memo to the prosecution asking for the investigation of the complaints that came to light concerning the period 2017-2018.

According to reports, many of the unaccompanied refugee children expressed reluctance and refused to return after two to three drama lessons.

Moreover, those responsible did not ask to know the reason why the children did not want to visit Lignadis nor did they make any report of this.

So far, according to Greek media reports, three NGO’s have allegedly been involved in the case.

Lignadis has already been accused, and arraigned for, of two rapes. One of a 14-year-boy, in 2010, and another for which the victim has been deposed in front of prosecutors and which has not been made known as of yet.

A woman who claimed to be intimately connected with Lignadis and was knowledgeable about his private life is said to have provided important testimony.

According to the Hellenic Police, Lignadis presented himself at police headquarters, in central Athens, where he was subsequently arrested.

Ugly political repercussions

Lignadis had resigned from his prominent post on February 6 after complaining of what he called a “toxic climate of rumors, innuendo, and leaks.”

However, since he was appointed to the post of National Theater artistic director by the Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, the government is now under fire.

Following the accusations against Lignadis, opposition parties have laid some of the blame for the wrongdoings at the feet of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Mendoni, even calling for her resignation.

There have been accusations by opposition parties that both PM Mitsotakis and Mendoni were aware of Lignadis’s illegal activities, yet they still placed him into the highest, most powerful position in Greece’s National Theater.

Culture Minister Lina Mendoni hand-picked Lignadis for the position in August of 2019 after doing away with an open competition for the directorship of the Theater.

Former director arrested on rape charges Sunday

The 56-year-old former theater director appeared before a prosecutor in Athens on Sunday and was ordered to respond to the multiple rape charges brought before him at that time by Wednesday.

Athens’ Penelopean Daycare Makes Brighter Futures Possible for Children

The Penelopean Daycare Center
Some of the Daycare childrens’ drawing about the pandemic. Credit: Facebook/Daughters of Penelope Hellas

The Penelopean Daycare in Athens’ Nea Ionia neighborhood has taken care of some of the most disadvantaged children in the Greek capital for decades.

But now, due to the pandemic, its volunteer administrator says the daycare is facing hardship, since there are far fewer children in attendance.

The volunteer director, Veronica Tsalta, a member of the worldwide Greek organization The Daughters of Penelope, who graduated with several degrees in mathematics and worked for years in Greece’s Social Security administration, led a webinar discussion on the plight of the Penelopean daycare recently.

The Penelopean Daycare Center
The Penelopean Daycare Center in Athens’ Nea Ionia district. Credit: Facebook/Daughters of Penelope Hellas

Taking care of infants means added difficulties

Because so many of the children’s parents lost their jobs due to the lockdowns, she explained to the webinar participants, which included other Daughters around the globe, most of the Daycare’s usual pupils are now at home.

However, at the same time, many more infants, rather than older children, are attending the daycare every day. And these, the most vulnerable children of all, need more caretakers who are experienced in taking care of them.

Due to the strict ratio, set by the Greek government, of having only ten infants to one caretaker, more helpers need to be hired right away.

Overall, the Daycare’s attendance has fallen from its usual 140 to 90. But the infants who are there every day now need a great deal of care, which of course all infants do at that stage — and the funding that the Penelopean receives from the EU in the form of ESTA grants has been slashed.

The Penelopean Daycare Center
The backyard of the Penelopean, where children are free to play. Credit: Facebook/Daughters of Penelope Hellas

The Penelopean — serving Athens since 1958

The story of the Penelopean all began on April 4, 1958, when two Athenian women — who were also Daughters of Penelope — discovered that girls as young as 12 were being taken to a prison for adult women after experiencing minor brushes with the law.

Seeing this situation as intolerable, the women, Eleni Kanalokou and Eleni Trianta, launched a fundraising campaign that would enable them to build a suitable school for young women.

Members of the Karyiatides Chapter of the Daughters, the women then devoted their lives to the creation of the institution.

Raffling off items such as cars that were donated to them, the women were eventually able to buy a large plot of land and build a 16,000-square-foot school in the Nea Ionia district of the Greek capital.

The Penelopean Daycare Center
One of the playrooms at the Daycare. Credit: Facebook/Daughters of Penelope Hellas

Children receive love and support from staff

Ever since that time, the Penelopean has been open and serving the neediest and most vulnerable in the city of Athens. However, its mission changed in 1975 after the Greek government stated that such a school was no longer needed for this particular segment of the population.

At that time, the Penelopean was transformed into a Daycare; since then, it has taken care of babies as young as eight months all the way up to five years of age, offering them a safe, supportive and educational environment — all under the loving care of its staff.

With twenty employees now, and a maximum of 140 children, the Daycare serves a crying need in the Greek capital, offering free care to families that have little or no income. Its board members who are Daughters of Penelope are all volunteers.

Serving children up to five years in age, the school offers classes in art, music, gardening, science and even Theater, where the children can learn about this most Greek of all arts.

The children are provided with breakfast, a snack and lunch by kitchen staff, who make all their food from scratch. No frozen or prepared food is ever given to them.

All the children are instructed at the appropriate level for their ages, according to Tsalta, who stresses that the children are not simply “parked” there by their working parents — they are nourished and allowed to develop and flourish to their full potential.

As Tsalta notes, this rich learning environment allows needy families to give the same “luxury of an education that they mights get in a costly private daycare.”

Parents only need an official statement of their financial status and an official statement from a doctor that their child has been vaccinated with the standard inoculations for their age. A majority receive their childcare for free while approximately 10% of families pay 70-150 euros per month.

Fully 65% of the Penelopean’s funding comes from ESTA, the European welfare program, and other funding comes from Greece’s Social Services bureau.

The Penelopean Daycare Center
One of the walls of the Daycare showing Christmas projects. Credit: Facebook/Daughters of Penelope/Hellas

Friends of the Penelopean lends vital support

But at the present time, the Center is experiencing shortfalls due to the need for infant carers, and fundraising is now in full swing. The group called the Friends of the Penelopean also gives their monies and in-kind donations every year, including sheets, toys, heating oil and so on, to cover 5% of the Center’s budget.

The annual budget for the Center is 300,000 euros and the cost per child is 2,500 euros — a cost that Tsalta says is many times lower than with other daycares.

With colorfully-decorated playrooms, schoolrooms, and bedrooms, as well as laundry, kitchen facilities and even a beautifully-appointed chapel, the Center is a bright oasis of love and support for these smallest and most vulnerable Athenians.

However, the 60-year-old building needs constant upkeep, and several important projects are on the docket, including a new playground, new bathrooms, a new heating system and a new emergency exit for the second floor.

Daycare responds to pandemic by giving food to needy families

When the pandemic hit this past year, the Daycare helped those families who were most in need by distributing all the food that was in its refrigerators. After the strict lockdown, however, as it has reopened its doors and is functioning once again, the daycare itself needs help.

Tsalta says that the Penelopean’s new fundraising campaign includes the raffling off of a painting by noted artist (and Daughters of Penelope sister) Marina Vamvakas, among other things.

The longtime volunteer board member states “It’s not just the satisfaction derived from helping needy families — we also give children the psychological and educational background needed for healthy living — away from violence, either domestic or social.”

She adds that “Every donation counts, and is welcome and appreciated. We thank the Daughters of Penelope and all those who help us not to lose our faith so that we can keep one doing the best for our children, as we have always done.”

To donate, please visit the Daughters of Penelope website and ask that your donation be earmarked for the Daycare, or their Facebook page, or contact [email protected]

Alexandros Ypsilantis: The Greek Hero Who Sparked the War of Independence

Alexandros Ypsilantis
“Alexandros Ypsilantis crossing the Pruth,” by Peter von Hess. Benaki Museum, Athens. Public Domain

Well before March 25, 1821 and the breaking out of the Greek War of Independence, Alexandros Ypsilantis had already decided that the first blow against the Ottoman Empire should be outside Greece.

A founding member of Filiki Eteria, Ypsilantis had made a general plan for the uprising, which was revised in May of 1820 in Bucharest with the participation of Greek rebels.

The plan was to aid the revolt of Serbs and Montenegrins, provoke a revolt in Wallachia,
provoke civil unrest in Constantinople, and burn the Ottoman fleet at the city’s port.

After that, Ypsilantis would go to Greece and start the revolution in the Peloponnese.

Having fought wars in the Russian Army, where he was promoted to Major General by Tsar Alexander, Ypsilantis was well-qualified to hold a position of power in the war of the Greeks.

He issued a declaration on October 8, 1820, announcing that he would soon be starting a revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

Ypsilantis chooses Wallachia to start war against Ottomans

Information on the Filiki Eteria and its activities had leaked to the Ottoman authorities, making Ypsilantis hasten the outbreak of the revolt in Wallachia and participate personally.

Legally, the Ottomans could not move their forces into Wallachia or Moldavia without Russian permission, and if the Ottomans sent troops there, Russia might go to war.

The governor of Moldavia, Michael Soutsos, was a Phanariot Greek who was secretly a member of the Filiki Eteria.

However, he was also an opportunist and a turncoat who secretly informed the government of the Ottoman Empire of the planned invasion.

On February 22, 1821, accompanied by several other Greek officers in Russian service, Ypsilantis crossed the Prut River at Sculeni and entered into the two Principalities.

Two days later, at Iasi, Ypsilantis issued a proclamation, announcing that he had “the support of a great power,” meaning Russia.

Ypsilantis was betting on Orthodox Russia to intervene should the Ottomans invade Wallachia or Moldavia to quell the rebellion.

However, Tsar Alexander was still a committed member of the Holy Alliance, and acted swiftly to disassociate himself from Ypsilantis.

Ypsilantis was denounced for having misused the Tsar’s trust, and was then stripped of his rank and commanded to lay down arms.

Ottomans assemble troops to enter Wallachia

Ypsilantis’ public fall from grace with the Tsar emboldened the Turks, who began assembling a large number of troops to quell the insurrection in Wallachia.

Ypsilantis was also short on money and could not even pay his troops, so they turned to plundering for their remuneration. He was then forced to march to Bucharest to enlist volunteers.

In Bucharest, Ypsilantis found that he could not rely on the Wallachians to continue their revolt for assistance in the Greek cause.

Ypsilantis and other Greek leaders believed that the Wallachians and Moldavians would support the Greek cause, on the base of their common Christian Orthodox faith.

However, he had underestimated the increasing resentment of Greek domination in the Principalities and the first stirrings of what would become Romanian nationalism.

It was then that the Sacred Band was formed, comprising young Greek volunteers from all over Europe.

Ottomans defeat the Greek army

The Ottomans crossed the Danube river with 30,000 troops, ready to supress the revolt and defeat Ypsilantis’ outnumbered army.

This is where the Greek general made a tactical mistake: Instead of advancing on Braila to  prevent the Turks from entering the Principalities, he retreated to Iasi.

There, after a series of long battles, the Filiki Eteria Army was defeated, with the final blow dealt at Dragatsani on June 19.

Ypsilantis never went to Greece after that, as he had planned. Her finally retired to Vienna —  where he died destitute on January 29, 1828.

The once-proud Major General’s last wish was to have his heart removed and sent to Greece. His friend Georgios Lassanis fulfilled Ypsilantis’ wish, and his heart is now located at the Amalieion in Athens.