I have always wondered why so many of those who happen to be born within the Carpathian arch, in Transylvania, have a sense of coming from a unique, privileged area, why they keep an enduring and unquestioned commitment to it whatever may happen in their lives, whether they stay there forever or only rarely come back. I have written these pages in an attempt to understand some of this through my own experience.
I was born in Râşnov (in the German language Rosenau) with its 13th-century peasant fortress, built by the Sachsen (Transylvanian Saxons), towering up above my Brueckengasse (the Lane of Bridges). The village of my birth was in the southernmost area which the Transylvanian Saxons colonized, in the 12th century. Until World War I, it used to be on the frontier with the kingdom of Romania (Wallachia before the kingdom was founded). Fragments of the old frontier wall can still be seen in the grass.
Identity is about invariables. What happened to the stable heritage of invariables during the communist takeover and the historical drifting of the 1950s thereafter, at the time of my childhood? The landscape of Rosenau is typical of much of Transylvania, with its fortress as the distinguishing mark. When seen from a distance, the steeples of the German (Lutheran) church, erected in the 14th century, and the two Eastern Orthodox churches in the Romanian part of the village, are like the masts of ships sailing over in the waves of wheat and corn across a vast stretch of the BarsaLand. There are the rich, lush pastures next to the village, surrounded by Romania’s tallest mountain range, with oak and fir forests at their base and the barren mountain peaks above. Remember the stunning landscapes in the film Cold Mountain? It was in this area that the film was shot.
That is the type of landscape that induces a sense of boundlessness, but always within a sense of balance and of limits. ”Here, we are protected against everything, even against the harsh crivats wind blowing in from the Russian steppes,” was what we heard people say, and repeated among ourselves as children, hanging around our Lane of Bridges while dangling our legs down from one of the many bridges, or climbing in the trees of some orchard, or lying hidden in stacks of hay. A Saxon child of 5 or 6 could already speak some three languages: his or her native medieval German dialect, which has survived only in these parts and sounding not unlike the way they speak in Holland and Luxemburg, as well as standard German and Romanian. ”We have the best potatoes in the world!” we bragged. Potatoes may seem insignificant, but a little Transylvanian cannot imagine a world without potatoes... Furthermore, nowhere else are our varieties of mountain flowers, Enzian and Alpenrosen. Our Edelweiß is more beautiful than in Switzerland.