That was our many-layered home. The need and the reality of it. The fortress had been built there in the Middle Ages, in defense against invasions from the East, and it stood like a stone echo of the protective arch of the mountains. The pattern was further echoed by the walls around every household down in the village, designed as it was in a strong, definitive way. The facades and walls clung to one another from house to house in orderly rows down the streets, the habitat of communities holding together in close solidarity where everyone had his or her precise position and space. Patterns that seem immutable, under the circular time of eternal return, paradoxically coexisted with the linear, constructive timeline of history. A structure that had been strong and vital for centuries had now split when it came into collision with a time of enormous waste and destruction. “Im Mauerkranz der Burgen starb die Zeit” (Time Died in the Ring of the Fortress Walls), thus Hans Bergel, the Bavarian writer, began his lament in 1995; he too was born in the Lane of Bridges in Râşnov.
The Saxon community lived in the area for some eight hundred years; the Râşnov Romanians, noted in ancient documents, had also been there for centuries, many of them quite prosperous. Romanians, with their sheep flocks, had made their way through the Carpathian passes from times immemorial, in their transhumance migrations. Old documents also record of the Gypsies in Râşnov, with their traditional crafts – blacksmiths, barbers, shoemakers and cobblers. Everyone gathered at the blacksmith’s, by the river, bringing their oxen and horses to be shod – fewer now, but still some. The dark red embers and red-hot iron seemed to have been glowing there from the beginning of time. And Trica nearby, with his many children, was the only shoemaker in the area.
The vertical walls frequently direct one’s gaze upward. Johannes Honterus, the 16th-century Renaissance uomo universale, drew a map of the stars that he could see so clearly from his native Braşov a few miles to the north; his cosmography came to be used in many European schools. And people there dreamed even of space flights, for in the 1550s Konrad Haas experimented with multi-stage rockets, not far to the west, in Sibiu. My ”Onkel Fritz” as a child joined a large crowd of people to see one of the pioneering pilots, Aurel Vlaicu, make the earliest flights in the Bârsa land at the beginning of the 20th century, generating the unforgettable emotions of a myth come true. Among these Saxon families who were ordered out of their homes and brought to Râşnov after the war, some still smilingly remembered what a Munchhausen fantasy they once thought Hermann Oberth’s ideas on spaced flights to be; but Oberth from Sighişoara proved to be a true visionary; and his exceptionally creative post-war career accomplishments were carried out at NASA. One of our favorite games as children was to run down our stony lanes and imagine ourselves to be both pilot and aircraft.