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The more relaxed years of totalitarianism after the 1940s and 50s did not succeed in ending the decline of the Saxon communities in Romania. There was the process of “repatriation” to Germany (after 800 years!); a critical mass of their sheer numbers was reached in the later Ceausescu years, followed by a massive immigration to Germany at the beginning of the 1990s, after the Revolution. The forced industrialization under communism (a heavily polluting chemical factory was built in Râşnov at the time) did not only mean a proletarianization of those dispossessed of their means of subsistence, but also an extensive in-country migration of people, with the clear intention of obliterating any remnant of the local, individualized characteristics. Newcomers took over the homes of the Saxons who had left; the smaller, older ones were pulled down and replaced with new buildings that had little relationship with the local style. A few apartment buildings were raised on the outskirts of what they had decided to call a town-city; they are all quite squalid now. The center is nearly the same, altogether recognizable; but most of the beautifully written names of those who built them have been effaced from the facades. There are no more bridges on my Lane of Bridges. Now it is only on the virtual screen of my memory that I can see the huge hay carts rolling home. Or see Herr Krafft, leaving his Bible and glasses on the windowsill, set deep in the thick, strong wall (the new owners have put in a big, plastic-framed window). He switches off a Deutsche Welle broadcast on the Sierra radio, which he succeeded to hide during the years of high terror. He then crosses the dining room which smells of vanilla from Minni Tante’s cookies passing the embroidered runner with field flowers around the motto, Siebenbuergen, suesse Heimat (Transylvania, Sweet Home). He puts on his work clothes and goes out to clean the drain. And that pervasive Gemuetlichkeit; if it were still there, would we have to mention it?

A place once so rich has been seriously impoverished. And it is ironically the poverty, rather than the awareness of a peculiar and precious style, that accounts for it having been well preserved as it is. There have been some attempts to develop tourism. Some Saxon families still coming back and spend their summer vacations here. One can still see brass bands in the BârsaLand marching in the streets on festive occasions, using the instruments and scores left behind by those who left. Fasching, once only a German holiday, now tends to be celebrated as a tradition by Romanians too. Such relatively recent shifts would have been unimaginable in older times. Ethnic differences do get rubbed away.

The Internet appears to be giving unexpected support in keeping these old worlds alive; its timely arrival allows us to store and access all these echoes of time and space. It may even in time be a means for new initiatives.

That finite space, inhabited by the infinite, is a space, first molded by nature itself to be life-nurturing, and it has induced in its people an awareness that they are the salt of the earth. Nothing more, but nothing less, whatever the accidents of history may have been.

The durable patterns of tradition, relying on individual perseverance and collective ingenuity may well be experienced by some as constraining and stifling, its repetitions and what we might call its mediocrity, imposed on the community as a postulate. The modus vivendi that outsiders may find charming can be frustrating for the individual, giving rise to self-defensive irony, anger and revolt. But when the basic texture of life is endangered, and the salt of the earth gets irresponsibly and cynically washed away, I am willing to risk sentimentality, respect and affection, without the comfort of irony or denial.

Our continent, where frontiers are being daily obliterated, still contains many of these latent constellations of identity. Mankind seems to be constantly losing its awareness of differences and nuances. History is in a headlong rush today, but let us not forget to try and maintain our capacity to perceive the richness of our many differences, differences which are what in fact unites us.

Translated into English by the author with Ernest H. LATHAM Jr.