Hello. It’s been more than three weeks since I posted anything. Been a very busy boy. I’ll boast about that more during the week. To get back into the swing, I’m going to dabble a bit in German, a language that should get some attention next month when Vienna hosts this year’s Eurovision song contest (May 19-23)
Romanian band Voltaj have released a YouTube version with German subtitles of their Eurovision 2015 entry, De la Capăt, which is a good excuse for me to play one of my favourite songs of the moment. Here it is, German speakers sing along now:
German and Romanian are, of course, quite different, but German is a language you will hear in Romania quite often, particularly during the summer holidays in Transylvania, which was once part of the Habsburg empire. According to Wikipedia’s list of ethic minorities in Romania, though, Germans now make up only 0.2 per cent of the total population. The number was originally much higher, but due to various political circumstances since the second world war, none of them pleasant, it has fallen considerably. You can read about the overall German population here, and about the largest group, the Transylvanian Saxons, here. When I did my language course in Sibiu in 2013, I visited some of the Saxon villages not far from the city, such as Cașolț and Roșia. As you will see from my picture gallery, these villages are quaint but have a forlorn air of decay, like sad little ghost towns. Many people have left these villages to seek fortunes elsewhere, their houses stand empty; some have been taken over by gypsies or vagabonds. Yet there is still a certain beauty and serenity to the place, and the people who remain are very hospitable.
One prominent German-Romanian is the country’s recently elected president, Klaus Iohannis. Another is the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Hertha Müller, who left Romania in 1987 after being hounded by the Communist regime’s secret police. One of her most recent books is The Hunger Angel, which graces my bookshelves, but let me tell you it is a harrowing read.
It tells the story of how Leo, a young lad from Sibiu, was sent into a Soviet forced labour camp for five years from 1944. In that year the Red Army occupied Romania and Stalin demanded that all German Romanians aged 17-45 be sent into labour camps to “rebuild” the Soviet Union. Many never came back. The war might have ended in 1945, but the atrocities continued long after that. When Leo returns home in 1949 he is still only 22 but in spirit he is a broken old man.
Later Ceausescu’s communist regime really made life hard for the ethnic minorities as policies were introduced to, let’s say, stamp out the Hungarian and German cultural identities, including clamping down on language (this is why some towns in Romania have a Romanian name, a Hungarian name and a German name). Some of the German-Romanians people I spoke to in Cașolț told me of the grievances that they or their parents had to put up with. And that, sadly, is mostly what human history is all about, really. One tribe or grouping taking advantage of, bullying, coercing or persecuting another. On that fun note, good night!