Carpathian Rhapsody

I spent last week in Sibiu, Romania

My reasons for being there are the most boring possible (conference), but the country is anything but.

Sibiu's in southern Transylvania, and was originally founded by German settlers under the name Hermannstadt.

Transylvania wasn't even Romania until after World War I, and most of the population here were true, Deutsche-speaking, froth-drinking Germans for hundreds of years.

It's a reminder that Europe's cultural monogamy is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Continental Europe used to be full of these little ethnic enclaves. It was divided into kingdoms and territories, not really countries.

And you could basically only tell where you were by the language people were speaking.

Unifying these these territories into countries (Italy! Germany! France!) in the second half of the 1800s resulted in a lot of minority tensions that only got addressed with the outbreak of World War I.

In 'Postwar', Tony Judt says that Europe resolved WWI by moving the borders to accomodate ethnicities, and solved WWII by moving ethnicities to accommodate the borders.

Sibiu only had a few German families left after 1950, and they apparently number in the single digits now.

Ethnic unity and great scenery didn't exactly solve Romania's problems though.

With the country chafing behind the Iron Curtain, Ceausescu came to power in the 1960s by opening Romania up to the west.

And then, rather predictably, went dictator-crazy within a few years.

In Bucharest, he built the world's second-biggest building. He illegalized abortion and, later, birth control.

When 1989 caught up with him, he was tried and executed live on TV.

Since then, the country's continued its westward march unabated.

The Germans may have left, but at least they left it as they found it.

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