The Corner

Transylvanian Germans

A courteous Romanian reader writes:

Dear Mr Derbyshire,

You write a very flattering portrait of the Saxon Land, and I appreciate that. As a Romanian, I deeply regret the flight of the Saxons, who added much to the country’s fabric. Be that as it may, [Herta] Müller is not a Saxon, but a Swabian. Have a look at this map.

The Saxons settled in southeastern Transylvania in the 12th and 13th centuries from Franconia, and adopted Lutheranism around 1535. The Swabians settled in southwestern Transylvania, a distinct region known as the Banat, in the 18th century, coming from Alsace-Lorraine, Bavaria and other parts of Germany. They are uniformly Roman Catholic. They too have mostly left for Germany, although the current Catholic bishop of Timişoara is a German. Müller belongs to the latter group.

Thank you, sir. That sounds like something I knew once, before my brain got addled by booze, blogging, Mysterianism, and child-raising. My Transylvanian jaunt, by the way, since several readers asked, was in August-September of 1964. My route, as best I can remember, was Oradea (=Grosswardein) to Cluj (=Klausenburg), to Sibiu (=Hermannstadt), to Braşov (=Kronstadt), to Bucharest. There were several detours, though — hitch-hiking in Eastern Europe in the 1960s was a very unpredictable business.** I recall being in the mountains up north of Braşov at one point, spending the night in a little place I recall as Buşteni, which I can’t find in my atlas (but I may have totally mis-remembered it). In the bizarre way memory works, I actually do remember the name of the kind fellow in that village who put me up for the night: Enache Christian. (Surname first in Romanian, as in Hungarian.) If he’s still alive, and reads conservative American blogs, I’d like to thank him again for his hospitality.

“I have found the world kinder than I expected, but less just.” — Samuel Johnson in old age.


**  Especially in Hungary, still under lock-down from the 1956 uprising. The only automobiles there were big black shiny ones for Party honchos. They tended to have license plates with numbers like “E 7.” Truck drivers were very kind, though. My longest actual hike was from Hungary into Romania. There wasn’t much cross-border traffic, and none of it was inclined to give a ride to a scruffy English student with a huge backpack. (I had a bivvy tent, stove, etc. for sleeping rough). My last lift in Hungary was with some peasants going to early-morning work in a truck, to a farm a few miles from the border. I had to walk the rest of the way. The border guards came out en masse to stare at me as I approached. I may have been the only person to hitch-hike from Vienna to the Black Sea that summer.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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