July 27, 2014

History and Being Proud of Transylvania, Romania

The things about Transylvania which make people come back and want to talk about the area are in its history. Most people forget about the reasons that make Transylvania so intriguing to others outside of the community who know the area. It great to be proud of this land and its history, and it is also important to know what is a part of Transylvania and what isn't.

Each city and town has a unique history and most tourists with an interest in Transylvania go there to see the castles or the citadels first and then learn about how each city was founded and built by a particular group of people.  Admittedly, some people are there to see one castle or learn about the fictional character who made a place famous.  Transylvania has hundreds of town and cities, and some of the larger cities which people say are a part of Transylvania are actually not. 

For example, the city of TimiÈ™oara is a part of the Banat region, which some people say is a part of Transylvania. Some people say that the Banat is a part of Transylvania, and they are right — to the extent that it was a part of the Transylvania when it was a part of the Dacian Empire, but they are also wrong because it is a distinct area of its own, and even the map Tabula Hungariae showed this clearly (this map was drawn in about the 1520s).  In 1918 it was known as the Banat Republic before it became a part of both Serbia and Romania.  It is a point of pride for many who live in Romania to learn and write about the history of the area.

If you are looking for a famous city in the borders of Transylvania proper- Alba Iluia is a city to see and to see what it meant to the Romanians for many centuries. It is the center of the Romanian culture.  The centre of culture for the Saxon population is Sibiu, which is known as Hermannstadt by the German population of Transylvania.) This city was where King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romanian were crowned as King and Queen of Greater Romania in 1922- nearly 8 years after they became the rulers of Romania in 1914. As Transylvania was not a part of Romania when they ascended the throne in 1914, they could not have been crowned there (Transylvania was still a part of the Kingdom of Hungary and the Austrian Empire)- but they waited for their coronation until after the end of the First World War. After the meeting of the people of Transylvania in 1918 in Alba Iluia and the Paris Peace conferences of 1919, the  city, along with Tranyslvania became a part of Romania. Alba Iluia then is a part of what makes Transylvania great, it is a city Romanians are rightly proud of.

There are many writers out there who can share much of the great history of Transylvania and will continue to do so, since they are proud of being a part of Transylvania.

July 22, 2014

Transylvania and Catalin Gruia, Writer

Catalin Gruia has done what I can dream I will be able to do very soon.  He is a journalist and has also published many books.

The Rise and Fall of Saxon Transylvania is part of a series of books that I am finding very useful in my own writing.  Gruia has done a fantastic job at getting the word out for people who want to know more about Romania or the Dacians or Transylvania.  You can see how much work he's put into this by going to his author page.  He has done an excellent job of sharing basic information about the history and culture, and that is important when you have a lot of people who are proud to be Transylvanian.

The Rise and Fall of Saxon Transylvania is a book that a writer of all things Transylvania should have as a part of their personal library, if only to refer back to it when dealing with the basics.  There are other books in this series, and they discuss a wide range of topics, from Romania in general to Dracula.  This particular book is found in both Kindle and paperback format, so there is a nice choice for people who don't own a Kindle device.

Another book a writer on Transylvania should have on their shelves, and which is also written by Gruia, is Who Were The Dacians?.  He lists this book as book number five in the series "Romania explained to my friends abroad".  This one can only be found as a Kindle edition, but, for the price, it is worth reading it.  It is only about 69 pages long, so it's not a hard read, and for many people this is a selling point.

It has only one bad review, and that reviewer, rather unjustly, said that this book was not for him because he hadn't expected it to be a history book.  If you are at all familiar with Romania, then you know of the Dacian Empire.  If you are interested in the Roman Empire, this book also gives you great information since the two Empires were at war until the Emperor Trajan was victorious, and the Dacian Empire was absorbed in the Roman Empire.

Catalin Gruia is not a historian, nor is he someone who spent years studying everything about the politics and the finer points of history to understand Romania or Transylvania.  He is a a reporter for National Geographic, and this makes his work a delightful change for me to read, since many of the books I would normally buy are written by academics.  Gruia's books have something for everyone and are a good way to see how people look at Transylvania — through the eyes of a journalist.

July 18, 2014

Transylvania Pride

Any writer who writes about Transylvania, Romania has every right to be proud of what they have accomplished.  This is even more true when they are writing about a controversial subject.

The best idea when choosing a topic to write about is to start with what you know.  Let's begin with the fact that Transylvania is in Romania, and it has been since the 1919 Paris Peace Conferences happened.  It is also important to know that the people of Transylvania — the Germans and Romanians — voted to join with the Kingdom of Romania.  There are many places where oral history is alive and well, and there are as many places where this oral history is based on the pride people have in the land they love.

Although many people identify culturally as Romanian, German or Hungarian, many whom I have spoken with also identify strongly with Transylvania.  Many tell me something along the lines of, "I am a Transylvanian Saxon" or "I am Romanian, but I live (or lived) in Transylvania."

There is an element of love and pride in the land that many grew up in, and they find a part of their hearts and lives heavily interwoven in the land.  Some left many years ago, but they still speak about Transylvania as if they left there only a short while before.  Some have gone back several times to see the places where they or their parents grew up, and others have not.  Some now consider this place as simply being another part of Europe, whereas others see it as simply "Transylvania."  For them, it doesn't matter if there is a bit of pride in the place or its history.

Transylvania is a place people should be proud of.  It is a place where, for the most part, people were allowed to live with extensive cultural freedoms.  This is not to suggest that one or the other of the countries which Transylvania was a part of didn't push for more rights or less rights for one group or another, but in comparison with other places in the world, this area fared well.  Politically, this meant that more men (this was still a patriarchal society) could vote or have more civic freedom, and the religious differences of the Germans, Romanians or Hungarians were tolerated if the person in question was not planning to go into a high political office.  Transylvania and its people aren't perfect, but it is better there than in many places where there are (or were) large minorities in the land.

There is an element of pride in the land where people from other parts of the world can see an influence of a man who had not set foot in Transylvania — or on earth, for that matter.  Transylvanian pride shines in the tourist areas where history and myth come alive.  Bran Castle is promoted as a tourist site thanks to fiction, but it has a real royal history of its own.  It is central to the myth of Count Dracula, but people also come to see it because Queen Marie of Romania lived there — it was one of the many Romanian royal family residences.  The land surrounding Bran Castle is now well maintained, but there were times when that wasn't the case.  This is most likely due to the fact that it was a royal residence, and the owners are the descendants of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie of Romania.  

Royalty also left its mark in many cities outside of Bran Castle, as King Ferdinand was crowned in the city of Alba Iulia in 1922.  The crown of Queen Marie was made from local natural resources — in this case, gold, found in the mountains of Transylvania.  It is this sort of pride and love for this area that provided a link for the Romanian royal family to avoid more bloodshed in the enlarged area of the Kingdom of Romania. There were tensions — most notably, the Hungarian community did not vote to unite with Romania, but rather, they wished to stay a part of Hungary.

People who experienced the two World Wars sometimes talk about the influences of the larger world on a small European country, but they also speak of how little that world directly influenced them — except that they would be wrong.  In 1914, Transylvania was a part of the Empire of Austria and was closest to the future enemy of both Romania and Serbia.  There were many  people who lived as Romanians and who would have supported Romania.  This was possibly the only time where pride in the country was stronger than it is now.

Now, people also identify themselves not as Transylvanian, but as either Romanian or European.  This does not mean they have forgotten that they live in a small area, but they are more focused on the world outside of Transylvania.  This is in part due to the education system where many languages are taught and where people are encouraged to study in several universities around Romania and Europe.  Despite that, there still remains a wonderful pride in the area people grew up with.  This is also where social networking or blogs have come to the aid of people who want to maintain a connection to the land they love.

Transylvania will always be a place for the people who live there or have lived there to feel a connection to others.

July 10, 2014

Reflections on Blogging About Transylvania, Romania

Things about Transylvania began as a blog in July, 2008.  Along with many other worthy blogs, this writer is still writing about Transylvania and Romania.

The community has grown and changed many times over the years that this blog has been up and running (and it became a "full" website this year.)  There are a few things that won't ever change, and they will probably still cause "controversy" for the next six years of publishing blogs and books about Transylvania and on Romania.

There is always something to say and something to read, and Romania will always be a part of the reason why there is still an interest in Transylvania.  

There are many tourism destinations that people can visit, and that is a large part of the reason why people will want to visit Transylvania and spend their money there.  Bran Castle is one of them which will always interest people.

Why publish a blog about Transylvania if there is an already an overly saturated market on the web?

Blogging about Transylvania isn't a new thing, and many readers read more than one blog. Publishing a blog long term is something that is a great challenge for many writers who write in a niche market. Almost anyone who has maintained a blog for as many years as this one has been in existence can say that there is something very rewarding about writing about topic that they are passionate about.  There is also something great about sharing what one knows with others.  

A big topic, and a popular one here on Things about Transylvania, is Count Dracula.  Also, readers want to know where is Transylvania's physical location.  Most people found this on Google, and many took the time to write comments about this.

One of the biggest pieces of information the writers here at Things About Transylvania have learned is that there is always another point of view — and each is, generally, as passionate as the next.  A good example is that if anyone mentions Hungary or Transylvania in the same post, there are generally more people who will share their opinion about it (or argue that the writer has it wrong).  Most people who love Transylvania have a strong viewpoint about what should be said about the topic of Hungary and Romania when it comes to this land.  My perspective is that shying away from such a topic is not as good as learning about how to deal with people and their knowledge about the area or the political bias that they have.

By the same token, writing about Dracula can only take this blog so far.  Having pictures has helped grow the following of the blog a lot, since most people who read this blog have asked for pictures.  It's a journey that has taken six years and a bit of myths and legends sharing and debunking before it got its groove on.  Adding a person who loves popular culture is also a wonderful treat because many people have seen the movies that we have mentioned.

Learning about what our readers want is another thing that has taken time.  Most of our readers don't comment, but that is typical of this blog.  It's generated some good traffic and has been read hundreds of thousands of times.  By reading other blogs, there is something to be said about knowing a milestone such as this.  It means something when blogging about Transylvania on our own blog and getting readership is a show of confidence that there is a meaning to writing this blog.

Blogging about Transylvania was really an avenue to show people that a writer could both blog and publish a book at the same time, and still earn some income with it. When In Search of The Lost Ones: The German Soldiers of Transylvania in the Second World War and Their Stories came out, there were already some readers who expressed interest in the book. 

This was because they had been readers for nearly three years before the book was finally published.  The book probably wouldn't have seen the light of day without the help of this blog, and the readers of this blog.

The blogging part is easy; the rest is harder.  We love the fact that many readers come from European countries; whereas the writers are from North America.  This has made for some very interesting discussions about what and how people see Transylvania as a part of Romania and as a part of Europe.

Six years is really nothing much, and there is a lot to share with others, and there is a lot to publish.  The blog is growing, and the readers are reading, and on reflection, there are a lot of good things the writers here have learned.  One of those things is that no one will read a blog that doesn't produce something new at least once a week.  For a while it was harder to publish here, and this made it harder for readers to come back and expect that there would be something new.

Part of the reason why this blog is enjoyable to write on is that there is a team effort, but there are also some unique and wonderful readers who have made this blog a success.  Here's to six more fantastic years!

July 2, 2014

Pardon My Obsession With All Things Transylvanian (In Canada and Beyond)

Royalty is a draw for me; I am intrigued by anything to do with World War I and Transylvania.  Being a history buff, I have lately found myself reading newspaper articles about the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War.

Expecting that there is anything to do with Transylvania in these articles would be a fool's dream, but none the less, many communities in Ontario have a lot of German people living in them.  Some have undergone a name change; for example, Kitchener, Ontario used to be called Berlin before the start of this war. Its main park was once called Kaiser Wilhelm park, and has it has since been renamed to Victoria Park.  It is a lovely place, and the statue of Queen Victoria that stands watch over the main throughway is a lovely addition that was made around the time of the First World War. Before this time, the park was home to a statue of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany.

Kitchener and its surrounding cities are now the home of many Saxons who once lived in Transylvania, and they were considered the enemy at the time by some local people who were not German and who could not accept that these Saxon families who had lived here for many years might simply want to live out their lives in the new country that they loved.

Fortunately, when the war ended, the cultures of the people of the area remained intact.  The different local German immigrant populations did their best to preserve some semblance of links to the place that they had left behind in the 1800s when many men came to help build the railroads in Ontario. Much of this part of Canadian history has been forgotten, but it is one people can learn about in the Kitchener area through museum exhibits, books and local library historical collections.  There is even a history of Berlin, Ontario written in German.  It is important to make the distinction that many of the Germans who lived in the city were Mennonites from Pennsylvania, but there was an influx of Saxons as time went on.

Readily available sources of information lead people to finding their passion, and for me, that is with all things Transylvanian.  Part of this is because there is a lot of oral history (slowly being captured in writing) of the Saxon people that one can find in Canada because of the Saxons' family ideals — the entire family acts as a unit, and if one person moved the rest would follow at some point. Also, by staying together rather than dispersing across a vast land, the stories can be passed more readily from person to person. 

This was true when people moved from Transylvania to Germany after the Second World War, but before that, there were many families who left Transylvania after the First World War.  I am finding more information about Transylvania and the Saxons in Canada the deeper I look into the history of each of Canada, Hungary, Austria, and Romania.  This only fuels my desire for more information.