The Saxons, The Romanians, The Fortified Town And Rural Tourism

excerpt Prejmer is a village a little further from Brasov, known, of old, for its peasant stronghold, the largest in Transylvania, begun in 1211 by the Teutonic knights. But also known, in the past, for the largest SAA (State Agricultural Association) in the area, which is, obviously, gone, but was succeeded by the "Barsa Country" College for Agriculture and Food Industry, an operative educational institution. Rural tourism is included in the curriculum here: the latest achievement of the people of Prejmer, who have already got going seven 2 and 3-daisy guest-houses – thus classified by the standards of the Romanian Rural and Ecological Tourism Association (ANTREC). The many-chambered fortificationAt first sight, the town gives the visitor a feeling of freshness, of physical well-being, which, in fact, one gets as soon as one comes to Brasov or goes deeper into Transylvania. There is something about the atmosphere of these towns, with their demure architecture and their gingerbread colours, as well as the – at least apparent – decency of the people, which makes me quite exuberant. The fortified town of Prejmer is white, simple, huge, with a quiet church and a well-tended courtyard. All this is enough to give one a sense of comfort, which comes from the certainty of a firm past that lays no claim to grandeur. Paul Salmen, also known as Mr Pauli, was born in Prejmer and emigrated to Germany at the age of 22, but returns every year to his native village to study documents recording its past. He is a member of the Committee of the Transylvanian Saxons from Prejmer, set up in 1992, where he is officially in charge of collecting documents. "When you begin your research somewhere you are taken with a kind of illness, which you can never again shake off," says Mr Pauli, who has even managed to get access to the State Archives in Brasov, where he made copies of all the documents relating to the life of the people of Prejmer. He hopes to be able to process them in time and thus create a chronicle of the place. Until that happens, he is content with having dug out enough data on the day-to-day life of his ancestors. After travelling by oxen-drawn carts from Rin Mein, today's Wallonia and Luxembourg, under summons from King Geza II of Hungary, they settled in Prejmer around 1200. As they were the first to stand in the way of various invaders – Turks, Tartars, Mongols – (it already rings the historic bell prompted by our school books) and had their adobe and wicker-work houses destroyed over and over again, they resorted to building the family chambers around the fortified church; the fortified town of Prejmer has, quite ingeniously, 272 numbered chambers. It is not a medieval hotel, as today's ignorant and excitement-hungry tourist might be tempted to think, but a series of rooms – one for each family – where the Saxons used to take refuge in the event of an attack. Cristina Balog, custodian of the fortified town, explains that the chambers were only used to store provender – sacks of grain – for dire times, and that the Saxon furniture we see today belongs to a totally different age and was displayed there for the benefit of tourists. The Guards' Road running all the way along the fortified walls was completely preserved; it used to be "patrolled" by the yeomen – for, as Mr Pauli explains, there were no bondsmen, at least among the Saxons – turned soldiers. And, of course, the Evangelical church, in Gothic style, built by the Teutonic knights, where organ concerts are given every Sunday in August. The largest peasant fortified town in Transylvania is now included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It was restored under Ceausescu and since 1992 has been the object of a partnership between the Evangelical Church of Prejmer and the Transylvanian Saxon Foundation in Munich, the latter ensuring maintenance and restoration works. Visitors are in no short supply, but they are mostly foreigners, with only a few Romanians coming over: even among the locals there are some who have not seen it, Cristina says. There are groups of German, French, Dutch tourists... Mr Pauli says the town is better known abroad than it is in Romania. Nonetheless, those involved in the administration of the site are content with the tranquil tourism they have experienced so far: "I wouldn't like Prejmer becoming a tourist attraction like Brasov; tourism does a lot of good, but it can also be very harmful," says Ms Balog. And she adds that they had to restrict access to several of the rooms, because they were used as toilets, (while there is a real, adequately equipped toilet at the entrance.)  Saxons and Romanians Mr Pauli comes and studies the documents exactly like the hospites saxones of old (we also learn from him that this was the old name of the Transylvanian Saxons: Saxon guests) – he stays in guest-houses or is put up by friends. He no longer has his own home, because he left to Germany in the 80's. He is however intent on winning it back, despite the huge costs. Before the war – he tells us – there were 90% Saxons and 5% Romanians in Prejmer. After the war the scores were even and the ratio changed in favour of the Romanians after the Saxon deportations in 1945. In the 70's Ceausescu sold them out to the German state, and more young people left in the 90's. Today, Cristina Balog says, there are 96 Saxons left, while the Romanians number 8,000. Mr Pauli himself was a witness of the changing times: born into a wealthy family of farmers from Prejmer, with a grandfather who was the mayor of the village, he was unfortunate enough to have a large estate – it was precisely on his land that the local Gostat (a state cooperative) and SAA were set up. His family lived alongside these new co-operative institutions, which was not exactly a disadvantage to Mr Salmen – he tells us – because this was how he learned to work as a car mechanic, which also came in handy in Germany, where he is currently employed as a foreman with a construction company. According to the priest of the Orthodox church, Sorin Serban, Romanians also had a say in Prejmer, maybe even before the Saxons: there are documents, he claims, which prove that on the site of the Evangelical church there used to be another church, a Romanian one, dating from the 6th century. Today's Orthodox church was built in 1769, during the time of Empress Maria Theresa – and before it there was another one, erected as far back as 1601. The church was outside the walls of the fortification, because the Romanian community was being shoved aside – the father explains. The current Orthodox church, cross-shaped with three lateral apses, was painted in the 18th century by John the Painter and still preserves icons from the age. The father confirms that now, after the Saxons' migration, the Romanians are the majority, but he adds that they were also the most numerous population of the area before the arrival of the first Saxon guests in the 12th century. Prejmer – we learn from the priest – used to have one of the most powerful SAAs in the country, not to mention textile, furniture and sausage factories. Now, although none of the above is in business any longer, the people of Prejmer are still a well-to-do community, living on farming and finding employment in nearby Brasov. In the spirit of multiculturalism, the dedication day of the Orthodox church (Saints Peter and Paul, celebrated on 29 June, used to be also the patron saints of the Evangelical church) was the pretext for the Days of the Village of Prejmer. During the three festive days the dedication day service is complemented by conferences, folkloric shows, drawing contests for children. All in the same unostentatious spirit of discretion, losing sight of neither tradition, faith, nor entertainment. Dilema veche, August-September 2005

by Iaromira Popovici