Staying with the Saxons in Translyvania

posted in: Guest blog, Inspiration | 5

We stayed at a lovely guesthouse Villa Hermani in Magura, Transylvania. Here are our hosts Katerina and Herman, wearing their traditional Saxon outfits. This photograph was taken by Janos Kalmar. Katerina explained that her outfit had been given to her by her mother-in-law. Generally traditional clothes are made to fit by local tailors and handed down through the generations. You can tell some of the elements of the outfit have been the same for centuries.

Herman and Katerina are charming and committed hosts – always ready to discuss the area, the wildlife and how they produce the most delicious food. Katerina kindly took an interest in my blog and told me about how she had made lots of clothes for her children when they were young. She, like some of my other eastern European blog contributors – Galina and Helena – described how, behind the Iron Curtain, ordinary women found ways to look fashionable.

Janos Kalmar
Katharina and Hermann Kurmes by Janos Kalmar

Herman, of the Hermani, is an ethnic German Romanian, like the current president. Although only making up around 1% of the population of Transylvania our guide, Udo Krass was also from the same group. He is a keen photographer and knew the names of just about every plant and bird we encountered. So we enjoyed a special Saxon welcome and experience.

For around 800 years this minority group – originally from the Mosel region of Germany,  lived in the Carpathian mountains, forming their own autonomous villages. promoting their own history, tradition, music, dancing, architecture and religion. More recently they became part of one of Europe’s largest mass emigrations partly as a result of the Second World War (where some sided with Hitler and some opposed) and the Communist regime, which eventually sold Saxons to Germany and bribed the families on the way out. Most of the Saxons became Lutheran protestants, although a second group remained Catholic. The dominant religion within Romania however is Orthodox.

We went to see one of the heavily defended churches which felt a bit like a Game of Thrones set, with its heavy portcullis, and a chute to pour boiling oil on invaders. The priest not only showed us around but treated us to his homemade schnapps, tea and pastries.

Romanian pastries
Romanian chimney cake

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Behind the fortifications there was the church, and what looked like storage sheds. Apparently all the village would store their produce in these compartments, but if there was a threat to the village each family would move into the shed where they could live on their dry goods until the danger passed.

Romanian evangelical protestant priest
Protestant priest

Three of the sheds had been knocked into one, and electrified, for use by the contemporary congregation. Very snug and cosy.

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One of the best bits of our stay at the VIlla was that every morning we were able to enjoy a large bowl of Colvina. This is the traditional local porridge, and it looks pretty solid when it sits in the bowl (cold). It is served with home-made full fat yogurt, which I diluted with milk or water, and then you add what you like – sour cherries from the local trees, amazing Romanian watermelon or apple, orange pieces, local (small) wild blueberries. And then some nuts and seeds, even a bit of muesli, if you like. It was wonderful. We ate it every day. I asked for the recipe (given below).

Katerina's Colvina
Katerina’s Colvina

Romanian Colvina

Boil one cup of wheat or barley with 2 cups of water. Before boiling add some lemon peel, cinnamon and raisins. Then the barley is soft add some sugar or honey and a spoonful of walnuts. Put in a bowl and keep in the fridge for a day or two.

Thank you Katerina, for the recipe, the photograph, and for making our stay such fun!

5 Responses

  1. Sounds fabulous. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. It was a surprise to hear of a church with the ability to defend itself using boiling oil! Yes, very Game of Thrones. That looks like a very interesting area.

  3. Your posts are always chock-full of information – boiling oil! Very entertaining, and that porridge looks delicious (as does the chimney cake).

  4. Thanks Kate for sharing the beauty and multicultural aspects of Romania .
    I am glad you have been captured again this year by such adventure, hopefully you get better rest this time…..

    The Saxon Heritage is a fascinating cultural and migration phenomenon in Europe if we talk about the Saxon Villages in Transylvania-Romania. Simon Jenkins article in the Guardian is summarising very well :http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/oct/01/romania-saxon-conservation-village

    I am passionate about the subject and gladly I find also few interesting links with Saxon heritage in Norfolk, while visiting in the spring for a project: http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk/record-details?TNF288

    Interesting method of restoration and preservation of a Saxon Tower at St Nicolas Church West Lexham :https://blosslynspage.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/round-tower-church-of-st-nicholas-west-lexham-norfolk/

    http://www.mihaieminescutrust.org/ work in Romania contributed in recent years with conservation projects of Saxon Churches .Unesco has designated some of the Saxon churches as world heritage sites, worth to see their story along the centuries.

    I hope you will continue to enjoy exploring the cultural exchange with future visits and enjoy the rich meaning of heritage while reflecting on the beauty of the world and history.

  5. Stephanie

    Wow, another fascinating post, K. I knew nothing of this! The porridge reminds me a bit of a Ukranian traditional porridge, though I can’t remember what it’s called. I’m a huge porridge girl. Mmmm.

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