A German Time Capsule in Romania

The “fortified churches of Transylvania” were built by Romania’s German minority. They are just one of many fascinating dimensions of exploring this country. Here’s how we explained them in our TV script:

Some of Romania’s most memorable fortresses aren’t castles at all — they’re actually churches. While big towns were well-protected, smaller German villages were vulnerable to invaders. So what did the industrious German settlers do? They fortified their churches.

Dozens of fortified German churches — mostly built in the 13th and 14th centuries — are scattered across Transylvania. Like medieval fortresses, they have beefy bastions, stout lookout towers, and narrow slits for archers.

Entire communities could take refuge inside — within these wraparound defensive galleries. This church had a room for each family and, when under attack, each family had a defensive responsibility.

Stepping inside these churches feels like stepping into medieval Germany. Decoration is humble, pews are simple benches, Bible quotes are in German, and, to this day, the services are Lutheran.

Today most of Romania’s ethnic Germans are gone — having emigrated in the late 19th century or fled to Germany after WWII. Those who remain speak a time-capsule version of German and work hard to keep their unique cultural heritage alive.

By the way, our scripts are part “voice over (VO)” — me reading the script while we show interesting things — and part “on camera (OC)” — when I talk directly to the camera. The VO stuff is what’s obvious to “cover” with our camera, and the OC bits are material that is more difficult to cover. All but one of these paragraphs are easy to cover — and therefore VO. I bet you can tell which one we did OC.

This is Day 56 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Bulgaria, Romania, and beyond. Find more at blog.ricksteves.com.


3 Replies to “A German Time Capsule in Romania”

  1. And the last wave of German emigration was after the fall of communism in 1990. But for me, a German who lived in Transylvania for a year, it was nice to come across someone who spoke fluent German from time to time. There are also still German radio stations, for example in Targu Mures (Neumarkt am Mieresch).

  2. Thank you. Simply fascinating. We just returned from a two-months trip to Europe including Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary. We noticed in Nuremberg, Germany, a street plaque referring to “Siebenburger Deutches” or “Transylvania Germans” and had just started researching their history, particularly their expulsion under the Potsdam Declaration of 1945. Our next trip was going to include Transylvania to learn more about the complexity of population there. Your video was right on. We will make sure to visit many of these German enclaves. Thank you!

  3. There are some problems with the text. ‘The “fortified churches of Transylvania” were built by Romania’s German minority.’ Is especially stinking, b/c when these churches were built, Romania was not even a faint dream. The saxons, who built these churches were invited by Hungarian king Endre II. and followers. The exodus of Germans started after WW II. and grew really strong after 197O when Germany ”bought” them from the communist state for badly needed hard currency, Deutsche Marks.

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