DougGoodman braves a trip into the chilling history of Romania and the former Communist bloc
T CERTAINLY wasn’t Romanian being spoken by the group of young people at the next table as they drank half litres of Cuic beer. Soon we were drinking together and I discovered they were Israelis visiting Brasov in the hope of tracing their Romanian origins.
Jews have lived here since 1807 when Rabbi Aaron Ben Jehuda was given permission to live there — a privilege enjoyed up to now by the Saxons. A community grew quickly and within a couple of decades it numbered 4,000. But it was short-lived and most left their homes and headed to Israel during and after World War II.
The city is in Southern Transylvania, the home of Dracula. Bram Stoker based his tale on the 15th-century ruler Vlad II Dracul, who impaled his enemies. He used Bran Castle, the forbidding fortress, built in 1373 to guard the pass between Wallachia and Transylvania, as the setting for Dracula’s lair.
It’s an ancient city surrounded by the verdant landscape of the Southern Carpathian mountains, which was once Kronstadt and the German influence remains strong.
The quaint old town is graced with a t t r a c t i v e gothic architecture, including the fourteenth century Black Church — the oldest and largest Gothic Church in Romania. Inside, you can still see bullet holes in a pillar that were shot during the 1989 revolution against communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu’s economic policies.
The Gothic-styled Neolog Synagogue was well attended, I was told, by the 230 or so Jews that still live here.
The largest and oldest community is in Bucharest which was formed by Sephardic Jews in the 16th century.
Alas, they were massacred by Prince Michael the Brave, but by the 17th century, an influx of Ashkenazi jews created a new community. There are around 5,500 Jewish inhabitants, three synagogues and a kosher restaurant called Bacania on Strada Paleologu.
The old town is a maze of bars, restaurants and historic buildings. One of these is The People’s Palace — a legacy of Ceaucescu — completed in 2005. It has 1,000 rooms making it the world’s second largest building.
Now partly occupied by government officials, the rooms are decorated in spectacularly bad taste. You can still see the balcony from which, in 1989, Ceaucescu’s expression changed to horror as he realised that the population had turned against him.
Just by the beautiful 1724 monastery of Stavropoleos, is Bucharest’s most popular restaurant Caru’ Cu Bere. Built in 1879 with galleries and a beer museum, the atmosphere is lively. Traditional Bucovinian dishes include
You can still see the balcony from which Ceausescu’s expression changed