It’s a

DougGood­man braves a trip into the chill­ing his­tory of Ro­ma­nia and the for­mer Com­mu­nist bloc

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

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

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