Banat | Village Coordinator: Nick Tullius


Trip to Temeswar/Timişoara 2008

by Nick Tullius, Jun 26, 2008

Under a cloudless sky, a gorgeous spring sun covers the land, as our Lufhansa plane lands at the Timisoara airport and comes to a halt between airplanes from Carpatair and Air Moldova. My colleague, a real Temeswarer, is expecting us at the airport. He says that the city is experiencing once again a "spring like in the past", with pleasant temperatures and frequent rain. The drive into the city is taking longer than expected because the road is full of cars, from old Dacias to brand new BMWs. The roads, once designed for horse carriages, generally have an asphalt surface, but still have only two lanes.

The city, under bright sunshine, appears familiar and yet somehow strange, not surprising after an absence of fifty years. The large pedestrian zone in the centre, from the opera to the Orthodox Cathedral, is full of people and pigeons. People do not walk back and forth on the sidewalk (then known as Korso); many are sitting on the benches in the gardens, others are enjoying a beer or a coffee in the many sidewalk cafés and restaurants. The restaurant Lloyd, once the city's best, is back, and under the name "Timisoreana", the Palace seems to be back too. Even the café Violeta is back, serving cakes, desserts, coffee and beer.

The historic square in front of the Roman-Catholic Cathedral (once called Domplatz, today Piaţa Unirii – Unification Square) is almost entirely closed to traffic, with the exception of the road in front of the Serbian Cathedral, which is filled with parked cars. Similarly full of cars are the neighboring side streets, with cars parked on both sides of the street, with some partially on the pavement. The police seems to accept the situation, because it public parking lots and garages are not available. An ongoing church service in the Roman-Catholic Cathedral is in the Romanian language; the notices at the church entrance are in Romanian and in Hungarian. The absence of German appears to be representative of the current composition of the population. Some of the historical buildings surrounding the Square, look great in their renewed splendor, while others, right next door, are still awaiting their renewal.

Downtown, there are money changers at every turn, in addition to a large number of banks, some with names well-known in the West (such as Raiffeisen Bank). Unfortunately, none of the small bureaux de change accepted my travelers cheques. Fortunately, I had some U.S. Dollars in cash, which could immediately be changed into Romanian currency. On Monday we went to a real bank, and after inspecting my Canadian passport, writing down my Canadian address, and signing three forms (each in duplicate), I finally got my Romanian Lei (minus two percent fees).

The Rectorate building of the Technical University "Politehnica" is in very good condition and the official part of our meeting takes place here, in a beautiful new hall. In the afternoon, all participants take a tourist bus to Rekasch/Recaş, for a festive meal at the winery, accompanied by several varieties of local wine, some of which carry the designation "Schwabenwein" (meaning "Swabian wine") on the bottle. During our tour of the facilities and wine cellar, the Banat Swabians are recognized as the founders of the founders of viniculture in Rekasch/Recaş.

On the following day we walk through the Josefstadt, following the tracks of my high school and university years spent there. The statue of Maria is covered up; it is being restored. My first student home, across from the catholic church of the Josefstadt, was once an imposing upper-class house. I still remember our room, with its fourteen beds to accommodate fourteen first-year students. My major head ache were the bed bugs, as they chose me to bite before my thirteen colleagues. The community shower never worked, but we were welcome to use the showers of the dormitory at the Faculty for Mechanical Engineering, located in far-away Elizabethstadt.

The once open-air market in the Josefstadt now occupies a number of halls. Green peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers still have great taste, but there are no longer any Swabian women selling them. A group of gypsies with many children sit around, next to two policemen. We do not ask what is going on here.

Our next destination is the Northern Railway Station (Gara de Nord). The new building appears different, since I had not seen it before. The old building had been at the center of my daily commute between Temeswar and Alexanderhausen during my high school years. How many trains did I catch here, and how many did I miss! Beside the station we look at an inconspicuous little two-star hotel. In the year 1956 it housed our student residence and those who lived there will never forget the 31st of October 1956. On the day before, a meeting between the students and "representatives of the party and government" had taken place in the cafeteria of the Mechanical Engineering Faculty. The latter eventually lost control of the meeting and left the stage. The students continued with the meeting, preparing a list of requests. Soldiers surrounded the building, placed the students on trucks, and transferred them to the military barracks at Kleinbetschkerek. In the morning, we found the lobby of our student residence full of soldiers, with a machine gun and its ammunition a occupying center stage. We were told that we were under house arrest and decided spontaneously to go on a hunger strike. After two days we were released and our professors resumed their lectures, but a few students were missing: those that had spoken up at the meeting mentioned above.

Later we visit the Banater Museum in the Hunyadi Castle. A few sections are closed for of repairs. The "1919 to 1944" section is open and it contains some interesting historical documents. There is even the "Declaration of Alba Iulia" which lists the rights to be given to national minorities (such as the Banat Swabians and the Transylvania Saxons). We see nothing about the implementation of those right in the years between WWI and WWII.

We drive to the suburban free space once called "Jagdwald", passing many "gypsy palaces ", as our colleague calls them. They are conspicuously over-decorated buildings and most of them seem to be uninhabited. Their owners are allegedly somewhere in the west, in Italy or Spain, where they somehow make their money. In the "Jagdwald" we visit the Village Museum. Among other rural buildings there is a "German farmhouse. With its brand new gutters, it makes a good impression, but I miss the "Gang", the little pillared veranda along one side of the house, which was a feature of village houses across the lowlands of the Banat.

My colleague from Temeswar surprised us with tickets to a performance of the operetta "The gypsy baron" at the State Opera. I remember the hall well from many opera performances attended during my university years. It is a traditional hall, small and intimate, and the music of Johann Srauss is as lovely as always. The dialogue one has been brought up to date, with many Hungarian expressions, and even Temeswar is mentioned a few times.

From many discussions with colleagues who spent their professional lives in Temeswar, I conclude that the history of the city and of the Banat, receive much more attention than they did in the past. The consensus seems to be that the area was under different foreign administrations until 1920, but the Austro-Hungarian double monarchy was not a prison of the nations. Clearly, the time under Dej and Ceausescu was much more of a prison then all preceding administrations. The former peaceful coexistence of the different nationalities in the Banat is seen rather as an early example of the Europe of the future.


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Last updated: 26 Aug 2020