The Caretaker

The winter of 1985/6 was one of the coldest here – much like this one. Temperatures would fall considerably below -18°C outside and quaver around 12°C inside, thanks to the state imposed austerity programme.

The team, with dad on the left.

Invariably, end of January the winter games between the state-owned enterprises would begin. The ski cups were initiated in 1952 and are still held today: ‘Cupa IPA’, ‘Drumarilor’ (Road Workers’ Cup), ‘Proiectantul’ (the Draftsman), ‘ALFA’. Participating as a team on behalf of their factory, IMUC, the Chemical Equipment Installation Plant of Bucharest*, dad and his colleagues would get accommodation in Predeal and where exempt from work for the duration of the cups. So they’d take their kids and spouses along and we’d pack the cars full with everything necessary, from complete ski gear and food to sleeping bags, pans and gas burners. Unlike today, back then there was absolutely no guarantee that you could find a restaurant with food in the winter sport area – nor anywhere else, actually.

There wasn’t even a guarantee that you’d get where you wanted to, as Militia de circulatie would close the main roads in districts ‘affected by snow’ more or less randomly, cutting people off in the middle of their voyage on a Sunday (the only free day, as there was a 6 days workweek) and leaving them to wait for hours, sometimes days, in some valley (the Prahova Valley, usually), with no particular regards to the state of the roads or the weather forecast.

This time we had made it to Predeal rather easily: dad said it had probably been too cold for the militieni to come out.
The first evening, after getting a sandwich and brushing our teeth, us kids huddled together in a big bed under layers of sleeping bags that smelled like home and remotely of mothballs, while the parents tried to insulate windows and doors with some holey blankets they found in the villa.

The food we had brought along was placed between the windows: some bread and ham and raw eggs. Then the grownups gathered in the hall for a chat, a drink and cigarettes. While waxing the skis!

I think I was about 5 years old and the boy was 3 or 4. My parents had already said goodnight to me and now this lady would tell her kid a bedtime story. But he wouldn’t fall asleep, he wanted to play and maybe have another sandwich. His mom finished her story and tried lulling him to sleep – it just didn’t work.

After a while she lost her patience and I heard her say in a menacing tone:

‘Daca nu esti cuminte, sa stii ca te dau la administrator.’ – ‘If you don’t behave, I’ll give you to the caretaker.’ The boy whimpered and shut his eyes tightly.

Suddenly alarmed, I had to know: ‘What caretaker is that?’

‘Shht, it’s bedtime now. The one from our block.’

‘And he takes kids away? Where does he take them to?’

The boy winced again, pressing his eyes shut even tighter.

‘Yes, he takes kids away if they don’t behave. Now shush and go to sleep.’

‘But… but my parents never told my there was such a person as the caretaker. Where does he come from?’

‘Yes, there is. He lives downstairs in our block. He’ll take my son if he won’t behave. And you as well. He’ll take any kids who misbehave. Every block has one.‘

The kid pulled the blanket over his head whimpering ‘…the caretaker’.

‘… where does he takes kids to? For how long? And why would you let him do it? Would you open the door?
You don’t have a latch, is there nothing you could do?’

‘…Nobody knows’ where he takes them to, but they never return.’

‘Does he take adults as well? Like my terrible teacher who hates kids? and the neighbour lady who swears all the time and her mean husband who drinks and yells every day?’

‘Go to sleep now!’

I just could not believe her. Agreed, I was not raised in a block of flats, maybe they have strange habits there, but still…
‘Look…I don’t think so. If there was any such man, my parents would have told me so. I mean, maybe there is, but he wouldn’t follow us to the mountains. How would he know where we are? I think nobody’s coming for us.’

There’s rustling under the blanket. Some hope: ‘No caretaker?…’

The lady gets up and walks away. Hisses from the door ‘Now, look what you’ve done, he was almost asleep! He needs his sleep; he’s smaller than you. You see how you get to sleep all by yourselves now. I won’t hear another sound of you!’ Door slams shut. Silence.

‘Hey, psst.’ – Whimpering.

‘Look, I don’t think there’s a caretaker who takes kids away. I tell you, all the afternoon naps I didn’t take and all the evenings I would not fall sleep – nobody came for me; I think we’re quite safe.’

Silence.
‘Even if there was – I don’t think he’d follow us ‘til here… He’d get lost. And it’s way too cold; they must’ve shut down the traffic anyway. Come out.’

Muffled hopeful sound.
’Hey, c’mon, come out and let’s play.
She’s can’t be right, I’m telling you. My parents know better, believe me. There’s no such man as the caretaker.’’

Half a face comes out from under the blanket. ‘But she’s my mum. She knows stuff.’

‘Maybe, but she sure doesn’t know this one. ‘

In the morning a thermometer outside showed -26°C.

The eggs were cut in halves with an axe and placed face down in a pan on the burner in the hall.
We all gathered around to warm our hands and watch the orange rings in the yolk flow out of the shell, as it melted directly into the pan.
It was the funniest omelet I ever had.

___

The ski cups are still being held. The kid got married last year.
And I now know what a caretaker of a block of flats does. He does not take little kids away – but your precious time. Lots of it.
In return, he gives you frustration.

___

*IMUC/later TMUCB was established in 1960 and broken into pieces in the 90es. Some pieces survived till 2011. It mainly produced chemical and petrochemical machinery.

In his position as a design engineer there, dad drafted parts of refineries, a heavy water- and other plants, but also parts of a soap factory, and an over dimensioned rooster for a playground.

 

Blues

A blue devil passed by

A song to go with it here.

It is said that when a ship loses her captain, she’d fly blue flags.
Today, when a ship is flying the ‘Blue Peter’ in port, she’s actually calling its crew to embark for departure:
‘All persons should report on board as the vessel is about to proceed to sea’.

Blue was first used for sadness in the 14th century, when Geoffrey Chaucer, inspired by a natural phenomenon* described the affair of Mars with Venus in the poem Complaint of Mars. In order to be with Venus, Mars has to slow down and follow all her instructions: he’s not to despise any other lovers, feel jealousy or be cruel ever again. When he complies and they finally get together, the Sun god, Phebus/Apollo, surprises them in bed. Venus flees, in order to avoid the confrontation with her husband. Mars won’t fight the Sun, so he sadly follows Venus, knowing they’ll never be together again and lamenting “with tears blue, and with a wounded heart.”

It is said that people in the 17th century believed that blue devils were responsible for their sadness.

Everybody knows the blues, the music African Americans gave us from the end of the 19th century.

And I’m sure you know that feeling.
Some part of you went missing. You still remember it so well, but it’s gone.
Now the memory’s haunting you and dwelling in it is bitter sweet.
So you don’t want to get out, not just yet. You’re just feeling blue**.
Blue is lonely. You’d want to sing or howl about it,
but do you really need a public for that?

Blues are for honest introverts.


* conjunction of Mars and Venus, April 12th, 1385
** not to be mistaken for the German ‘blau‘ = drunk.

Angst

Angst‘, noun: a feeling of deep anxiety or dread, typically an unfocused one about the human condition or the state of the world in general.

Angst is the word for fear in German, Dutch, and Danish. It comes from the same Indo-European root (meaning tight, constricted, painful) that gave us anguish, anxiety, and anger. (…)  Are you dissatisfied and worried in an introspective, overthinking German way? You’ve got angst‘ says linguist Arika Okrent.

Angst grew popular in the 1920s and wasn’t much used before that time.

It seems to be the most popular feeling these days. In different parts of the world, people walk around worrying about refugees, earthquakes, recession, the world leaders’ decisions, the returning of once extinct diseases – thanks, antivaxxers! – the disappearance of more species and habitats; overpopulation, pollution, corruption. They mistrust the same representatives they voted for, their next door neighbour, even their relatives’ intentions and also they fear we’re stuck in the poverty loop and spring’s never coming back to this part of the world.
2016 was hard on many of us.

I wish this New Year deceives my fears one by one and treats us with a load of nice surprises.
Until then, I wish for a comforting cover that will allow me to feel less for until it all gets sorted out.
And the song to go with it here.

Oranges

 

A song to go with it here.

Today, as I was zesting oranges and juicing them, I thought of you. 

I’ll visit my friend and her kids tonight, and shopped gifts are innapropiate somehow, so I’ll bring them one of the best things I know: golden orange cake! I encountered it for the first time on the island of Siros a few years ago. I adored it instantly, like so many things from the Mediterranean.

I zested the oranges and found that only two of them were tasty – the ones I had handpicked myself – the others were…boring. Juice oranges, no personality at all, you’d say. The good ones were so perfumed, I could eat them with zest and all.

I love oranges! Many people avoid them, saying they’re harder to peel than mandarins. 
Until I met you, I had only once been to the Mediterranean, one April, in Greece, as a first year student on a trip with the faculty. We had stopped somewhere at the side of a road and found a…grapefruit orchard. Or so it seemed. It was picked, but two unripe fruit were hanging from the branches.
There were no flowers at all at that time.

And I had always thought that some oranges are better than others, so much better, but I believed finding them was sheer luck, nothing else.

Then I met you and you told me about how you missed the orange trees in your garden at home and the scent of their flowers and their sweet juice. You told me there were so many oranges in the trees there, it was a pity your mom couldn’t make something of them all – sometimes they’re even left to rot on the lawn.

…I imagined this blessed land, were people always have the sea in the corner of their eyes and that warm smile and oranges hang from the trees at least twice a year.
You told me that orange trees, like other citrus relatives, bloom and bear fruit twice a year, so they’re in bloom when their fruit are ripe.
I always believed I’d see those trees one day, with their branches full of flowers and hanging low with oranges.

We went to the store, it was a grey autumn day, like so many days in Germany. You picked the oranges carefully and I wondered how you knew…’How d’you mean that – how do I know which ones are good?!’ you laughed at me. ‘Isn’t it obvious?!

No. I couldn’t tell.

‘I can’t believe you, I’m sure you can tell them apart. Look, these are the navelinas, they have these little navels at the bottom, see? Then the Taroccos, they’re boring, then there are the common blondes, the maltaise – but there are no maltaises here,…the Thomsons…’ You muttered their ‘names from home’ as you turned them over and I kept staring at the piles of oranges, bewildered.

We left the stall with 3 bags full of samples and went around a corner, where the apples were. 
‘Look, apples. I cannot imagine how you can tell apple sorts apart, though.’
You looked puzzled.

But come on, look, these boring ones are Granny Smiths, they are hard and often taste like paper. Then the Golden Delice, they’re reddish and sweet...
Yes, even I know that reds are sweet and greens not so, you said. 

But the yellow ones? And the sour ones? I like those, the Jonathans.

‘I couldn’t tell’, you said. ‘They’re all alike to me, just the colour differs. But now I have someone to teach me about them. One day…’ You smiled.

I’ll tell you a secret. When I pick oranges these days, I choose them by smell.

English Lessons

September 1981. My parents brought me to kindergarten, where I spent the entire first year not speaking any word at all. I was too busy wondering about everything and everybody in this new environment.

Every morning at a quarter to eight, one of our family took me down the street towards the market. On the left side, between two blocks of flats there was a hidden alley, which went behind them, on to a green gate and fence. Passing the gate, a garden with roses on the right and a sandbox on the left; between them, a path to a yellow house with three steps and a green door.

From the garden gate. Kindergarten wing on the left. Aunt Ann’s (conversation) room on the right.

There I met Aunt Ann, who became my grandma no.3.

I went to kindergarten every day from 8 to 12 for six days a week for five years. Aunt Ann used to have all three age groups in the same big room and she was able to keep us all busy. She’d sing with us, playing her guitar, we’d exercise together and draw and do handicrafts, while we’d all be surrounded by her beautiful British accent like in a dream.

I started talking in the second year of kindergarten, suddenly and without any warning.

This private kindergarten existed in spite of the system. It closed in 1986, the year I went to school, because dear Aunt Ann had gotten too ill to go on with it. She kept giving English lessons and I kept going to these twice a week for the next 10 years.
I learnt so many things from her, also about what should but cannot be spoken about. It probably was the one of the last memories of someone teaching me stuff without trying to break me.

***

Aunt Ann was born as Annemarie Fischer in 1915. Her sister Lieselotte arrived in 1922. Their parents were of German origin; the father, an architect, had built the house in the back in 1916-18 and the house in front in the nineteen twenties. Annemarie had gone to Oxford to improve her language skills for at least a year. She had married Toni Böttcher, her colleague at Astra Romana, the oil refinery company that was part of the Royal Dutch Shell trust between 1911-1947. The couple had a daughter in 1941.

War came and Romania went in on the Axis’ side first. Toni couldn’t go to war, because his hands that once played the piano so well were now impaired after a bike accident and subsequent gangrene due to a too tight cast.
Romania switched sides on August 23rd, 1944.
That same month former Soviet Ambassador to the UK, Ivan Michailovitch Maisky proposed the deportation and re-education of German active nazis and war criminals in work camps as a ‘post-war reparation’ to the Allied representatives in London. On September 12th, 1944, Romania signed a ceasefire, which did not stipulate reparations in workforce.
Meanwhile, Soviet troops had reached the Balkans.
October-November 1944, all German ethnics of Romania were called to submit their names on lists at the police station. They were told they could go visit their relatives in Germany if they did so. The queues were long and Annemarie and Toni got in that day, but the counter closed in front of Lieselotte, who was supposed to come back the next day. She didn’t go anymore, annoyed by the long lines.
What they didn’t know was that Stalin had allegedly asked, among other reparations, for 100’000 workforce from Romania, among other reparations. Our new ally had passed their State Defense Committee Order 7161 on December 16, 1944*.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve passed and on January 12th, 1945, the Red Army started seizing all people on the lists, one by one. In less than a month, all German ethnics of working age were snatched from their homes: men of 16-45 and women of 18-30, if they were not pregnant or had any babies under the age of one. Some tried to escape and fled to the mountains, others hurriedly married Romanian ethnics. Their families were pressed to give up on their relatives, regardless of the family situation.

Toni and Annemarie were seized in their garden – she just had time to pass her 4-year-old daughter to her sister’s arms, on that same lovely path I later walked on to kindergarten every day.
They were separated, put on livestock wagons and sent to work in the coal mines around Donetsk, were they worked for more than one year, not knowing if either was still alive or if there’d ever be a ‘back home’ one day.

The Romanian King and government protested in January: according to the armistice, Romanian civil citizens of any race and religion were supposed to be protected by the Allies. At the Conference in Yalta in February 4th -11th, 1945, the U.S. and UK raised some objections to the Soviet use of German ethnic civilian labor, arguing that the „reparations in kind“ were done in the name but without the agreement of the Allies. By then, the process was already closed; Maisky was deputy foreign minister. Churchill allegedly concluded,  „Why are we making a fuss about the Russian deportations in Romania of Saxons and others?“

The Soviets sent about 3/4 of the laborers to the Donets Basin to work in the reconstruction of heavy industry and mines, and about 11% to the Urals’ heavy industries. The workers were housed in concentration camps under armed guard. The working and living conditions were harsh and according to Soviet records about 24% of those interned died. Forced labor turned out to be inefficient and unprofitable since many of the women and older men were not able to perform heavy labor. Repatriation started as early as 1945 and almost all were released by 1950.

Some time in 1946 Annemarie was released, on the grounds that ‘there was no one else to take care of the family’. She returned home and, some time later, Toni did as well. They changed their name from Böttcher to Dogaru, which meant the same, but in Romanian: barrel maker. They had another daughter in 1947. But they never got along anymore after Donets Basin, so they separated, eventually.
Her health was shaken and she couldn’t work anymore, so she started with the kindergarten. It was the 1950es, 30 years before I walked into that garden for the first time.

that ‘instructed to intern all able-bodied Germans of ages 17–45 (men) and 18-30 (women) residing within the territories of Romania (67,332 persons), Hungary (31,920 persons), Yugoslavia (12,579 persons), which were under the control of the Red Army. Consequently, 111,831 (61,375 men and 50,456 women) able bodied adult ethnic Germans from Romania, Yugoslavia, and Hungary were deported for forced labor to the USSR.’

The Tree

The Tree in 1936

The Ahnenpass (Ancestor Passport) states that somewhere around 1860 a Catholic Prall came from Bavaria to Transylvania, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1876 Major Prall, K. u. k Hauptmann a. D., got engaged to his love, Lisi. But, as a military cadre, he could only marry after he made enough money to be able to sustain a household, which meant that he had to stay engaged to his fiancée for 10 years. They finally got married in 1896 and lived in Hermannstadt/Sibiu for a while, where her brother Toni and sister Resi had a furniture store. One year after the wedding, in 1897, their son Albert Prall is born, and baptized a Protestant, like the rest of Lisi’s family. They’re listed at Schwimmschulgasse 2, or Str. Scoala de Inot, 2 (today replaced by a block of flats).

Lisi dies in 1903, when her son is only 6 years old. Little Albert stays with his family in Hermannstadt for a while and gets spoiled by the aunts, while his father goes on with his military career. Bertl, as they called him, regularly skips school and wants to run away with the circus 2 years later – to become a clown.
One day his father meets the school director in the street, who enquires about the boy’s health. So the Hauptmann finds out about Bertl’s absenteeism and decides to send him to school in Targul Mures, then later on to the K. u. K. Kadettenschule – Wiener Neustadt/ Military School in Vienna. The First World War breaks out in 1914. Albert’s is among the first ones to be sent to France directly from Vienna, as an Austrian officer of the garrison of Sibiu.

The Romanians in Austria-Hungary entered the war from the very beginning, with hundreds of thousands of Transylvanian and Bukovinian Romanians being mobilized throughout the war. Romanian troops fought on all European fronts of the Dual Monarchy, (…). In total, up to 150,000 Romanians were killed in action while fighting as part of the Austro-Hungarian Army.

He returns on foot in 1919, a 22 year old crippled with severe rheumatism from the trenches of Verdun, that will pain him for the rest of his life. 2m tall, he’s bound to a wheelchair and cannot walk for months.

The young women from the Höhere Töchterschule in Bucharest come to read to the veterans. One of them is Rieke Schuster, whom he had met before the war: she used to spend her holidays in Sibiu, who, like other Germans from ‘the kingdom’, had a ‘Dauernder Pass’ (permanent pass) to cross the Transylvanian border at Predeal or Bran, in order to visit their relatives.
Rieke’s parents have a pharmacy on Calea Victoriei in Bucharest, (story here).

They want to get married, but her father, the farmacist, tells Albert ‘No job? What good is a soldier in times of peace? I need a son-in-law who’d take over the pharmacy’.

Transylvania is now part of the Romanian kingdom since December 1st 1918. Albert leaves Sibiu and comes to study pharmacy in the capital. He gets married to Rieke and they have two kids, a boy in ’21 and a girl five years later. Together with the in-laws, they build a house on a wasteland at the northern outskirts of the town, where they move in together in 1930. Albert plants a linden tree in the back yard and says, ‘One day I’ll sit in the shade of its huge crown, you’ll see’. Erna is ten, we’re in 1936, the world looks like spring again.

There’s yet no sign of the blows to hit soon from now, the 1940 earthquake, the heavy years of war or the 1944 epidemics of dysentery that will kill Rieke or the communist regime to come.

The world is still ok in 1936 and the linden tree is just a sapling now.

May be an image of 1 person

The tree in 2020 -2021.

May be an image of tree and outdoors

May be an image of tree and outdoors

Powerlessness

One mild autumn day I was running through the streets that managed to escape the massive demolitions for the civic center in the 80es. These streets once flowed from northwest towards southeast and are all suddenly cut off at weird angles by an axis that was once supposed to become a new Champs Elysees – just longer and, well – national style.
Some fabulous houses are hiding behind the curtains of blocks built on both sides of the axis. I’m trying to run a pattern that follows the old streets and interferes with the curtain of blocks as little as possible.

From one day to another, houses standing in the way of the axis  and their people had fallen victims to the ruthlessness of a system whose shadows are hanging heavier today than anyone ever thought was possible. Sometimes I’m running behind a massive continuous curtain of blocks of flats and looking the other way, where the houses are still standing, like stunned. Falling into decay more and more with every passing season, it seems they escaped earthquakes, wars and the razing of the Uranus neighbourhood, but will hardly survive the ‘eternal transition’ that followed in the next decades.

Cars are parked diagonally along the blocks, the streets looks deserted, it’s Saturday, people must be at home, cooking, or at the movies, at the mall… On a street, three guys are trying to get open the back door of a car with a metal ruler and a stick. I pass them closely. One is drinking some energy drink from a can; they look rather miserable in their attempt to get the door open. I’m sure one of them is the owner and the others are helping him.

At the corner, I wonder – it’s broad daylight, we’re on an otherwise busy street, so what are the chances… I run back in a spiral around the guys and smile at them, ‘So, it doesn’t seem to be working, does it? D’you manage?’

One turns a ruddy primitive face towards me ‘We’re stealing here, stealing, see?’
No shame, no menace…nothing.

I run away completely dumbfounded, wondering what to do. Around the next corner is a guard’s house, the parking lot guard…it’s empty. Should I stop and take a picture? – I could’ve, if I hadn’t pushed my luck earlier, unknowingly. I run to the next crossroad, past an old couple and a drunkard. Past a guy who’s throwing me a flirty glance, while menacing someone on the phone. No police at the crossroad, I’m almost home, they’ve probably broken in by now and I’m scared.

I’ll be home soon, in a safe place that’s not going away anywhere soon. I don’t even have a car anymore, where they could break into. A cab driver fell asleep and crashed it to smithereens one month ago. This is a menacing place for me, I realize.

Lost Bucharest – from the book „Bucureştiul dispărut” by Gheorghe Leahu

 

Later edit: More powerlessness: a flat in this house was bought with very political combinations(RO).

Palataki, Island of Thassos, 40°37’28″N 24°34’46″E

Message for visitors

Hello, I am your first stop on your journey to the “Metallurgic factory area of Limenaria, Thassos”. I would like to tell you about my story and also to share my concerns, because all along these years I’ve been wondering who really knows me and who cares about me.

©oryktosploutos.net, because I was too amazed to shoot a good pic.

First, let me introduce myself. People call me “Palataki” (Small Palace) because of my grand design. I was born in 1900 and my designer was the Italian architect Pietro Arigoni. You can consider me the most impressive of all the administration buildings of the Aegean islands, one of the most important industrial monuments in the Mediterranean! My first owner was Speidel, owner of the homonymous German mining company, which came to Thassos to inaugurate the modern period of mining activity on the island. I’ve been residence to the owners, also company offices and I’ve gone through such glorious times. Since then I’ve been watching the village, Limenaria, from up here, growing year after year. I changed many owners and uses, following the controversial history of the region and contributing to its development. Hosting daily events and important celebrations, I’ve accompanied and challenged the imagination of children, listened to love stories, sorrows, struggles and joys of adults.

But in the late ’60, the end of mining came…and activity began to decline. As the years went by, I was looking from above, generations following one after the other, the world changing faster and becoming more and more crazy. I was sad and looking for a little attention, wishing for a little life back inside of me. In 1982, after numerous studies and ministerial decisions, I’ve been declared a national monument. And there even were a attempts to have me repaired! I felt such joy and relief! I dreamed that I would live the glamour and bustle of the past again.

Soon this relief stopped along with my dreams. My disappointment for the people grew up. I felt more alone than ever. With so many plans and titles, I felt like a retired general, who was conferred honorary medals, while they’re just waiting for me to die, to fall apart. And vandals come to plunder, destroying my decorations. The end seems now to happen; against the international, European and National authorities governing the Greek art and architectural sites, I’ve been cut off from the rest of the national monuments, being another victim of the economic measures imposed in Greece. 

Still I stand here wounded, restless but proud. And you who have just read these few words of mine, please think that you have the power to protect me and my history. My time is over…so please hurry! Feel the value of what I represent to you and to future generations. As my only weapon in this battle I used my unique tale, my artistic value, hoping you would lift your head one day and look at me and not to feel regret, but pride, your eyes filled with my ancient beauty”.

After: Aegean Sea Metallurgy – industrial antiquities of Greece – Melissa, Athens, 2009. IGMR Institute of Geological and Metallurgic Research, translation: Dimitris Papaioannou. www.mmoth.gr

Dating back from 20’000 BC, the oldest European underground mine with horizontal excavation was discovered in Tzines on Thassos. Ancient historians Herodot and Strabon both mention the mining activity on the island: lead, iron, copper, silver and marble from the 7th century on.

Early 20th century, the German company Speidel Pforzheim obtained mining rights from the Ottoman administration for exploiting zinc, lead and silver ores here.

Palataki was built over the bay of Limenaria between 1903-1904 to house the administration of the mining company. A rectangular symmetrical building in the industrial style of the period, it was two stories high, had a basement and two little towers on its back facade.

Set up on the hill, it adapted in colours to the environment, with blue/green windows to match the sea and the pine trees around it, and yellow walls to blend in with the colours of the rocks and cliffs around it.

 

On the backside, the slope where the old rusty ore-enrichment installations lie ends in a beautiful beach: the Metalia. The only installations preserved here are the kilns (furnaces), part of the ore process from the early 1900s.

In 1913 the mining activity was interrupted due to the Balkan wars. At the end of the first World War, Thassos became Greek territory and another company won the mining rights at an international bidding:Vieille Montagne from Belgium founded the ‘Société Hellénique Métallurgique et Minière’ here, which modernized and enlarged the exploitation with rotating ovens.

The 1930s recession resulted in the fall of the metal prices, so the ore processing was stopped. From then on, the mines worked under the joint venture “Apostolu AE-SCHMIDT-KRUPP”, which started surface mining and producing iron ore at larger scale, and the great furnace-ramp was used only for the haulage of unprocessed ore to barges.
Loading and shipping in Limenaria, all products would go directly to German company Krupp. From 1962 the mining exploitation on Thassos stopped altogether, due to the discovery of richer and cheaper iron ore sources in Africa and South America.
Deserted in 1963, Palataki was supposed to be repaired in order to host a new cultural center. The floors and walls were left naked, since all metal parts and machinery have been looted and sold as scrap.

The Kilns

The Offices

A few days ago, on September 10th, 2016, Thassos was hit by a dry storm. Dozens of lightning strikes hit the island in 4 different corners and set fire to the pinewoods where it hadn’t rained for 3 months. The fire blazed for 3 days and was the worst after 1989.
The island is now safe again: please keep it in mind when planing your holidays!
Thassos and the Palataki are looking forward to seeing you around.

 

Reichesdorf, 46° 5′ N, 24° 29′ W

There are many risks in hanging around the borders of great empires, such as constantly getting in the way of some kind of battle. But there are benefits as well: populations on the border are being spoiled with rich cultural influence from all sides, no matter if it’s philosophical, culinary or in the field of construction. Words migrate from one language to another and carry new meanings that were never imagined before.

For those benefits, other people often come and settle for a while. In the case of the place we now call Transylvania, Saxons arrived in the 12th century within their eastward migration, Ostsiedlung.

Until the 16th century they built over 150 fortified churches along their way, in order to protect Christendom from the Ottomans. The early ones were Romanic, the later ones were built in different Gothic styles, seven of them being considered UNESCO world heritage.

One of these German settlements, Birthälm/Biertan includes the village with the same name, then Richiș and Copșa Mica. All three villages have fortified churches; Biertan’s dates back to 1524 and was listed UNESCO-heritage site in 1993.

People in this area used to be mainly winegrowers since they can recount. They finished building the church in Richiș in 1451.

 One of the main attractions of the church is the sacristy door with wooden inlays representing the eternal city of Jerusalem in seven shapes, which was added in 1516. On the upper side of the door there’s the coat of arms of Reichesdorf: a heron (‘Reiher’ in German, which probably gave the village its initial name).

The door has an intricate lock system with several bolts. Only the door in Biertan, made by the same craftsman one year earlier, has a more intricate mechanism, which was presented at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900!

It was silver coated later; unfortunately someone stole its key, so now it’s locked open forever.

Johannes Honterus, a renaissance humanist from Brasov, introduced Protestantism to the Transylvanian Saxons after having studied in Vienna, Regensburg and Krakow and after having met Martin Luther in Wittenberg. In order to spread the word, Honterus founded a school, a library and put up the first printing press, where he printed a collection of maps, the Rudimenta Cosmographica. It appeared in 39 editions until 1602 and is considered to be the first European manual.

Therefore, by 1530 Reformation was passed in Transylvania without blood spilling. Unlike in other parts of the world, no major Bildersturm –  iconoclastic riots – took place here; a few figures were removed from the Romanic and Gothic capitals with hammer and chisel – and that was that.


In 1775, the church in Richiș got a new altar, crafted and painted by the renowned master Johann Folbarth in Rokoko sytle. Unlike in some Catholic churches, here the sides of the altar are adorned by John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, not St. Peter and St. Paul. The wooden statue of St. John the Baptist was originally represented as dressed with only a camel fur; this brought major disarray to the community of Reichesdorf.

The organ from 1788As is the custom, Protestants walk around the altar on important church days. While passing it, young girls would slow down and peek under St. John’s camel skin, which angered the old ladies of the village up to the point where they asked for the statue to be removed.

Therefore, the mature wives of the community decided to end the story in a different way and draped the saint in a blue garment, which was kept until today.

The lively Mr. Schaas, 84, the last Saxon in Richis, told us many stories about the times when the village was a strong winemaker community of 900 souls.

In 1990, when everybody else left for Germany, upon leaving, the priest gave him the keys and told him to take care of everything. As he began walking through the church everyday, Mr. Schaas started wondering about a sculpted face he saw in the capital of a column: a wild man, with branches sprouting out of his mouth and his eyes.

The more he kept studying the leafy capitals, the more faces appeared to him every time. Among other wild ones he also found the Benedictine monk’s, founder of the church. He didn’t know what to make of this and called them ‘my friendly little devils’ – until one day, when a Swiss lady told him about the green man and its appearance under the Bamberg Horseman from 1225.

A pagan figure, it is said to be the counterpart of the mother earth figure – someone like Pan in Greek Myths. The craftsman must have been thoroughly schooled, probably in a part of the world where Celtic influence could be found.

If you should ever go to Richiș, find Mr. Schaas and listen to his stories. If you speak Romanian, he’ll tell them in Romanian. If you master German, you’ll get even more stories. But you’ll robably get the most out of him if you’re a Saxon speaker.

It is said that you can only imagine things you have words for. With every language you master, you become richer: new words bring new meanings and new feelings along with them.

More info here: http://kirchenburgen.org/kirchenburgen/

Visit:
Get the keys from Mr. Johann Schaas
Tel: +40/269/258 429
House Nr. 87

Sleep in Reichesdorf:
Rooms at the old vicarrage at La Curtea Richivini: 10 beds, call: Gerrit Timmerman, Tel: +40/269/258 475.
Rooms at Casa Noah: 11 beds, Call: Paul Eugen, Tel: +40/269/258 500, Email: casa_noah@slowlyplanet.com.

A beautiful language tree © Minna Sundberg. Please visit her site by clicking on the image.

 

The Kitten

Last November, Tilly was found in the ghastly basement of my block of flats with a badly healed broken front paw and some other sorts of illnesses and parasites. He became part of my love’s stray cat saving project. All the other kittens got adopted rather soon but Tilly was already a big 7 months cat by then. And people prefer small blue-eyed fur balls. 

So Tilly got his little heart broken when the last fur ball got adopted. (Luckily, Sonja & siblings have found great families)

Lucky as this kitten is, my love moved in with him to my seventh floor flat with the great long balcony. He grew even bigger, while spending the Xmas holidays observing guests and rearranging the aerial roots of Franz-the-Houseplant, turned into an X-Mas-tree.

Because we keep taking stray cats to the vet and then get them adopted, people in my building believe we’re drowning them in the Dambovitza river across the road – but that’s another story. Spring came and Tilly became a beautiful adult feline, almost jumping through the balcony railing every time a bird passes at this flight level without proper ATC clearance. 

Summer came and we took him along with us on our diving project. He even got a passport for this voyage. His belongings filled half of the back seat of our car, as he likes to be driven around in proper conditions. 

Tilly turned out to be twice the size of local cats, which came to pay their respects at the window every day. 

He watched over his saviour for two weeks, when this one got bitten and badly infected from saving yet another stray cat. As a modest sacrifice to the mighty gods, for this recovery, Tilly decapitated his favourite Teddy in just one afternoon.

Then he got on the ferry with us, all the way back, for a home visit. Freshly arrived at my parents’ place, we humans all got a bad food poisoning – even the dogs got poisoned somehow. While we were running around last night, taking turns for the loo, Tilly considered it was the perfect moment for a roof dive! 
So here I am, at one am, staring out of the attic window into an open rain gutter, where kitten sits puzzled, realizing there’s no way back. The best of all men passes by, moaning, ‘Call the ambulance – or the firefighters – or both!’
Kitten sat in the gutter, musing, while I threw a blanket on the roof and spent half an hour trying to get him to climb on it. The favourite toy, the cooing, the adrenaline, something must have worked – so Tilly got back through the window with a majestic jump, without the intervention of a small crane vehicle – or further drama. 

After a brief fight with the official matron house cat of my folks, which is on a diet and crept into our budoir at 6am in the attempt to steal some food, now a wiser cat, he looks back at the spot where he almost spent the night. 

As I’m writing this, Tilly started copiously throwing up on the floor next to me. I just hope it’s not food poisoning.

***Special thanks to YourVetsBucharest for their care and Georgina Wechsler for her wonderful support!
***Please, get your pets neutered! More than half of those stray kittens and doggies will have very short and miserable lives and will most likely end up as roadkill. You can make a change. Read more here, if you care.