Hundreds of tourists joined local residents in Transylvania for a weekend of culture, fun and politics at a festival that put the spotlight on Romania’s small but active Saxon community.
The latest Haferland Festival was held last weekend in the Saxon village of Crit and as usual, included traditional music, cultural events and local cooking.
This year it got a boost from President Klaus Iohannis who offered his patronage for the ninth edition. Ambassadors and Romanian officials turned up for the weekend in the rolling hills of Tara Ovazului or Oat Land, that lies in the heart of Transylvania.
The tanned president created a buzz with a snazzy all-white outfit. It was perhaps his first public visit to the ethnic German community he comes from since becoming president in 2014.
“As a state which is deeply attached to the ideals of diversity and European unity, Romania is a place where ethnic, religious and cultural diversity is respected,” he said.
The „close connection between Saxons and Romanians” is an example of peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect, he said.
Romanian legendary football player Gheorghe Hagi, a member of Romania’s Macedonian community, also joined the weekend of hay making, poetry reading and jam making.
Under communism, thousands of ethnic Germans left the Saxon villages turning them into ghost hamlets. One of these was Michael Schmidt, a Crit native, who returned from Bavaria after 1990 and made his fortune as a representative of BMW and Rolls Royce in Romania and the region.
Mr Schmidt started the Haferland Festival in 2012 to draw attention to traditions in the villages of Archita, Bunești, Viscri, Saschiz, Cloașterf, Rupea, Homorod, Criț, Roadeș and Meșendorf.
„Haferland Week has become a landmark festival in Transylvania. It brings a lot of visitors to the area every year, which makes me very happy,” he said thanking attendees. He promised to continue to support local development.
He chairs the M&V Schmidt Foundation with his wife Veronica Schmidt. The foundation helps disadvantaged children in the area with a focus on education projects.
Outside interest from figures such as Britain’s Prince Charles and the sheer gorgeousness of the Saxon houses, the slow pace of life and charming Transylvanian traditions have peaked interest and put local tourism on the map.
Now a key date in the summer calendar, this year’s Haferland Festival (Haferland means Oat Country) was eagerly awaited after the Covid-19 pandemic forced the festival online last year.
A press release said returning Saxons “were happy to see each other again, tourists were thrilled to discover new places imbued with history “and listen to classical and choral music. Saxon entrepreneurs entertained with inspirational tales about their lives out of Transylvania.
Music and dance
Music and dance are a key part of Saxon life. In a nod to that, a traditional ball was held in Viscri, where Charles has his Prince of Wales Foundation Romania.
Pianist Johann Markel held a piano concert and visitors were treated to the „Sibiu Jazz Quartet”.
Romania’s ambassador to Austria, Emil Hurezeanu who co-founded the festival also attended the event. Britain’s ambassador to Romania, Andrew Noble, and the Israeli ambassador David Saranga were other guests.
The prime minister’s adviser in charge of combatting xenophobia and anti-Semitism, Alexandru Muraru, was another guest.
The festival gets funding from the Bavarian government and the Brasov county council as well as a host of commercial sponsors.
Romanian writer and cultural figure Andrei Plesu chaired a debate on developing Romanian-German relations. Germany is Romania’s top trading partner.
The political and economic clout of Germany which supports the ethnic German community has provided a constant boost to the festival and the region.