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1 – How did your interest come about Transylvanian Saxons?
My grandfather is a Transylvanian Saxon. When I was young he would tell me about his and his family’s life in Transylvania, and about Meschendorf, the village where he was born and grew up. He sadly passed away some years ago. I wanted to hear more of his stories, but I was just left with being able to hear them through others. Therefore I set out and searched for Transylvanian Saxons.
2 – How was your project born?
The project started off with a personal voyage, a curiosity of where I originated. Who were these so called Transylvanian Saxons anyway? I wanted to learn about their culture, social relationships and how it was possible for them to keep their heritage alive for the best part of 800 years. I gathered information and stories from various Transylvanian Saxons and set off to visit my grandfather’s village for the first time in 2011. The stories are documented in my book “Meschendorf” which won the Art Book Prize. http://www.lulu.com/gb/en/shop/jessica-klein/meschendorf/paperback/product-21098953.html
My interest started to grow, and to my surprise so did that of others. I realised there was very little documented about the Transylvanian Saxons although they were part of one of Europe’s largest mass emigrations within the last 100 years. Therefore I decided to make a documentary portraying the Transylvanian Saxons telling their current stories and their relation to their own identity, rather than focusing on their history.
I also formed a facebook group SiebenbuergerForum to share my progress, discoveries and to create a shared platform of experiences. To my surprise, I have received various stories from Transylvanian Saxons around the globe with a large number not only living in Germany but USA and Canada too.
In the documentary we were also able to portray the stories of Peter Maffay and Caroline Fernolend, both Transylvanian Saxons who work at keeping the heritage alive but develop a modern relationship between the Saxons and the Romanians.
3 – Which was your impression when you went to a Saxons village for the first time and how the Saxons reacted on your project?
My first visit to the Saxon villages was in 2011 where I was lucky enough to meet the last remaining Transylvanian Saxon in Meschendorf aged 101 at that time. He told me “I was born here, I was baptized here, I married here and therefore I will also die here”. He did not feel that his soul belonged anywhere else and that neither the political challenges nor the drastic changes of the village inhabitants, who are now mainly Romas and Romanians would change this.
The architecture and the nature really struck my heart. It was as if I was home, home to a place that I had never seen before though. There were endless fields, overgrown fields under which lay the soil that once grew fruitful grapes, orchards, crops etc. The wide streets are aligned with a row of colourful Saxon houses. The coloured facades are bleached through the sun. The walls are cracked and the plaster is slowly pealing off, exposing the buildings. The once carefully laid roof tiles have fallen off many of the buildings, and are resting at the foot of the exterior walls, slowly being over grown by vegetation. My grandfather’s family home is a ruin, but a ruin which shows its past life. There are still plates resting in the window sill, the weaving loom is collecting dust in the living room and books rest on the table. Untouched. Waiting.
Today these villages are being discovered more and more and changed into different uses such as sustainable tourism.
4 – At which level is the preparation of the documentary?
After hard work, and various versions, the rough cut is almost completed by film editor Susanne Dietz (www.vimeo.com/susannedietz). We are very excited! Hopefully we will be able to share it with you shortly. Please follow our website and facebook for updates.
5 – On your opinion what is the peculiarity of this project?
It is always very touching for me when people share their own relationship with their culture/identity. I have even received DNA test results from some of the followers showing their origins in addition to very personal stories. It is amazing how this project created its own community and sharing platform.
6 – Do the Saxons emigrants maintain some contacts with the native land?
Yes, many Saxons are returning back to Transylvania, but mainly for holidays. Some were able to re-own their houses (after the communist regime), but very few have returned back permanently. There are various annual village re-unions within Transylvania and also in Germany, USA, and Canada etc. The generation that emigrated are growing too old to travel. It will be interesting to see how much the younger generation will feel committed to maintain the villages and architecture, as the graveyards and the churches are in permanent need for renovation in Transylvania.
7 – What is the relationship between the old and the young Saxons generations?
There is a strong divide between the younger and the older generations’ relationship to Transylvania. The younger generation was either born outside of Transylvania, or left Transylvania at a very young age (mainly during the early 90’s). The older generation lived through the communistic regime where they ‘lost’ most of their property, and experienced the often traumatising emigration process which left various families separated. Today, the younger generation is more and more interested in returning to their roots and visiting their heritage Transylvania, in addition to holding a strong relationship between each other through radio, re-unions, balls in their now home countries etc.