Life Improves for Romanian Germans | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 09.01.2005
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Life Improves for Romanian Germans

Of the hundreds of thousands of Germans who once lived in Romania, only 60,000 remain. And they are experiencing a sort of Renaissance.


Germans first came as guest workers to Romania around 1150

Most of Romania's ethnic Germans immigrated to their ancestors' homeland during communist leader Nicolai Ceascescu's reign. But since the Romanian people toppled the dictator in 1989, some of the Romanian Germans have moved back and taken part in the country's economic revival.

Gigi Popa and Hermann Kurmes, both Romanian Germans, grew up together in Vulcan, a small village near the Carpathian Mountains, and now live in the southeastern Transylvanian town Zarnesti. Kurmes left Romania decades ago for Germany and worked there as a teacher. Popa stayed at home, despite the harassment that ethnic Germans were often subjected to.

It's not that Popa didn't consider emigrating. But it wasn't that easy.

"First they kicked you out of your job, if you had a decent job. It was a big risk," he told Bavarian public broadcaster BR.

But after the dictatorship was overthrown and the country started developing a parliamentary democracy and a free market, Popa didn't see the point in leaving anymore.

"There was nothing here," he said. "You have all the opportunities here, even now you can do very, very much. As a businessman, a competent businessman, one can get rich in Romania."

Romanian Germans thriving

Both Popa and Kurmes have taken advantage of the opportunities and business is going well. Popa runs a guesthouse, and Kurmes opened a travel agency after returning from Germany.

They aren't the only Romanian Germans who have profited. Contacts to Germany are good for business, and, in contrast to many ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union, Romanian Germans normally speak the language fluently.

Sibiu, the Transylvanian city of 160,000, is booming. Formerly the Romanian-German capital, only 3,000 of them now live in Hermannstadt, as Germans call Sibiu.

And many people credit them with contributing vastly to the city's economic fortunes. Their relations to Germany have given them a good reputation at home. That their standing has improved in Romanian society is perhaps best illustrated by fact that a Romanian German has been elected mayor by a large majority of Sibiu's voters.

German investment

German tire maker Continental plans to set up a development center in Sibiu, and it's already started supporting engineering students at the local university. And Continental is not alone. Siemens, Daimler, Steilmann textile group and many other large German companies have already made substantial investments in Romania.

Still, most of the Romanian Germans have stayed in Germany. But they visit their former home increasingly. Popa, for his part, doesn't regret having stayed in Romania. "I can say I'm a winner," he said. "Business is going well. I'm quite satisfied."

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