Land of Zuika and Mamaliga

A little foretaste of the next plotki-issue ? two German guys make a trip to the country of Dracula.

I. Thuringia, Bavaria and beyond

A terrible summer had been dragging on for a long time, when I suddenly saw a light at the end of the tunnel. Desperate on the phone, the idea to drive east with my friend Max, crushed the walls of my home made prison. A new perspective was opening and the smell of adventure was in the air. After we had agreed that new experiences would be best gained in legendary Rumania, the only thing left was to find a vehicle that would carry us to the promised land. In the beautiful countryside of Thuringia, East Germany, Max found the car of our dreams. It was a Wartburg 1.3 Tourist 1989, the last GDR version, with a VW engine. We called it ?Warti? and hoped that its classical GDR design would not draw much attention in the countries of the former eastern block.

Our Warti was a really cool fellow – white, with some rusty stains. An estate car with space for luggage and sleeping in the back (hotel inclusive!), and with a mystic defect: the engine sometimes needed a little help to start. Giving us the chance to prove our masculinity, by pushing the car through half the east. With an extra-futuristic cassette deck added, the Warti was p erfect. On September 9th 2001, we loaded the car and our trip, across borders and the known structures of our private and public order, was to begin.

Follow Max and Markus through Rumania:

II. Vienna calling
III. Rumania, the country of Zuika and Mamaliga
IV. Village life
V. Where Dracula lives – stress in Transylvania
VI. Bucharest and the rest
VII. Going home

II. Vienna calling

 The sky was wide open, the east was gleaming red, blue and golden in the morning. We rushed into Austria and wormed our way through apple growing country. After many hours, the impressive facade of the Melk monastery, was sparkling in the evening sun. That night, we arrived in Vienna, the west-eastern heart of art and culture on the river Danube. We refreshed and entered the nightlife. Following the tip of a young indigenous lady we opened an inconspicuous door in the wall and entered "Das Donau". The smell of marihuana tickled our noses, relaxed beats massaged the air and at a spacious bar, fine cocktails were being served. We drank, but not excessively, everything was smooth.
 Back in the car we found a place to sleep, by the old Simmering cemetery, right beside the "Würstelwaggon" [sausage wagon]. There was also one of those working-site Dixi-toiletts, with a mirror in it for shaving and water from the cemetery-well for washing. Even the early morning customers of the "Würstelwaggon", who really seemed alcohol-proof, became friendly after a while and offered us some sausages for breakfast. Which we gently refused.
 After a walk through the city centre, we left Vienna and "old Europe" and headed for Hungaria. This country seemed – at least from the highway – mostly flat, green and somehow boring. We passed Budapest and spent the night somewhere between the trees, beside a little road. It looked quite an idyllic place, until we found a pile of dirty slips and used condoms. The next morning, we woke and stared at the line of beautiful young Hungarian ladies, offering up their bodies, just beside the road.
 At Arat we crossed the border into Rumania. While the officers were checking our luggage, we enjoyed no-mans-land, and then the big moment had come: as we pushed our Warti into the country of Dracula, Ceaucescu and all the other still unknown men and women, our minds and hearts were high.

III. Rumania, the country of Zuika and Mamaliga

With music blasting and our windows open we bumped through little villages, looking at the natives, and in the evening we reached Temehwar (Timisoara), a historically important town in the Banat region. We found a cheap place for the night, near the city centre. We refreshed, dressed up, and full of energy we drank our first beer and ate our first real Romanian fast-food meal, in the students quarter between grey socialist skyscrapers. This innocent pleasure was soon followed by various excesses. First, we walked and walked, losing our way in the middle of the night. My feet started to hurt as I had borrowed Max?s cool boots, that were unfortunately just a bit too small. At one point we tripped over a drunk man laying in the middle of the road. But listen, when we were in danger of not regaining our proper orientation, we heard a dark beat – bumm bumm – the global disco was calling.
We decided to forget about sleeping and to have some affordable fun. Paying 20.000 Lei, we entered a big and somewhat sterile dancing hall (later we were told that this was the legendary ?Park Place?). On the dance-floor, fine styled young ladies were moving their bodies. Some were almost stripping on a podium in the middle of the room. Young men dressed in gym suits or in black trousers and white shirts cheered for the most sexy performances. We ordered vodka and took our place in a dark corner, to watch from afar. Some drinks later, we were ready to dance. Trying to discover our love for the all time dance floor classics, we moved convulsively through the arena. While Max seemed to be happy to groove on his own, I thought to myself: everybody else is dancing with a lady, I want to, too! I ended up dancing with a seventeen years old girl, who spoke a little German, the heritage of her grandfather. In the early morning hours, Max and I left. We had spent a remarkable amount of money for Romanian standards. The sun started to rise, and we fell into our beds.
 Temeshwar is a nice place even in the day. At noon, we drank our coffee in the warm sunshine and admired the crumbling K&K facades. Almost nothing is left from the time when the town was under the rule of the Osmans, in the 17th century. However, the latest historical period has left its marks: the 1989 revolution against the dictatorship started here; candles and flowers remind you of the demonstrators who were shot, often young students.
In the afternoon, it was time to hit the road again. We were learning our first lessons in Romanian road fighting: 1. just overtake a long line of cars, even if you see the oncoming traffic; 2. don?t hesitate even if you doubt that between all the bumps and holes in the street three cars can fit next to each other! These are just the basic lessons. The more advanced driver will learn how to correctly judge the speed of horse drawn vehicles and how to drive at night facing the fact that many cars and other UDOs (Unidentified Driving Objects) have no lights at all. In the master class it will be taught how to speed up passes in the dark, while hosting a bunch of hitchhikers in the back seats and an impatient truck driver up your ass. The prerequisite for all this is: you have to be a fatalist or a Romanian (which is almost the same)!

IV. Village life

 After a few hours drive through sunny Banat we were looking for a place to sleep for Warti and us. We turned right and bumped along a little country line. Passing a village in which we almost got stuck in the mud. The village folks stared at us with dark flashing eyes. Were we just aliens or victims?
 The village was located near the ?iron gate?, the entrance to Transsylvania. Were these people, the offspring of the bloodthirsty count? Finally, a horse-drawn vehicle came towards us and there was no escape. We got out and tried to ask some of the inhabitants, if we could spend the night in the car parked beside the garden fence of the last house of the village.
 Our Kauderwelsch phrase book was good only for the basics, though, like ordering food or insulting somebody. We felt lost. Suddenly, there was much excitement. The people muttered something about ?polizia, polizia? and a fat man with an impressive black walrus mustache appeared. He turned out to be the police officer of the next little dump who, according to his own testimony, spoke at least English, Italian and French. Looking at the situation, he decided to invite us to his home. Soon we found ourselves sitting in his living room. The officer and his two sons invited us to drink Zuika with them, a home-grown plum liqueur (we in return offered some Tegernseer Hell, good Bavarian beer, that our host enjoyed). We smoked stinky tobacco and tried to talk, while the obligatory TV was proudly flickering in the corner.
 Smoking and drinking we all of a sudden realized that something was wrong. We could not believe what we saw – on every channel the same pictures hit our eyes. It was September 13th, 2001; the attack on the WTC was shown again and again. We hadn?t heard anything about this event, yet. "big problem USA – cas? alba, avion, bumm!" – these were the enlightening explanations of our multilingual police officer. We were shocked, but the whole situation was somehow surreal. We saw German school children cry on RTL and heard something about Bush?s crusade and Schröder?s unconditional solidarity. We were happy to be far away from this crazy world, deep in Zuika-land, and we were hungry.
 It was maybe two hours later, when the officer?s wife reappeared from the kitchen and announced, that the meal she had been working on was prepared.
 We went through the garden and entered the kitchen. Looking forward to a delicious meal, we were a little astonished to find french fries and a strange looking greasy piece of meat on our plates. Max despite his vegetarianism somehow managed to swallow a bite of this heavy meat, while the whole family sat staring at us. After dinner, we were shown to our sleeping room, where we spent a horrible night together in a much too small bed.
 But the next morning had a real ethnographic experience ready for us, which made up for everything. The housewife was already in the kitchen stirring an obscure mush, called Mamaliga, made of corn. It was served with cheese and something made of cabbage (Krautwickerl in German). This was tough! Max stared desperately at the steaming heap in front of him, sipped nervously at his coffee and brought into play all his hangover-charm to be spared this trial. One of the sons understood, that Max wasn?t up to consuming anything but coffee in the morning, so his mother left him alone.
 As for me, I was curious. I started to eat the Mamaliga. At first without any great expectations, but the more I ate, the more I was pleased by this meal. It tasted of a simple and good life, I really liked it. This was Banat, Rumania!
Our hosts, especially the two sons, wanted us to stay. But we were anxious to get on the road again. So after some friendly negotiations and exchanges of gifts (we got two tapes of Romanian folklore/pop music and a two litre bottle of home made Zuika, yeah!), we left.
 On the way to Siebenbürgen, respectively Transylvania, we carried along a lot of hitchhikers. People of all ages and both sexes use this, the only reliable and fastest means of transportation. Each of our guests wanted to give us some money, proportional to the stretch they rode with us, but we did not accept anything. For us it was great to gain a rather interesting insights into the situations of certain people.
 For example, three young and educated soldiers told us about their life’s in the hard conditions of the barracks, with little food and without warm blankets in the winter. Their limited options in Rumania and their dreams of economic success, based on a job in Germany. In return we told them how boring the straight and well ordered life in Germany seemed to us and how much we enjoyed the charm of he ?wild? Rumania with its anarchic touch and its fresh vegetables. They were dreaming of German money, we were dreaming of the ?pure? life and the beautiful girls of Rumania.
A cultural highlight along the way was the medieval castle of Hunedoara, with its drawbridge and its battlements. Some of the later Hungarian kings, like Matthias Corvinius, are said to have originated here. In Hunedoara, we were confronted, for the first time, with begging children. While we visited the castle, some street children cleaned our car, without being asked . When we came back, they wanted a lot of (German) money. Immediately after we had handed over some change, a quarrel started. The older kids beat the younger kids. Max tried to intervene, but it was hopeless. What would the situation in Bucharest be like, the city that is famous for the misery of its street children?
 An old women from a minority group of the Siebenbürgersachsen told us in German about her bad situation since political change. She had to live on about 70 Euro per month and there was no hope of a better future. The picturesque relicts of the coal mining industry in this area, looked really depressing.
 Our place for the night was on a river near Alba Julia. We drank German Muckefuk with Zuika and looked at the sparkling firmament. It was quiet and it was wonderful.

V. Where Dracula lives – stress in Transylvania

There was too much to visit and see in Siebenbürgen/Transylvanien. We had a guide book with several hundred pages only concerned with the objects of interest in this little spot of central Rumania. While I read and read in order to cope with this cultural wealth, Max wanted to relax and to enjoy special moments at only a few good places. Soon we realised that our plan, to visit the whole country in two weeks and at the same time, have a relaxing holiday, was utopian. Luckily, we found a compromise. We strolled through Alba Julia, with its centre build by the Habsburgers in the late 18th, early 19th century. Afterwards, we were caught by the dreamy atmosphere of Mediash, left by the Siebenbürgersachsen, haunted by German tourists. For the night we rested on a green meadow near a wood.
 Everything seemed really peaceful. Max was sitting in the grass, writing his diary, when he suddenly faced a growling dog. It was a shepherd’s dog. We had invaded the pasture he was to defend. Talking to the dog in his sweetest voice, Max made his way back to the car, where I was already sitting, with a stick in my hand. Some more barking dogs were running towards us when we closed the doors and wiped the sweat from our foreheads. A few minutes later, we were among sheep, and we thought we had to spend the night in the car. But the shepherd went on into the woods. We were free again.
After we had visited Sibiu (Hermannstadt), the heart of Transylvania, the next day, we had seen enough of this kind of culture, with its strong build churches and its German folklore. It was time to just drive through the countryside, with open windows, elbows out, smoking the good strong Rumanian Carpathians, looking at the beautiful landscape and using some hitchhikers as language teachers. This was not easy, because many of the older hitchhikers could not read and write. So it was useless to point to a word in our language guide in order to learn some pronunciation. We did learn something though, and when one time a young man became really impertinent, we were able to practice some bad words.
The landscape of Transylvania is something between past and future. We passed futuristic manufacturing plants, with huge smoke stacks and rusty iron constructions. They were out of use now, but at the same time they looked like the set for a science fiction movie. We lost our way in the rocky and cloudy Carpathians, where Gypsies lined the road, offering nuts and berries. Finally, we paid a visit to count Dracula’s "historic" castle, which dominates the mountain road to the Walachei. The castle is built in a fantasy style, with a flourishing sale of devotional objects around it and a cheap wooden coffin inside. It’s all but creepy, very much in contrast to Bram Stokers book, that I read during this time.

VI. Bucharest and the rest

The region Walachei is mainly flat yellow cornfields, with Bucharest in the centre. We approached the legendary capital via a relatively small country road, shrouded in a cloud of stinky exhaust fumes of a thousand old trucks. In the late afternoon we reached the city and were eager to know about the conditions of this moloch. What was the truth behind all the rumours about crime, violence, misery and dogs that had come to our ears in Germany? The first impression – a shock: beautiful, old, crumbling facades in different shades of pastel in the inner city; boulevards crowded with people; a hectic flow of traffic in the centre; and the pompous palace of the former dictator Ceausescu in the middle.
 For two hours we cruised through this lovely labyrinth in the evening sun. Then, we realised that we were running out of time. We still had to find a cheap hotel near the city centre, but this was not too easy. We asked a taxi driver at the north station, and in exchange for a little fee (paid after fulfilment) he promised to show us what we were looking for. We followed his car in a rally through the city, only to find an expensive hotel in the outskirts. We were not happy and started to argue. In the end, the taxi driver gave us the tip to ask for a room in a small hotel right beside the north station – the exact place of our departure!
 The hotel was a little dubious and filthy, but it was cheap and the centre was in walking distance. The whole area around the north station is full of crooks and strange folks. While I was busy taking the last pieces of luggage out of the Warti, a man appeared and started to talk to me. I was not interested in conversation and was just about to leave, when suddenly two more guys in black leather jackets appeared. They introduced themselves as criminal officers and accused me of having bought some cocaine from the first guy. I thought this was a bad joke, but the men came closer and closer and started to ask me for my passport and dollars. I got nervous and called for Max, but he was up in our hotel room. I pretended to only have Rumanian Lei, and after a while, the "criminal officers" took off with the "dealer". This was not a hearty welcome, but a good warning.
 Later at night, when we were walking down the streets headed for the centre of town, I felt like I was in a war zone. Everything was foreign, danger seemed to lurk behind every corner. But this tense feeling soon vanished. We (tall and strong guys, as we were) bought a beer and marvelled at the vast and empty city centre. Suddenly we ran into a police patrol, consisting of an officer and a heavy armed soldier. They stopped us and said something about a "big problem". Drinking in public was forbidden! While we had to show our passports, we looked as innocent as possible and after some talk, they let us go.
The next day, we walked and went by tram (the old Munich tram wagons are working here now!) many kilometres through the fascinating city of Bucharest. Max was busy shopping in the Paris of the east, while I concentrated on the roots and enjoyed meatballs with mustard and beer. We inhaled the different odours of colourful markets, boulevards full of beautiful women, stinky streets and shabby quarters with rubbish everywhere. Just curious to see some contrasts, we drove by tram in an outer part of the city. Here, the pure charm of the 1970s was still alive: we had a break in a green park surrounded by skyscrapers decorated with the typical pan-socialistic art.
We only spent two days and nights in Bucharest, only enough to gain some superficial impressions. We saw some beauty, but also a lot of misery: many people, even children living in ruins or in the streets. After dark, women are offered to tourists everywhere. In the day, the city belongs to humans, built during the night, the dogs are kings.
There were so many secrets to discover, but we wanted to see the black sea as well as the monasteries in the Moldova region in the north-east. When we left the capital we were in a melancholic mood. We thought our journey had somehow reached its peak. But this was not the case. We arrived at the Black Sea and spent the night somewhere by the seaside, between Constanza and the Bulgarian border. In the morning we had a strange and funny encounter. A little old shepherd stared through the windows of our Warti-hotel. when we woke up, he smiled and smiled and smiled. He did not speak anything but Romanian, so our conversation was mainly restricted to gestures (smiling). We invited him for breakfast, consisting of bread, cheese, marmalade – and vodka. Soon, a young and very sympathetic shepherd joined us. He showed us some of his tricks with dogs and sheep. After a while, we had finished the vodka, and our rudimentary conversation ended in sleepy murmur. We bought some home made cheese from the young man who was living near by in a kind of nomadic camp; then we left the place. We had a date with two brothers from Vienna who we had come to know by chance, some days before and where staying somewhere near. With them we spent two sunny and windy days relaxing and swimming in the sea, camping at the beach, next to a deserted tourist housing estate with a view of a ship wreck before the coast.
 We only had a few days left, when we started our drive north. To visit the Moldova region with its famous painted monasteries. It was a tour de force. We had to drive almost 800 km, but it was worth it. We drove through the wilderness of the Danube-delta, saw mountains of tomatoes at the roadside and spent a romantic night in a vineyard. The only negative incident was, that in the early morning, while we were still sleeping, somebody stole everything that we had left outside the car: some dishes, and Max’s much loved shoes!
 The next day we reached the last destination of our journey. Standing alongside dozens of Japanese tourists, we admired the Moldova monasteries covered with colourful paintings inside and outside. They were built mostly in the 16th century when the Osmans struck this region. The chants of the nuns inside the churches touched our hearts. After we had contemplated on a green hill beside the last monastery, we were prepared for the things to come.
We rushed through the Charpatians again – uphill, downhill, with narrow turns and young hitchhikers in the back. In the middle of the mountains it became dark and we looked for a place to sleep, but there was no way out of the mountain road, so we went on, really nervous because of the crazy traffic, consisting of impatiently honking trucks and other vehicles without lights. In the middle of the night we stopped in a little village and parked beside the road. It was a really uncomfortable place, but who cares. We drank some vodka, I paid a short visit to the local disco, and then we spent our last night in lovely Rumania.

VII. Going home (mud, cunts and boredom)

 We drove through Hungary again. There, we lost our way in the muddy green country, lost our temper with the Hungarians (showing us the wrong directions) and met a young women hitchhiking. After a few minutes in the car she turned out to be a prostitute on her way to her working place (a car park a few miles ahead). She offered us "super sex, all inclusive, special offers" etc., but regardless of our bourgeois catholic education, we had no money left anyway. She smiled with black teeth and we let her go. In Austria, we used the highway. There was nothing but grey asphalt and many fast cars (unlike in Rumania – suddenly all other cars were much faster than our Warti), and for the first time in two weeks, I became tired in the day and fell asleep.

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