COMMENTARY: Sibiu / Hermannstadt 2007
by Dan Dimancescu - 2005

In 2001 Sibiu was a mess. But I'll venture a guess: Sibiu will become the focal point of tourist activity in Romania. Why? Because it will offer a unique mix of cultural activities in an attractive, inviting and well protected medieval setting fortuitously cocooned by the communist-era. It is centered, too, on a Transylvanian region of natural beauty bridging the four dominant national cultures: Romanian, 'Saxon', Hungarian/Szekler, and Romani.

Though depleted of its 700 year-old 'Saxon', ie German, populace during recent decades, Sibiu is testimony to Romania's quickening evolution. Designated "
European Cultural Capital for 2007" (more), the city is twinned with Luxembourg for this high-visibility event. The latter is more than a chance pairing. Settlers to Transylvania in the 13th century and later originated from the Luxembourg region.
Tangible changes in Sibiu are dramatic. The writer has visited Sibiu over a 40 year period and more frequently in the last four years. In the most recent three year period, spanning the first and second mayoralty terms of Klaus Iohannis, public and private works have proliferated in the medieval old town as have recent industrial investments by blue chip manufacturing companies in the periphery. Siemens is the latest to announce a major plant location in Sibiu. The result of all this bustling activity is full-employment.

Perhaps most dramatic is the sudden metamorphosis of this small city into a mini-tourist heaven. Much of the restoration and planning has been stimulated by the German government through programs managed by its GTZ organization. One centerpiece is the rejuvenated Piata Mica (
see photos) and its suddently popular outdoor cafes and cellar winebar-cafes. Next on the work list is the adjacent Piata Mare dominated by the work-in-process renovation of the City Hall alongside the Brukenthal Museum (more). The 14th-15th century Evangelical Cathedral and its 6000 pipe organ is being spruced up, a process that led to the unexpected discovery of a forgotten 500-1000 person cemetery along its sides (see photos). Earlier in the year the Thalia Theatre (see) opened as a small, elegant home to the Sibiu Philarmonic Orchestra.

This year, too, marks the 100th anniversary of the ASTRA Ethnographic Museum (
more) a world-class museum that grew to maturity under the guidance of Prof. Corneliu Bucur. Unique for its extensive collection of traditional work instruments that are still manned, the museum is widely recognized for excelling in its programmatic work. The Museum's ASTRA Film Festival, headed by Dumitru Budrala, already attracts world attention for its focus on ethnographic and anthropoligal documentary films.

There is every reason to believe that culture and nature-minded tourists will soon discover this hospitable medieval haven and its surroundings attractions.

Copyright © D. Dimancescu, Cambridge, MA.

Launching the Cultural European Capital, Luxembourg, and the Greater Region
Nine O'Clock December 11, 2006

Luxembourg and the adjacent regions from Germany, France and Belgium sounded the beginning of the European Cultural Capital 2007 (ECC 2007) on Saturday, in Luxembourg, in a ceremony which lasted until 6 a.m. The official opening ceremony was attended by the Ducal Family from Luxembourg (photo), the Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, MEPs, representatives of the European Commission and of the participating regions, European ministers from the domain of culture, and over 200 journalists from all over Europe.

Romania was represented by a delegation headed by the mayor of Sibiu, Johannis Klaus, Sibiu and Luxembourg being twin cities for the events of 2007.

The originality of the edition 2007 of the European Cultural Capital in Luxembourg consists in the fact that it involves the adjacent areas of the Great Duchy, the country with a population of 450,000.

These are cultural projects from Saar and Rhineland-Palatinate (western Germany), Lorraine (North-eastern France) and the province of Luxembourg (South Belgium), a “Greater Region” where a total of over 11 million inhabitants speak French and German. Over 500 projects will be presented, over 130 of them being cross-border, grouped around five themes: “migration” (Great Duchy), “culture and industrial patrimony” (Saar), “great European personalities” (Rhineland-Palatinate), “culture and memory” (Lorraine), and “the expression of modernity” (Belgium). There will be also joint projects with Romania.

European Cultural Capital for 2007 (more)
Lft: Piata Mica (Sibiu) in 2005

Below: Piata Mica in 2001 and in 1830s
Photo © C. Jitianu
Lft: Evangelical/Lutheran Church


The Luxembourg Premier, Jean-Claude Juncker, declared at the official opening ceremony that this initiative, “a real challenge” for the four countries involved and the participating authorities and institutions, will allow the rapprochement of the citizens from the respective regions, in order to strengthen their feeling of joint affiliation to Europe. Juncker also evoked the importance of the year 2007 for Romania and Bulgaria, which marks their accession to the European Union, adding that he will pay a visit to Romania in 2007. Guy Dockendorf, President of the association Luxembourg-Greater Region, the European Cultural Capital 2007, thanked the politicians for accepting to leave the organisation of the events to the “non-politicians,” and also to the Romanian authorities involved in this extensive cultural cooperation project.

In his turn, the Mayor of Sibiu said that although Sibiu and Luxembourg are 2,200 km. apart, they are closer through this project. “For each citizen in Luxembourg there is a citizen in Sibiu with whom he shakes hands for 2007, and hopefully we shall have as many common collaboration moments as possible,” said Klaus.

The Government from Luxembourg put at the disposal of the organisers a budget of EUR 30 M, plus EUR 15 M coming from the budget of the city of Luxembourg and various sponsors.

The events of Saturday were attended also by numerous people from the border, for whom the public administration organised special train and bus shuttles. Around 700 blue deer (the symbol of ECC 2007) of metal, 1.70 m. high and 2.10 m. long, were “planted” in the whole region, including the entries to Luxembourg and the cities of the Greater Region, such as Metz and Thionville (France), Arlon (Belgium), Trier and Saarbrucken (Germany).