Thursday, June 7, 2012


Saturday afternoon, May 27th, after moving into the apartment, I stole MIT's weather machine. Since then, the sun has been following me around wherever I go, while by all accounts, it seems to have been raining nonstop on the East Coast. Every time it's tried to rain on me, the moment I step outside it stops, as if the rain is scared of my presence. 
Also, sorry in advance, because this is going to be a very long and badly written blog post.

Deutschland was gorgeous. Unfortunately (and embarrassingly), I've pretty much forgotten how to speak German over the past six or so years. I pretty much learned German alongside English as a first language when I was very young, but I haven't spoken in years and so I've largely forgotten it. Luckily, by the time I left, I could at least understand most spoken German, but it's still difficult to speak. It's very tempting to take some German classes the next few semesters. 
I arrived sometime on the 28th, early in the morning. For four days, I stayed with a close family friend in the town of Nagold, not far from the vast Schwarzwald (Black Forest) and also not very far from the Alps. I timed my trip very well: every two years, in the German province of  Baden-Württemberg, there is a garden show, hosted by one of the various cities or towns in the province. This year it just so happened to be in Nagold. I'd been to the city often, on every previous visit to Europe in fact, and it really impressed me what they had done. Decorative flowers all over the place, and wonderful new technologies and creations all over. It struck me that the show wasn't so much about gardening, but about a whole new way of life; one in which humans respect nature and thrive in it, rather than use and destroy it. 
My hosts were Ursula Christa Schmidt (Uschi) and her son Marcus. Part of the reason I had come to visit was because Uschi's husband, Helmut, had died of a heart attack a few months earlier. It had been completely unexpected, as he had been in perfect health the day before, and even the morning of. 
Uschi and me
Marcus and me
Anyways, in Nagold, it was quite wonderful. For the past nine months or so, since entering college, I had learned to become rather independent, so it was nice to be doted upon for a few days and to feel like a child again. For Uschi it was nice; I think that she thinks of me and some other kids (all grown up now) who come to visit often as grandchildren she never had (Marcus is still unmarried at age ~45).

The garden show was spectacular. They made some incredible sculptures (I have a few earlier in the post) and built some very interesting structures. For instance, they built, out of wood and meshed together with a number of living flowers and trees, a small outdoor church that holds services every three hours in the daytime. They had also replaced an old playground that I remember climbing on and running around on with two new ones, in two different sides of the city. 
The Schlossberg overlooks the town of Nagold from the top of a large hill
Uschi took me into the heart of the Black Forest one day, where there is an open air museum. The museum curators had brought there a number of old farmhouses from the black forest region, all surrounding the museum's centerpiece, the Vogtsbauernhohf. Built in 1612, it stood there and was inhabited until 1965, one year after the museum opened. An elderly couple lived in the house for a year, watching as people traipsed through their house until the husband died, at which point the wife was all too happy to leave--the kitchen is incredibly dark, even in the middle of the day, as are most of the rooms, just by virtue of the way the house was constructed. It impressed me, however, how large the house was. When we think of peasants, we often think of poor accommodations, tiny cabins next to their farms or something along those lines, but this was a large three story wooden house, with numerous different rooms. The peasants still weren't necessarily well off, but at least they had a nice sized house. At points, however, they did get poor enough that they had to share it with two other families. 
I could say a million more things about Germany, but that was only one leg of my trip, so I'll cut it short here.

From left to right, my grandfather, my great-aunt
Nuria, my grandmother, and my cousin Saskia
The next phase was Romania. My grandfather has invested me, my brother (Byron), and my cousin Saskia in a business venture in western Romania, and this week was the dedication of one such venture. As in Germany, the landscape here is gorgeous. However, there are huge swaths of unused land all across Romania, as the people who own this land don't have enough money to do anything with it. Romania is still rebuilding, more than twenty years later, but it has seen huge improvements, and it should continue to improve as Romania goes through the process of joining the EU. 

The truck-stop (our business venture)
June 1st is National Children's Day in Romania, and for some reason this meant that in the town of Lugoj, where I've been staying, there was a beer festival. In other words, there was a lot of grilled food and beer. The beer was decent, which is saying a lot coming from me, because in general I dislike beer. I met with a number of our contacts in Romania. Most notably, Daniel Olariu, our host for this trip, as well as his children Robert, Silviu, and Lois. Other people we've met include the mayor of the town, Francis Boldea, and other important people from this part of Romania. It is always surreal when I visit, because my grandparents have managed to befriend the upper class of this part of the country; politicians and important businessmen. Apparently, my great grandfather, Max, is still remembered here; he was a great businessman who dominated the steel industry in this part of the country, renowned for actually listening and adjusting his practices based on requests from his workers. 
The wedding tent. The lights in front are a
sea of candles lit as a surprise for the bride.

The day after we arrived, we were all rushed off to a wedding. This is probably a pretty good example of what Romania's been like so far for us three grandchildren (Byron, Saskia and me). We have no semblance of what the plans for the next day might be until that day comes; in general all we can do is be told where to go, and when to be ready to be picked up by whoever might be driving us around. It's really quite confusing and overwhelming. Anyways, we went to a Baptist wedding at a house on a hill that Daniel has constructed. Since it was Baptist, there wasn't much drinking. (I couldn't tell you why, since I'm not a Baptist). 
Robert (Daniel's son). His uncle is a pastor. (Like, actually)
Meanwhile, a couple days later, there was a bike race. For those of you who don't know, my brother is on Harvard's cycling team, and apparently he mentioned to Daniel a couple months before that it might be nice to go on, say, a biking tour of the surrounding countryside. Somehow, this developed into a full bike race, and so Daniel organized a 60 kilometer bike race on a rather hilly course. The people in this part of Romania are passionate about biking, but this was nonetheless the first bike race ever in Western Romania. Somehow, even though this was organized on very short notice (3 weeks or so), about 150 people participated, including some professional racers. Byron was very impressive himself, his three years of training paying off as he finished 6th in a strong field that included Romania's fastest road bicyclist. 
Finally, on the 5th was the dedication. a small crowd gathered, including several journalists, as a memorial to my great grandfather was opened. The mayors of two different towns gave speeches, as well as a historian who had done research on my grandfather's family for a book about my great grandfather. (My grandfather says that she probably knows more about his family that he does himself). The memorial was quite nice, containing numerous photographs of my grandfather or his factories and steel mills. In one room they even had a perfect replica of his desk (or perhaps the desk itself). 
This part was a little bit overwhelming. There were photographers everywhere, and I must have had my picture taken a million times. Apparently, I might also be on TV here...I don't think I much enjoy being a celebrity, even if only a minor one, so I'll be happy to leave that behind when I go home. 
Some buildings in the city are
ugly and dilapidated
One thing notable about Romania is the food, and beyond that, the manner in which it is served/eaten. There are many banquet style events here, each with numerous (10ish) courses, and it's expected that we partake of every single course; if we don't, we're insulting the food and thereby the host. You just kind of have to adopt a different food schedule--maybe a small snack in the morning when you wake up and then a big meal somewhere between 1 and's never clear when. That being said, the food is all homemade, and as a result, incredible. Even something like filo dough is homemade. 
Others are nicer looking
The other notable thing about Romania, and many parts of Europe in general, is the proliferation of cigarettes and tobacco. So many people smoke, and for those of us who don't, it's horrible. No matter where you are, the smell of tobacco permeates the air. The lobby of our hotel in Romania was particularly bad; it wasn't well aerated, so if anyone smoked (and many people had, in the past), the smoke would go everywhere. Even if nobody smoked, the residue left behind by smokers past was still there. Apparently, Romania will be passing a law in the next few years prohibiting indoor smoking. I can only hope that this ameliorates the situation. 
An entertaining parking sign. 
So anyways, sorry for the very non-sequential-ness of this blog post. The last day of my trip, my brother and I went off to the city of Reșița, about 60 km to the south. This was my grandfather's hometown, and had once been a thriving city before World War II, when my great grandfather's steel industry kept almost the entire town employed. Since then, however, the town has fallen apart somewhat. Reșița suffered during the communist era in Romania. Not only that, it is inconveniently located, in a corner and out of the way, so it hasn't gotten much attention and has therefore had a difficult time rebuilding. Half of the buildings are hundreds of years old and in clear need of renovation. Roofs have leaks and the buildings in some cases are just plain falling apart. These buildings had been good and new before World War II, but the communists did not maintain them. Other buildings, meanwhile, we could tell had been renovated recently; they had bright and shiny new paint jobs.

Anyways, that's my Europe trip. Sort of. Pardon whatever typos/grammar errors there might be...I don't really want to go through and proofread. 


  1. Beer for children's day? Love it. and love you! VA thinks you're super lame for not being here.

    1. Haha...actually I just got home, I'll be here until the 19th. If you pop up into the DC area before then, let me know.

  2. Cool! Half-speaking German = another reason for you to come visit me next year in Berlin... :-)

  3. OH WHAT? I didn't see your response. COME TO CHARLOTTESVILLE THIS WEEKEND! I'm a little crippled since I don't have a car...