Jonathan Harker's first destinations in Transylvania, Klausenburg (Cluj-Napoca) and Bistritz (Bistriţa), were inhabited by Saxons, German-speaking settlers invited by the Hungarian kings. Apart from the seven cities lending their name to "Siebenbürgen", they also built many villages, with fortified churches as a defense against Turkish raids. After World War II, their economic position and cultural identity were threatened by Communism. In his striving for "systematisation", dictator Nicolae Ceausescu even planned to bulldoze around 8,000 smaller villages. After 1989 the large majority of the Saxons left Romania. Today, careless commercial developments or sheer abandonment still threaten to disintegrate the rural landscape.
In 1987, during the Communist regime, Jessica Douglas-Home initiated the Mihai Eminescu Trust (named after Romania's most famous poet), which put up resistance against Ceausescu's ludicrous ideas and thus helped save thousands of houses and villages. Aided by funds from the West, the M.E.T. now engages in numerous projects to restore and revive traditional rural structures and communities. When the Romanian authorities planned a Disneyland-like Dracula theme park near Sighişoara, Prince Charles, heir to the English Crown, stepped in and helped protect an ancient oak forest menaced by this project. The Prince of Wales stated that he is a descendant of Vlad II Dracul and therefore feels a special bond with Romania. Today, Prince Charles acts as the Trust's patron. As an alternative to commercial mass tourism, the M.E.T. has established several guesthouses, where visitors can experience traditional lifestyles and participate in community activities. With our Guide Book project, we equally want to support a sustainable tourism based on natural and cultural heritage, instead of cheap surrogates like commercial Dracula parks.
In November 2013, we met with M.E.T. Vice-President Caroline Fernolend and with Bettina Rost, who showed us around in the traditional Saxon villages of Mălâncrav (Malmkrog), Criţ (Deutsch-Kreuz) and Viscri (Deutsch-Weißkirch). We learned that the biggest challenge is not the preservation of architecture as such, but the process of community building, which is the basis for all further steps.