One of the amusing aspects of moving from a large country (Germany) to a smaller or less populated country (Romania) is how fixated the latter countries are on their image abroad. One of the questions I get asked the most in Romania is: “What was your impression of Romania before you moved here?” That my current impression based on the experiences garnered in the country itself is highly positive is something that the questioner has already noticed with joy. Still, he is concerned about his country’s reputation abroad.
I tend to be honest and explain that I didn’t know much, except for some vague idea about mountains, castles and the Danube. I admired Romania for the tough manner in which it said good-bye to its dictator, I remember the images from orphanages that went around the world, and I am proud that I am different from most other visitors to Transylvania in that I know that Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a merely fictional character.
Then, with hopefulness clearly audible, I often receive this question: “But surely you also remember Nadia Comăneci?” Ehm, no. “Nadia Comăneci! Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976!” Never heard of her, I am sorry. I am being illuminated that Miss Comăneci, who was only 14 years at the time, was the first gymnast ever to score a perfect 10. My counterpart beams with pride and jubilation, as if Romania had just won the Football World Cup or as if life had been discovered on the moon. If I still fail to remember this highlight of sporting history, I reap horror and incomprehension. “What good are his 9 years of Gymnasium if he doesn’t know anything about gymnastics?” the patriotic Romanian seems to wonder.
But I do know the meaning behind the statue of the Capitoline Wolf with Romulus and Remus which is prominently placed in front of every major city hall in Romania, for example here in Târgu Mureș.
Very simplified and somewhat falsified, Romania is the real successor to the Roman Empire. Hence this island of a Romance language in the midst of Eastern Europe, with its language which is so close to Italian and Spanish that it explains why Romanians learn these idioms with ease (but fails to explain why many are equally fluent in English, German and Hungarian, although the latter is officially an unlearnable language).
But we don’t even need to go all the way back to the Dacians and the Romans to discover Romania’s importance for our current civilization. In short: We would still be in the Middle Ages if it weren’t for resourceful Romanians who made one invention after the other. We are talking about the most innovative country in Europe, an early Silicon Valley in a way.
Just a few examples:
- First of all, man as we know him was invented here. The oldest remains of modern human beings (40,500 years old) were found in the Cave of Bones in Banat. Without the Romanian upgrade to homo sapiens we would still be Neanderthals.
- It is not quite clear where letters were invented and it was Johannes Gutenberg who invented the printing press, but what use is all of this without a practical writing tool? Luckily, Petrache Poenaru invented the fountain pen in 1827.
- In 1884 Timișoara was the first city in Europe with electric street lights. Finally it was safe to go jogging at night.
- There were early aviation pioneers like the Lilienthal or the Wright brothers elsewhere, but with their rickety thingies you couldn’t cross more than a few cornfields. We only have modern planes thanks to Henri Marie Coandă, who built the first jet plane already in 1910.
- A suitable addition was the ejection seat invented by Anastase Dragomir.
- Nicolae Paulescu discovered insulin in 1921, but was overlooked when the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded for that discovery in 1923. Unfortunately he did not develop any medicine against the pathological anti-Semitism from which he suffered, leaving this problem still more rampant than diabetes today.
- Hermann Oberth developed the first rockets and thus laid the groundwork for space flight.
- Without Ion Basgan we would all be left high and dry, for he developed the technology which is still being used in oil-drilling.
- I don’t know what cybernetics is, but Ştefan Odobleja is its father. Probably we wouldn’t have any computers without him, or something like that.
- In any case, Eugen Pavel invented the Hyper-CD-ROM which can store up to one million gigabyte.
- You know the dream of the perpetuum mobile? Already invented! For more than 60 years, the Karpen cell built by Nicolae Vasilescu-Karpen has been emitting energy.
And so on, and so on. In light of these crowning technological achievements, one can become a bit angry about those in Western Europe or the rest of the world who dismiss Romania as a poor country with vampires. But the most likable thing about Romania is that here, nobody runs around shouting “we are the greatest” like they do elsewhere. Even when discussing some of the pioneering deeds mentioned above, Romanians mention it with a wink in their eye, pointing out that most Romanians had already been living abroad when their creativity flourished. And that’s where we have come full circle to present times. Allegedly, Romanian is the second-most spoken language in the offices of large computer companies in the US. I personally don’t believe that however, because I am sure that in that case, Google or Bing translations from Romanian would be better than they are.