Ah, Brasov…today I consider the medieval city of Brasov to be my home away from home. It is a beautiful, quaint, strikingly Eastern European city nestled in the valley of Tampa mountain. Apart from it’s charm and history, the people of Brasov are incredibly warm and welcoming and the cafe culture in the city center is easy to get used to.
Brasov holds onto many symbols, medieval and modern. For instance the crest of Brasov – an ode to the German name for Brasov, Kronstadt or “Crown City.” But during our first couple of weeks living in Brasov, the modern symbol that I could not escape was the one for which the city is best known: the enormous Hollywood-esque sign of the town name that is perched at the crest of Tampa mountain and is visible from virtually every part of town. I learned quickly that the locals of Brasov generally hold negative feelings toward the Brasov sign. One of my professors had to install black-out curtains in her apartment in order to block out the bright white light that the sign projects at night. And travel blogs often refer to the sign as “kitschy,” a term often used to describe low-brow cultural icons.
I happen to be quite enamored with the sign, myself. After long weekend day trips with our language program, the sign seemed to me to be a kind of guiding light drawing our bus back home, as it can be seen from miles away on the highway (especially since highway lights are rare in Romania and the countryside is blanketed in complete darkness at night). It was my affinity for the Brasov sign that left me to wonder about its origins (was it modeled after the Hollywood sign for some odd reason? When was it erected?) and led me to conduct some simple research.
What I discovered while researching the history of the Brasov sign floored me, as the city name that currently adorns Tampa mountain was not the first of its kind. It is no secret that Romania has a communist past. In fact, Romania’s communist past stares each visitor in the face when simply walking down the street. The communist past is almost palpable in the crumbling buildings, the faces of the elderly, and the graffiti of the youth.
The not-so-widely known history of Brasov, includes the fact that the name of the town was changed in October of 1950 from Brasov to Orasul Stalin, or Stalin City. The CFR railroad workers in Brasov petitioned to have the city’s name changed as Brasov’s factories had “exceeded the production quotas by ‘114 percent’ in the first half of that year” and, as a result, the workers believed that their city deserved the honor of the name Stalin. Whether the tale of such a petition is true, or if it was communist propaganda used to explain the name change, is debatable. Either way, the town of Brasov became officially known as “Stalin City.” To commemorate the new identity, the name Stalin was spelled out on Tampa mountain by replacing the native trees with darker-leaf trees. It would seem unbelievable if photographs did not exist as evidence. When I first came across the photographs, I still found the history hard to accept. That was until I fact-checked this information with the same professor who holds great contempt for the contemporary Brasov sign. She was quick to corroborate the history of the name change as well as the existence of the stamp of Stalin on the mountain. According to my professor, once the town was renamed Brasov at the end of the 1950s, all of the darker-leaf trees were cut down and it is still possible to locate the stumps spelling “Stalin” when hiking Tampa mountain.
While my husband and I chose the lazy route and took the cable car to the top of Tampa mountain during our last visit, I fully intend to hike Tampa mountain this summer to search out and confirm the existence of these stumps that once spelled out Brasov’s commitment to the communist ideology for all to see.