A Stay in Kishinev

Isert, Ingo Rüdiger. "A Stay in Kishinev." Mitteilungsblatt, December 2010, 6-9.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO. 

An invitation from the Moldova-Institute in Leipzig led me to travel to Kishinev to participate there on October 12, 2010 in the opening of an exhibit on the settlement history of the Germans in Bessarabia during the period of 1814 to 1940. It is somewhat surprising that this particular history is (again) drawing some interest. The exhibit is noteworthy and rich with ideas. Further information is available in Dr. Ute Schmidt’s article.

I was able to use the time before and after the opening of the exhibit to look again for German traces in Kishinev and to observe any changes in the cityscape.

The close proximity of the Hotel Jolly Alon to the German Embassy, and its location of only a few hundred meters from the Moldovan National Museum, in which the exhibit would be staged, beckoned me to a brief visit of the magnificent museum structure. Once it had been a gymnasium for boys, and among its students there must surely have been some German boys. The façade of the building is unchanged, as demonstrated by a picture postcard of 1910, but during Tsarist times the pillar with Romulus and Remus likely did not appear in front of the entrance – it is a Romanian tribute to the country’s great Italian brethren.  

Following the festive opening ceremonies there was time for conversations. Suddenly I noticed a man making his way toward me. His long official garb made him out to be a pastor, and he said to me “The Bessarabian Germans visit their homeland villages, they build churches, and they even come to Kishinev, but they seem to have no time for the sole Ev.-Lutheran pastor in all of Bessarabia.” Cautiously, I asked his name. “Dragan!’ was the answer. Well, by now I was aware, and I said: “Indeed, I do know your family, and I even attended a service in your community, although you were not present at the time.” His wife, dressed in traditional Bessarabian German garb (!), then approached, and she confirmed that she had indeed seen me in 2003.

I promised to visit them both the following day, and I asked whether their son would -- just as he had been seven years before – be my guide for a tour of Kishinev. The Dragan family had emigrated to Germany in the 1990s, and the children had attended German schools, but they decided to return to Moldova. Their son Ilya had studied Information Technology and is now an independent IT expert working primarily with Western firms. Recently he married a Ukrainian and actually lives in Ukraine. But I was in luck as he happened to be with his parents during my stay in Kishinev.

The day after the exhibit’s opening, Ilya picked me up at the hotel, and we walked along the “Strada 31 August 1989,” which is lined with splendid buildings and which survived intact an earthquake and the fighting surrounding Kishinev. Then we turned toward the “Boulevard Stefan cel Mare” and followed it in a south-easterly direction. By myself I had previously walked the upper part of the boulevard and had passed the several embassies and the Technical University, all the way to the School of Medicine, before returning and finding my way to the “German Reading Room.” But now we were heading down the boulevard in a south-easterly direction, passing restaurants and the Hotel International, which has been closed for years, but reputedly has a bar in an upper floor.

The boulevard ends at a large circle, on the north side of which stands the Hotel Cosmos, which is probably familiar to every Bessarabian German traveler staying overnight in Kishinev. In all these years it has remained unchanged. However, at the familiar site of a long-time unfinished high-rise things are really changing! Its upper floors have been removed, and it has new scaffolding. Furthermore, one could see several men suspended on the façade, obviously working on this structure. 

The street market used to be held on a sidewalk across from the Hotel Cosmos. In its place we now found a new shopping center, which we entered with much curiosity. At most half the space was occupied by shops, and the few shoppers inside certainly did not cause even the resemblance of crowding. Behind the shopping center we then came upon the street market, now displaced by just one block, but definitely retaining its character.

We were not far from the railroad station of Kishinev. It is a building with an appealing façade stemming from Tsarist times. In contrast, the inside area with its customer windows seemed cold, with much glass and metal, and giving off a “studied” impression that the interior was a few degrees than even the already cool outside October day. The thick sweaters or jackets the women behind the windows were wearing seemed to confirm this.

Noon was approaching, so we quickly made our way to the “work place” of the Dragan couple. As we approached, Anna Dragan stood outside as if she had been waiting for us. A few years back, the Dragans had rented an apartment in the lower floor, but had bought it in the meantime and had built an addition in the front. In that addition they run a small restaurant on weekdays, one that offers meals for a reasonable two to three Euros. The menu consists of four three-course varieties, and the restaurant is frequented by working people and residents in the neighborhood. As I entered the restaurant, I saw three men sitting in a corner, all dressed in gray. They were prison officials. In another corner were two young women. Three women were working in the rather large kitchen. Meals are offered until 2:00 PM, and the operation covers all costs and even manages a little more in income. What is unusual about this restaurant is that after 2:00 PM needy people arrive, and they are given free meals. Anna Dragan keeps a careful accounting of expenses and income, and with what’s left over she finances these free meals. All who receive a free meal must confirm this by providing their signature every day. During the time I was there, twenty-one persons were served in this manner -- a remarkable feat!

While the restaurant appears to be Anna Dragan’s realm, Valentin Dragan cares for the souls of the Ev.-Lutheran community of Moldova. He serves a total of 120 members in Kishinev, Beltz and Bender. On Sundays the restaurant is turned into a house of worship, and the service for Kishinev takes place at 10:00 AM. Alternating weekly, he drives to Beltz on Friday and to Bender on Sunday. Because of the time it takes him to drive there, their services are always at 3:00 PM. For further information on these three communities, I refer the reader to a report by Pastor Schleßmann of Austria, who visited the Dragans two weeks after I did.   

Following lunch with the Dragans in their restaurant, Ilya and I continued our city reconnaissance. After we visited a new World War II memorial (where each year is represented by a concrete pillar with the year written on it, and where an eternal flame, guarded by two soldiers, burns in the center), we made an attempt to make contact with the ‘Hoffnung” Club. But we had arrived much too early and were thus left standing in front of locked doors.

I decided to return to the hotel, took my leave of Ilya after expressing my immense gratitude to him, and after a break I continued my tour alone, since I was somewhat familiar with that part of Kishinev. As I strode toward the site where the Nikolai Church once stood, I was thinking of the Isert who knew Provost Faltin closely and who was the first to donate 500 rubles toward the construction of a metal fence around the property. Letting go of my memories, I then found the Catholic church, which was once nearly back-to-back with the Nikolai Church. As I entered the church, I heard the organ being played. Not wishing to disturb, I left the Catholic church quietly. Some years ago, German was still spoken there, and the number of worshippers was considerable, as I was able to witness then. From a neighboring school yard I took a photo of the back of the church building, because the bright sun did not permit a photo of the front. Several young people, who were playing cocker in the yard, covered their faces and excitedly shouted something to each other, of which I understood only the word “Paparazzo.” Immediately I was confronted by four youngsters, and in reply to their rush of words I merely said, “Photo – church –sun!” and pointed toward the church and then to the sun.  The foreign-sounding language, and perhaps my hand motions, seemed to calm them, and they moved away.     

Afterwards I dared to try getting dinner without knowing the language, and everything went well! But in the meantime, I had to think about getting ready for my return flight, which was scheduled to leave even before daylight.

My walk back proceeded through a parking lot, where the low sun made the water in a fountain shimmer brightly -- a glimmer of hope, perhaps, for a better future for Moldova? For the county and its people, that is my wish       

Moldova’s National Museum for Archeology and History
I. R. Isert, Anna and Pastor Valentin Dragan, German Ambassador Dr. Johannes
Hotel Cosmos
A building structure, left unfinished for twenty years, now being completed
A new shopping center
Street market in Kishinev’s center
Kishinev’s railroad station
Anna Dragan at the entrance to her restaurant
Restaurant patrons
The kitchen
Anna and Ilya Dragan in their office
The new war memorial, 1941  - 1945
Entrance to the “Hoffnung” Club
Rear view of the Rom. Catholic church

Photgraphed by I. R. Isert.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller