Braşov and Cleveland

– Written by Ezra Ellenbogen

Braşov [Hungarian: Brassó], Romania is a beautiful city tucked into a Southern region of the Carpathian mountains known as the Transylvanian Alps. The city has a rich history and culture located on the edge of southeastern Transylvania, along one of the most historically important trade routes in Romania’s history.[1] It is the capital of the Braşov judet in Romania, and has a population of over 275,000.[2] Braşov was twinned with Cleveland in 1973 as Cleveland’s second ever sister city.[3] The charming multicultural city was founded in the 13th century at the center of trade between the Ottomans and Europe.[4]

The city thrived as a result of extensive trade with European merchants and other Romanian cities. However, a few hundred years after being founded, Braşov was captured and temporarily occupied by Turkish forces (1421). The city soon surrounded itself with strong walls to deter invaders – which worked. In 1432, when forces attempted a second invasion of the city, Braşov was able to hold them off. Although these walls were built for the purpose of geopolitical safety, they soon became part of the reason the city flourished.

The sheltered Transylvanian city soon became an influential and multicultural center of Romania, economically and culturally. German mercantile groups became prominent in the city, and European merchants and workers (as well as the original Dacian settlers) soon built up the city. Braşov became a center of trade between the three distinctly separated regions of Romania, and drove the country forward.

A few hundred years later in the late 1800s, Romanians began to settle in Cleveland, many driven away from their home country. Cleveland’s new Romanian population was primarily from Transylvania – which was then under the rule of Austria-Hungary. By the outbreak of the First World War, Romanians numbered 12,000 in Cleveland.[5] The main concentration of Romanian immigrants was around Detroit Avenue on the West Side, between W. 45th and W. 65th Streets. These areas of Cleveland were already known for Irish and German immigrant populations, and the introduction of Romanians further diversified the iconic area. Collinwood, Bedford, and Lakewood had their own Romanian populations as well. Lorain accumulated a Romanian population too, and contact between Romanian populations in all of these areas was always kept strong. Many Romanian communities across the area were not self-sufficient enough to thrive, and most Romanians ended up consolidating into a population on the West Side. By World War Two, most of the Romanian population had followed the general migration towards the West Side. Moreover, many Romanian immigrants did not end up initially settling in rural areas because it was hard to quickly find capital to start a farm – though Romanian immigrants who enjoyed the rural life were soon able to find themselves in farms again not too long after immigrating.

The original intent of much of Romanian immigration was not permanent residence in the city, though by the end of the First World War, many Romanians found that Cleveland suited them. During the years of the Post-War Period, around half of Cleveland’s Romanian population returned home, leaving Cleveland’s Romanian population at 6,000. Many of these Romanians were incentivized to return home by the news that Transylvania and Bucovina had become part of Greater Romania. There was also a movement of Romanians who settled in Cleveland, as well as some who went back to Romania to find a family, then went back to America with them. The American immigration restrictions introduced in the early 1920s slowed down most immigration patterns. By 1940, the population of Romanians in Cleveland numbered only 4,000.

The political outcome of World War Two in Romania was displeasing to numerous groups of Romanians, many of whom ended up immigrating to America as a result. After World War Two, a Communist regime had been put into place at the head of Romanian society, which drove 2,000 Romanians into Cleveland alone (not only from Transylvania, but from all over the country). The West Side area that was formerly a Romanian hotspot began to break apart with new waves of immigration from numerous areas, and many newer generations in the area moved out west to suburban regions. New Romanian waves of immigration continued the legacy of the area, but it is now much more diverse, with a wide range of immigrant populations.

As a result of all these periods of Romanian immigration, Greater Cleveland is now not only home to about 20,000 Romanians,[6] but also numerous Romanian-American national societies and organizations, like the Carpatina Society.[7]Moreover, Cleveland’s historic relationship with Romania led former Romanian President Nicolae Ceaușescu to visit the city in 1973 and encourage extensive trade between Romania and Cleveland companies.[8] Efforts between Romania and Cleveland to incentivize trade and cultural relations have been strong throughout history. A host of Romanian politicians have visited Cleveland, from former Braşov mayor, Dumitrache, to Minister Draganescu.[9] Further, Romanians loved “The Singing Angels” on the band’s visit to the country in 1974, and Clevelanders got to welcome Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to get a perfect score of 10.0 at the Olympic Games.[10]

Cleveland and Romania, even through numerous political troubles and disputes, have been global partners culturally and economically. The influence of Romanian immigration to Greater Cleveland can still proudly be seen today. The Cleveland-Braşov sister city relationship has emphasized the current and historical success of Romanian-American endeavors and cooperation.