The German Model in Romanian Culture / Das deutsche Vorbild in der rumänischen Kultur

by Maria Sass (Volume editor) Ovio Olaru (Volume editor) Andrei Terian (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection 288 Pages


The book contains contributions on the significance of German culture for Romanian art, language, and literature. Not only will the direct influence of German role models on Romanian culture be discussed, but it will also show how this influence set in motion a whole series of socio-cultural and artistic shifts that allowed Romanian culture to better understand its position in the European world.
Das Buch enthält Beiträge zur Bedeutung der deutschen Kultur für die rumänische Kunst, Sprache und Literatur. Erörtert wird nicht nur der direkte Einfluss deutscher Vorbilder auf die rumänische Kultur, sondern es wird auch aufgezeigt, wie dieser Einfluss eine ganze Reihe soziokultureller und künstlerischer Veränderungen in Gang gesetzt hat, die der rumänischen Kultur ermöglichten, ihren Platz in der europäischen Welt besser zu verstehen.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgement
  • List of Contributors
  • Introduction: The German Model in Romania: Strategies of De-peripheralization
  • About the Mechanistic-Scientist Origins of the First Theory of Poetry in the History of Romanian Literature: The Influence of Schopenhauer and Herbart on Titu Maiorescu
  • Imagological Selection and Novelistic Dispersal in Nineteenth Century Romania: The Appeal of the German Culture and the Promise of Nation Building
  • Jules Verne and the Transylvanian Struggle for Independence: Political Appropriation in Victor Onișor’s 1897 Translation of Le château des Carpathes
  • Expressionist Models in Interwar Romania
  • Traklative: Another Critical Confession
  • Hugo Friedrich and Romanian Poetry Criticism
  • Intertextuality as a World-Literature Mechanism: German and French Sources in Mircea Ivănescu’s Poetry
  • Importing Writers or Books? The (In)Visibility of the German-Language Literature in the Romanian Literary Field
  • Deutsches Gedankengut als Vorbild zur Entwicklung der rumänischen Literatur Siebenbürgens vom Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts bis 1918
  • Exportschlager Deutsch: vom Aspirin zum Zeppelin: Germanismen als Kulturgut
  • Ibsen importieren. Das deutsche Modell in der rumänischen Peripherie
  • Die Übersetzung rumänischer Volksdichtung ins Deutsche – eine Periodisierung
  • Paul Celan: Sprachliche Neuschöpfungen als Meridian-Dichtung in den Bänden Sprachgitter und Die Niemandsrose
  • Rumänische Versionen von Goethes “Faust”: Die Übersetzung von Ștefan Augustin Doinaș
  • Das Bild der Anderen in den Romanen von Eginald Schlattner


The present publication was financially supported by the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu and appears under the patronage of the Centre for Linguistic, Literary, and Cultural Studies of the Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Die vorliegende Publikation wurde von der Lucian-Blaga-Universität Sibiu finanziell gefördert und erscheint unter der Schirmherrschaft des Zentrums für linguistische, literarische und kulturelle Forschung der Philologischen Fakultät.

List of Contributors

Imre József Balázs, Associate Professor PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts/Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania, Faculty of Letters.

Maria Chiorean, PhD Candidate: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Studies.

Ioana Constantin, Assistant Professor PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Teodora Dumitru, PhD Researcher: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Anca-Simina Martin, Assistant Professor PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Ovio Olaru, Assistant Professor PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Lăcrămioara Popa, Assistant Professor PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Maria Sass, Professor PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Doris Sava, Professor PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Valeriu P. Stancu, Assistant Professor PhD: Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, Institute for Romance Studies.

George State, PhD: Editor at the Center for Transylvanian Studies, Romanian Academy, Romania.

Susana Monica Tapodi, Professor PhD: Sapientia Transylvanian University, Romania, Faculty of Economics, Socio-Human Sciences, and Engineering, Miercurea Ciuc.

Andrei Terian, Professor PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Snejana Ung, Research Assistant PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Studies.

Radu Vancu, Professor PhD: Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania, Faculty of Letters and Arts.

Maria Sass, Ovio Olaru, and Andrei Terian

Introduction: The German Model in Romania: Strategies of De-peripheralization

According to a popular anecdote, when asked by his entourage “What do Romanians need?” (In order, it was implied, to overcome their seemingly never-ending backwardness), Ion Luca Caragiale (1852–1912), the most celebrated Romanian playwright of the nineteenth century, promptly answered: “A Jerry!” (= a German). The apocryphal nature of this mot d’esprit resides not only in its total absence from any of his writings, but also in the fact that it seems to go against his own biography: although Romania was ruled by a German for most of the playwright’s life – Karl I of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (1839–1914), as of 1866 Prince and then King of Romania as of 1881 –, Caragiale still chose to move to Berlin in 1905, where he would spend the rest of his life. Nevertheless, the anecdote remains significant for the constant fascination that the “Germans” (a term that did not exclusively refer to the German-speaking people but was a general metonymy designating “Westerners”) exerted on Romanians since the early modern era up until to the present time. Because, even if the number of ethnic Germans in Romania decreased from c. 300,000 to below 23,000 following the 1989 Romanian Revolution (according to the 2022 census data), Germany still represents a model of culture and civilization, chiefly associated with hard work, tenacity, perseverance, seriousness, precision, organization, sophistication and, in general, with traits that Romanians themselves consider they lack or that they possess to an insufficient degree. A recent, indisputable proof of the longevity of this model is the election of the former mayor or Sibiu/Hermannstadt, a Saxon town in Transylvania, as President of Romania in 2014 and 2019, respectively. Klaus Iohannis, an ethnic German, channeled the hopes of a population which had had enough of the “Balkan,” “uncivilized,” “convoluted” ways of conducting politics in Romania – the ridiculousness of which Caragiale had harshly criticized in his plays in the late nineteenth century – and thus embodied the ideal of an “enlightened” leader who would prove able to help the nation “overcome its seemingly never-ending backwardness” and “fix” it.

Ultimately, though, Iohannis’ initial success did nothing but show the entrenchment of myths regarding Western – and especially German – superiority in Romanian public consciousness. For, ever since Immanuel Wallerstein’s world-system analysis was introduced to literary studies by Franco Moretti,1 the core-periphery dichotomy has allowed the latter to finally articulate its own peripherality, and that not only with regard to the contemporary degree of subordination vis-à-vis the Western core, but also while (re)considering the historical evolution of said subordination. For, regardless of how the current world-system is changing in the longue durée, with old hegemonic powers seemingly losing their precedence in a pluri-centric world, the inertia with which this is taking place can only make us question whether or not even older hegemonies have truly lost their grip on the cultural workings of the (semi)peripheries. Two examples are, we think, illustrative of this inertia. The first one involves Immanuel Wallerstein himself, whose 2003 book, The decline of American power: The US in a chaotic world,2 written in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, seems not only dated, but also somehow embarrassing in the crass fallacy of its prediction, given that 20 years later, the USA has not only not declined – or, if it has, it did so to an unnoticeable degree –, but seems to exert an even stronger influence on world events and mindsets. Superseded in some respects by various emerging powers, it still possesses not only an economic and military, but especially a cultural and symbolic ascendency over the world. The second example, which brings us closer to the overarching theme of the present volume, is Germany’s continued importance for the literary world-system: as late as 2016, Germany was the third-largest book market in the world in terms of total revenue from sales and licensing for the retail sector, right after the USA and Japan.3 It might seem insignificant, but the presence of a European player among the top three book markets in the world raises a question regarding the importance of this very player within Europe, i.e., regarding the influence it possibly exerts on contemporary trends in the book markets of emerging European nations.

Cristian Cercel has compellingly shown how the German influence has unfolded in the Romanian periphery following the 1989 Romanian Revolution by way of drawing on the historical role played by the Saxon community in Transylvania.4 Starting with the twelfth century, the Romanian and the German cultural space have been intrinsically tied through the colonizing expanse of German settlers in Transylvania, who have come to be chiefly regarded as agents of an “‘export of learning’ (Bildungsexport) through the German language,”5 an export of technology, as upholders of Protestantism, “arguably the most globally pervasive intellectual force within German ethnic communities,”6 and as defenders against “barbaric” invasions. Their historical presence, as well as their social, cultural, and economic influence over the centuries build the prerequisites of a first major shift in Romanian culture during the nineteenth century, as the French model – designating a fascination for French cultural life, for French literature, for French customs, items of clothing, the importance of French as language of cosmopolitan exchange and administration,7 and so on – was replaced or at least contested by the German model, through which Romanian culture “compensated” and “trim[med] the heavy influence of a foreign literature [the French] by reorientation toward another foreign literature [the German].”8 This compensation falls in line with Lucian Blaga’s considerations about the role each of these nations played in shaping Romanian culture, which do not by any means glorify the relevance of one element to the detriment of the other, but point to a major difference in the type of influence they exerted. Drawing on a concept borrowed from chemistry, Blaga articulates two types of influence in his Trilogia Culturii [Trilogy of Culture]: the “modelling” influence, dictating universal cultural laws from a position of absolute authority, embodied by the French model; and the “catalytic” influence, tending to foster the individual development of each culture on a path of self-determination and according to the sum of its particularities:

“By its very nature, French culture claims to possess the dignity of universal validity; it considers itself a ‘model’ above all doubt, and in relation to the ‘other’ it only allows to be “imitated,” as a supreme example, as a law, and an archetype. […] French culture dictates to any foreigner who approaches it: ‘Be as I am!’ […] German culture is aware of its greatness, but it feels particular, it acknowledges its own heights and depths, but at the same time it realizes its local and individualistic character. It does not necessarily recommend itself as a model, because it does not aspire towards the classic; through all its abundance of forms and compositions, it is romantic, stemming from a primordial cult of the individual. When appearing before a stranger, its very nature advises: ‘Be yourself!’”9

Ultimately, summarizes Blaga, “French culture is like a master demanding to be imitated; the German culture is rather a teacher helping one discover oneself.”10 The French model itself, as Monica Spiridon points out11 and as Maria Chiorean discusses in the present volume, was nothing short of an ideological defense mechanism meant to resist Russian control following the 1829 Treaty of Adrianopole, but its subsequent replacement – or compensation – through the German model was partially facilitated by the presence of German ethnics in the present-day Romanian region of Transylvania; thus, accommodating Germanness entailed embracing a specifically Transylvanian Romanian-German element, consisting not only of a political body with clear pro-Western inclinations, but also a distinct cultural production extending its roots both in the (Romanian) periphery and in the (German) core. This double-rootedness has prompted Mircea Diaconu to discuss the “ultraminor” German literature as a compromise between extra- and intraterritoriality:12 an ethnically isolated minority at the outskirts of historical Europe finds itself in a state of quantum entanglement with a core European nation, whereby geopolitical changes at the periphery echo through the core in the form of panic and concern regarding the prospect of imminent military conquest, while changes in the core reach the periphery as technological and artistic innovation.

In this context, the present volume is part of a larger project aiming at integrating contemporary Romanian scholarship in a European circuit and thus “de-peripheralize” it. The series, initiated at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu and currently consisting of six contributions with Peter Lang, each more ambitious than the former,13 regards itself as a more hands-on approach to literary production in Romania and especially in connection to the German cultural space. This time, the volume’s overarching theme is the German model in Romanian culture, as it aims at bringing together scholars from all fields of the Humanities whose common denominator is an interest in the German language, German literature, the centuries-long history of German presence on Romanian territory, and the importance of German philosophy, literature, sociology, etc. on Romanian arts, the nation-building process, and literary historiography. The volume covers a generous range of themes at the intersection of World and Comparative Literature, translation and regional studies, and, most importantly, provides insights into crucial issues pertaining to Romanian literary history as a platform whereupon various cultural influences disputed their territory. On the one hand, the volume pursues the impact of German culture on Romanian literary life, either through representative case-studies – Hugo Friedrich, Celan, Trakl, Schlattner, Goethe’s Faust – or in a broader sense – with entire literary movements and turning points in literary history garnering the contributors’ attention. On the other, the chapters also offer an insight into past and present influences of the periphery on the core and the patterns by which Romanian culture was “reflected” in the West. Thus, because the process of core-to-periphery (and vice versa) interaction is inherently historical, we tried to structure the book in the chronological order of the addressed subjects rather than on thematic grounds.

The first contribution belongs to Teodora Dumitru and deals with the first moment when we can point to a specifically German influence – rather than, as mentioned previously, a generic “Western” influence borrowing a “German” label – shaping Romanian cultural practices. Her text reassesses the importance of German idealism for the early conception of Romanian poetry, as it was formulated by Titu Maiorescu in his ground-breaking 1867 Poezia română. Cercetare critică de Titu Maiorescu, urmată de o alegere de poezii. Departing from the initial investigations into Schopenhauer’s importance for Maiorescu, conducted by Mircea Florian during the 1930s and by Liviu Rusu during the 1970s, the author discusses the principles of poetic novelty as laid out by the Romanian critic in his book, and correlates them to a series of psychological principles formulated by the German philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart, establishing some links that have went unnoticed in Romanian literary historiography:

“Had Maiorescu not had access to Herbart’s psycho-mechanical-mathematical research that supported Schopenhauer’s argument that poetry has a duty to expose universally human feelings, he would not have been able to propose this solution to detect and at the same time to standardize the way in which it is legitimate/forbidden for ‘novelty’ to occur and be appreciated in poetry. Classical rhetorics and poetics, though in some respects corresponding to some of Herbart’s psychological ‘laws,’ could not have provided him with such subtle, scientific explanations. It is one of the reasons why I stated that Herbart’s theories work in Maiorescu to confirm and support Schopenhauer’s theories in a perfect liaison.”

Drawing on the Digital Museum of the Romanian Novel,14 Maria Chiorean writes about the image of the German nationals in Romania as represented in the novelistic production of the late-nineteenth century and against the backdrop of conservative nation-building narratives consolidated by the intellectuals of “Junimea.” Comparing the two patterns of imagological representation, she ultimately shows that

“[t]he Germans were seen as loyal, sincere, strong, and especially patriotic, capable of building and securing a nation through harmony, i.e., through cohesive, selfless behavior. […] Combined with the Romantic picture painted by Madame de Staël in De l’Allemagne, where Germany appeared as a land of poets and philosophers and an example for the rebirth of French culture, this generated a truly promising image, particularly for Titu Maiorescu and ‘Junimea’: a nation characterized by depth, wisdom, reason, and intricate philosophy. Considering that in the 1860s Maiorescu accused Romanian society and culture of one major fault – hollowness or superficiality – the purportedly ‘German’ emphasis on substance and competence was understandably fascinating for the Romanian conservatives.”

Anca-Simina Martin further expands her scholarly interest in the emergence of the modern vampire myth by discussing Jules Verne’s 1892 Le château des Carpathes and its two Romanian renditions, one signed by Victor Onișor (Castelul din Carpați) and a completely anonymous second one, Castelul Carpaților, which acts as a non-ideologized baseline text. The article shows the relationship between Victor Onișor’s translation and his involvement in the 1892 Transylvanian Memorandum demanding equal rights for Romanians within the Austro-Hungarian province of Transylvania, as shown by his attempt to frame the novel as an expression of Verne’s support for Romanian identity in the region:

“[…] Castelul din Carpați appears to have brought targeted changes to Verne’s text, foregrounding Hungarian oppression and silently localizing the German foreign element, while simultaneously emphasizing Transylvania’s agency and the Romanian element. This programmatic approach to Le château des Carpathes did not pass unnoticed; with the exception of only one critic, all other reviewers recognized it for what it sought to be: a foreign-authored plea for Transylvania’s self-determination and a testimony in support of Romanian continuity in the region.”

Coming closer to the present time, Imre József Balázs explores the evolution of the literary avant-garde in interwar Romania, focusing on three particular case studies belonging to the movement’s Hungarian rendition in showing how, unlike the Romanian avant-garde,

“the Hungarian avant-garde itself developed further according to the […] German model, while Romanian avant-gardists predominantly followed the French model. […] While in the interwar period, one of the main publications of the Hungarian avant-garde, the review Ma, was published between 1920 and 1926 in Viennese exile by Lajos Kassák, and while another major avant-garde author, Tibor Déry, experimented with becoming a bilingual, Hungarian-German writer, the Romanian exile artists such as Tristan Tzara and later Ilarie Voronca or Benjamin Fondane tended to be active in the French cultural field, switching to writing in French.”

In this case, as in several other from the volume, we witness a sort of mutated “simultaneity of the non-simultaneous,” in which historically concurring literary movements in close geographical proximity develop according to different cultural models, whose inception followed relatively diverging historical trajectories.

Staying on the topic of Expressionism, whose presence has been decisive for Romanian – and Hungarian, as the previous contribution has shown – poetry, in the following chapter, the experienced translator of German-language poetry George State conducts a history of Georg Trakl’s translations into Romanian, offering a first-hand account of the different versions of his texts; he discusses, in turn, the poet’s very first introduction to Romanian readerships in 1922, the 1988 translation of his complete works, and the most recent Romanian rendition from 2007, showing the continuously renewed relevance of the Austrian poet. The contribution also functions as a “confession” inasmuch as its author is a Trakl translator himself, which elicits a series of very important theoretical considerations and simultaneously serves as a “balance sheet” for Romanian Trakl scholarship:

“[A]re three versions [of Trakl] better than one? I shall provide a rabbinical answer: yes and no. No, because if we look at them from the perspective of the average reader and in terms of their loyalty to Trakl’s poetics, the differences between the Romanian versions are hardly significant – I am referring here to the translations that are also quantitatively relevant, those made by Petre Stoica (the first to outline an overall image), Mihail Nemeș (covering the complete works), and Nicolae Ionel (with his systematic pursuit of fidelity). Yes, because the translation of a poem should be, in and of itself, a poem. Even if the lines penned by our apothecary – with their assorted virtues (the austere and essentialized discourse) and weaknesses (at a certain point they become somewhat monotonous) – give little wiggle room to the translator, the servant of two masters, all participants in this endeavor value their distinctiveness. Any variation, however minute, in rendering the words or the syntax is seen by translators as playing a decisive role in conveying the unmistakable Trakl-Ton.

Moving forward in time and focusing on the echo of German criticism in Romania, Andrei Terian’s contribution discusses Hugo Friedrich’s 1956 Die Struktur der modernen Lyrik and the German scholar’s importance for Romanian postwar criticism. The arguments he brings for explaining the book’s unprecedented success boil down to the popular appeal of an underlying “structural unity of modern European poetry,” its focus on the simplistic stylistic analysis of negative categories, which would render reading per se redundant, the harmless, apolitical solutions Fredrich devises in his interpretations, and ultimately the Eurocentric selection from modernist classics he chooses to work with. Regardless of the reasons behind his success, asks Terian,

“[i]s considering a book published more than five decades ago a sort of undisputable landmark and discussing it without any kind of precautions indicative of the amazing vitality of the book in question or proof of the terrible backwardness of the one addressing such a question? But this is another issue, whose answer does not affect the significant impact that Freidrich’s volume had on Romanian poetry criticism during the latter half of the 20th century.”

Bridging Dumitru’s and Radu Vancu’s contributions is the preoccupation with influence and intertextuality, whose convolutions and nuances in the case of Herbart’s influence on Maiorescu were thoroughly laid out by Teodora Dumitru. Radu Vancu, in his turn, speaks about the Sibiu-based poet Mircea Ivănescu and the German-language intertext present in his works; relying on David Damrosch’s three criteria for the emergence of World Literature, the author goes against the commonly shared opinion regarding the dominance of the French influence on Mircea Ivănescu’s poetic Weltanschauung and, providing compelling examples, illustrates how,

“[b]esides the French sources, German poetry and culture also decisively infuse the substance of Ivănescu’s poetry. In the well-known interview conducted by Dinu Flămând and published in 1978 in Amfiteatru, Mircea Ivănescu testified: ‘From all my readings, however, the meeting with Rilke was of greatest importance for me. From him I learned that verse can be stopped anywhere and continued from anywhere; when I understood this, I was also able to write.’ […] One sees confirmed here, in a brilliant way and applied on an equally brilliant example, Lucian Blaga’s hypothesis according to which the influence of German culture is of a catalytic type, revealing and nourishing the dormant nature of one’s personality (either at the individual level or regarding culture as a whole).”

Without engaging with distant reading and computational methods per se, the volume also explores large-scale patterns of reception and canonization influenced or downright determined by the German model. In this sense, Snejana Ung’s contribution theorizes the concept of “compromised import” in showing how the so-called East-European turn in German literature, designating a heightened interest in postcommunist narratives drawing on “Post-socialist nostalgia,” “red nostalgia,” “Titostalgia,” or “Yugonostalgia,” and institutionalized through the “Adelbert von Chamisso” and the “Ingeborg Bachmann” Prizes for migrant writers, does not translate into a successful import back to the East-European periphery. Regarding Romania, she concludes that,

“unless they are Romanian-born writers such as Cătălin Dorian Florescu, these authors may be invited to international literary festivals held in Romania but still not have their books translated and made accessible to the Romanian readership. […] This either/or logic allowed me to understand the visibility of German-language literature written by Eastern European migrants as a form of compromised import, determined both by the hegemony of English-language literature and by the economic constraints inherent to the Romanian literary field.”


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (December)
The German model Transylvania cross-cultural interferences translation studies Das deutsche Vorbild Siebenbürgen interkulturelle Interferenzen Übersetzungswissenschaft
Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, New York, Oxford, 2023. 288 pp., 6 fig. col., 2 tables.

Biographical notes

Maria Sass (Volume editor) Ovio Olaru (Volume editor) Andrei Terian (Volume editor)

Maria Sass is Professor of German literature and Romanian-German literature at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu. Ovio Olaru is Assistant Professor of German and Norwegian language and literature at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu. Andrei Terian is Professor of Romanian literature at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu. Maria Sass ist Professorin für deutsche und rumäniendeutsche Literatur an der Lucian-Blaga-Universität Sibiu/ Hermannstadt. Ovio Olaru ist Dozent für deutsche und norwegische Sprache und Literatur an der Lucian-Blaga-Universität Sibiu/ Hermannstadt. Andrei Terian ist Professor für rumänische Literatur an der Lucian-Blaga-Universität Sibiu/ Hermannstadt.


Title: The German Model in Romanian Culture / Das deutsche Vorbild in der rumänischen Kultur