I imagine the people who sought refuge there in the Middle Ages: German settlers who had been brought into the country by the Hungarian monarchs to cultivate it. Their villages were far apart and so the peasants had to defend themselves against the Tartars, Huns and Turks who invaded the country from the east via the Carpathians. That is why they built their churches into fortresses, with walls, defence towers and storage cellars. When the houses were burning outside, they could hide inside the fortified churches.
When I grew up in Transylvania, many of these fortified churches already lay in ruins. Nobody thought about restoring them, people were much too busy trying to make ends meet. Moreover, communist Romania monitored who went to church, and the state did everything in its power to prevent a new Transylvanian national consciousness from developing.
Today there are still some 150 fortified churches, the largest collection of such buildings in the world, and some have been rebuilt with impressive results. Fortified churches were there for protection, and that is exactly what the fortified church in Radeln, which we are currently restoring, is once again: a shelter for traumatised children from all over Europe who come here on holiday.
As told to by Julia Reichardt
Translated by Jess Smee