I had two major goals in Romania; one, to see Dracula’s Castle in Bran, Romania and the other, to see Ceausescu’s Palace in Bucharest. The latter did not go to plan.
I arrived by train on March 11, 1990 in Bucharest from Brasov, Romania having seen Dracula’s Castle.. My friends in Budapest urged me not to go to Romania. At the time it was believed that 80,000 people had died in the Romanian Revolution. There was no reliable information coming over the border, just rumors, and the final tally of the dead, realized in the 1990s was actually 1,290. So I was pretty scared at that time traveling mostly alone and unprepared. Fortunately Romanians are very friendly and bought me lots of drinks and that put me at ease. But I at least had a map of Bucharest and a list of hotels, that I brought from the U.S.
When I got to Bucharest I found a hotel near the main train station, but left there when I saw my room had a broken window, no lock on the door, and sheets with a lot of hair on it, and I saw a huge rat that ran down the hall. I thought I was being set up.
I checked into the best (it was substandard, and dated though) hotel in Bucharest, The Intercontinental. Many multinational businesses had their names taped on the hotel room doors, as offices. It was the tallest building in Bucharest.
On one day, between 3/11 and 3/13, I set out to see the “Palace”. I believe there was a picture of it on my map. I walked along embassy row and the TV station where many battles had taken place and many grand manors were now burned out shells. In a park near Ceausescu’s Spring Palace (really a large modern home) I saw the huge Stalinist building from far away, which I took a photo of above. The statue of Lenin in front of it had been toppled March 2. So when I got there I saw just the pedestal defaced with paint. It was getting dark ,but I managed some poor photos of the huge edifice and walked around it. I thought at last I saw Ceausescu’s Palace.
On the fourteenth I boarded a Tarom flight to East Berlin. Some seats were completely broken. Sitting next to me was a member of Romania’s orchestra. I mentioned I had seen Ceausescu’s Palace and showed her my map. She made a large circle with a pen in the city’s old center and said, “All of this is gone.” Thousands of historic buildings were destroyed and 50,000 residents displaced to make way for Ceausescu’s new city. She pointed to a soccer stadium on the map and said that is where the Palace is. I was pretty disappointed. I wanted so much to go back and see it.
After the two hour Tarom flight on March 14th, I landed at Schonefeld Air Field in East Berlin, I took a one hour bus ride to West Berlin, went to a travel agent and booked (on Interflug Airlines)my return ticket to Bucharest arriving the following morning. (3/15/90). I also bought film because there was none in Romania. I stayed at the Hotel Funkturm, near the tower of the Funkturm tower in West Berlin. The hotel wouldn’t let me leave my duffel bag there overnight so I walked over to a modern building to ask about lockers in what I thought was a big train station nearby the hotel. But the receptionist there, an American woman, Vera Lyn, said it was a convention center, but she said I could leave my bag at her place. Her husband, Nigel was not pleased, but I ended up staying with them on my later return and saw him and his band 3Mustapha3 in Philadelphia.
So when I landed back at Otopeni airport in Bucharest I got a ride from IKEA Romania’s new CEO to the Intercontinental Hotel. From the balcony of my room I saw the actual Ceausescu Palace and took the above photo, (on the right.) I went through the $3.4 billion dollar marble monstrosity with two Romanians I met there. I will detail its unparalleled statistics in a future post.
The next day (3/16/90) I flew back to Berlin in time for unified Germany’s first Democratic elections, which understandably I slept through.