After Romania joined the First World War, Bucharest became the third European Capital, after Paris and London, to be bombed by the German air force. These days were marked by terror in the city, associated with the discovery that certain food items had been contaminated with strands of bacteria responsible for cholera, typhoid fever, anthrax and tetanus.
On November 23rd/December 6th 1916, German-Austrian-Hungarian troops occupied Bucharest. On December 8th 1916 the Imperial Government of the City of Bucharest was already in place. Local Romanian authorities such as the Mayor, the Police Prefect, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the county Prefect were subordinate to the Imperial Government. The first days saw deliberate damage being dealt to the properties of those favourable to the Entente, who had taken refuge in Iaşi (Tache Ionescu, Emil Costinescu, Victor Antonescu, Dinu Brătianu etc.).
The German Army general headquarters was established at the recently built Athenée Palace Hotel, constructed in 1914. The Officers’ Circle Palace (partially built) became a place of detainment for Romanian officers and soldiers who were captured during their retreat. Between 700 and 800 prisoners were held, including officers. Their upkeep was the concern of the City Hall. The names of buildings, restaurants and hotels were changed. Main food items were rationed, as well as energy sources such as gas, electricity and fuel oil, with the exception of buildings occupied by Germans. The movement of carriages and other means of transportation was forbidden to locals, excluding the military personnel of the Central Powers. Bucharest dwellers had to walk to their destinations. The Gregorian calendar was introduced in place of the Julian calendar. Bucharest time was changed in accordance to Central European time.
The entrance of German troops lasted three days, and, to intimidate the population, General Mackensen ordered his troops to march down Calea Victoriei and the Academy and Elisabeta Boulevards towards the garrisons, fully equipped for battle. Two days later the Imperial Government of the City of Bucharest was established, composed of the Komanditura, the Military Police, the Political Police and the General German Security. General Tülffvon Tscheppe und Weidenbach was named military governor and established his residence in Suţu Palace. The German troops’ headquarters was located at the Athenée Palace Hotel, and field marshal Auguste von Mackensen, supreme commander of German forces, took up residence in the G. Meitani house of Brezoianu Street.
Next came a period during which the population suffered through waves of requisitions, targeting food items as well as other goods, and reaching the point where lamp gas, horse-driven carriages, door knobs, brass cauldrons, mattresses, bedding, fur coats and even church bells could be easily taken. Christmas carols were banned and the press was shut down, with the exception of ‘official’ German-approved publications. A population census was undertaken, followed by food rationing. The main restaurants of Bucharest were transformed in “feeding centres”, and hotels sheltered German officers.
During the first years of the occupation, the names of hotels, cafés, restaurants and clubs were changed with German names, becoming “Kaiser Palast”, “Berliner Kafée”, “Zum deutschen Kronprinzen”. The Athenée Palace Hotel became the “Ober-Kommando Mackensen”, and the Officers’ Circle Palace was turned into “Haupt-Wachel”. Bulgarian troops established their headquarters at Casa Capşa, although they had also requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Palace. They desired to take the laboratory equipment and library of the University of Medicine in order to equip the Sofia University. They also wished to confiscate all privately-owned pianos to send them to Bulgaria.
In January 1918 Bulgarian forces entered the Romanian Academy Library and took the Slavic documents fund, which they tried to cross over to Bulgaria via the Danube. However the intervention of Al. Tzigara-Samurcaş and his plea addressed to field marshal Mackensen put an end to the Bulgarian attempt. Later on, the latter removed the sacred relics of Saint Dimitrie Basarabov from the Metropolitan Church, but were again stopped by Mackensen on their way to Giurgiu.
The German forces allowed Turkish troops to dismantle the Turkish cannons captured by the Romanian army in Plevna, cannons which had been placed on either side of Michael the Brave’s statue. Although they also requested the towers kept in the Royal Palace courtyard, they did not receive a favourable response from the Germans. They managed however to dismantle the Assan mill and send it to Istanbul. Two years after German troops entered Bucharest, on October 30th/November 12th 1918, the evacuation of occupational forces comes to an end.
The exhibition will present the way of life in a city under foreign occupation, with images and testimonies. The opening day of the Bucharest under occupation (1916-1918) exhibition is scheduled for the end of august, at Suțu Palace.
Cezar Petre Buiumaci