This is a 400 years old European story. A story that connected two cities through the tenacity of people who had different life projects. It must be noted that the story of the two cities is very similar in terms of economic details. If the city of Leipzig traces its beginnings down to the association with a market situated close to the Slav village of Lipzk, Bucharest similarly originates from the link between a village called Bucharest and a seasonal spring market. The trade routes that intersected with these associations offered central authorities a support in transferring a part of their command onto these regions. The elector Frederic II issues a privilege that gives the City of Leipzig the right to organize a winter market in addition to their autumn and spring markets. During the same time, in his Princely Court in Wallachia, Vlad the Impaler was signing the first official documents that marked the place as one of Wallachia toll houses. In 1615 Leipzig is granted the right to also organize a market for wool trade, while tradition attributes the founding of Bucharest to sheep trade and one of the shepherds – Bucur – is believed to have named the city. Wool was one of the most popular products of trade between Wallachia, the Balkan Peninsula and central Europe.
As mentioned, we can say that the economic platform of the two cities meant a very varied and prosperous trade from the very beginning until after the 16th century. During this time, in Bucharest a seasonal spring market was situated outside of the city, and a permanent market of manufactured products, called the Inside Market, was situated inside the city, and this is where the beginning of our story also lies. This is the starting point of the first traders who headed to the German countries, implicitly to Leipzig, starting with the 17th century. The trade with markets in Leipzig soon became dominant and prestigious. Who would have thought that a city, Leipzig, would name a type of trade – lipscănie, referring to en-gross trade of manufactured goods – and that the street where these traders settled to do their business was to be named, by transfer, Lispcani. Between 1765 and 1839 the markets in Leipzig were visited by 67 349 Oriental traders, including those who came from today’s Romania (Wallachia, Moldova and Transylvania). The University in Leipzig was also sought after by young people from Wallachia and Moldova, some of the first to study there being Dumitru Obradovici (1783), Photius Philaret (1792, came from Halle) and Ion Nicolescu (1791). The lispcănie trade didn’t flourish only in Bucharest but in other cities of Wallachia too – Craiova, Slatina, Râmnicu Vâlcea, Caracal – where we also encounter streets named Lipscani. Continuing its mediaeval tradition, the modern Romanian state took over this type of trade and in 1859 commercial activities rose to the value of two million thalers. Due to this particular type of trade between Leipzig and Bucharest (and other Romanian cities too), German immigrants started to populate the urban spaces. This emigration phenomenon that lasted throughout the 19th century created specialized professions in many Romanian cities after 1800. The quality of the German immigrants’ commerce and professions soon became famous in Romanian cities, so much so that in 1850 the Germans were already “famous in various kinds of industries and esteemed in their professions.” The Germans were “the most rich and highly-rated traders” and at the same time they were “the most skilled locksmiths and carpenters”. Very soon, in Romanian cities, one could hear people say “give it to the German to fix your carriage” or “someone call a German to fix the locker” or “to make the furniture”. This fame of their perfected professional abilities persisted in Romania even after the First World War and was later associated with any products made in Germany.
On these grounds, during the second half of the 19th century, the German community in Bucharest became very numerous and largely varied in their professions. Thus, in 1900, the 2 972 members of the German community counted a whole range of professions such as: doctors, engineers, mechanics, blacksmiths, office workers, bankers, painters, traders, pastry cooks, teachers, sculptors, carpenters, bakers, locksmiths, journalists, builders, house painters, governesses, businessmen, merchants, hatters, butchers, barbers, tailors, workers, servants etc. Sometime between 1830 and 1877, in the center of Bucharest, next to the Lipscani Street, there also existed the German Street, something that reminds of the German community’s presence in Bucharest and especially of German made products. In 1878 this street was renamed Smârdan in order to commemorate one of the battles in the Russian-Romanian-Turkish war of 1876-1798, the war that brought the Romanian independence, as ratified by the peace treaty of Berlin.
The exhibitional and editorial project Leipzig-Bucharest-Lispcani – a European Story wishes to offer the public the story of a small German street in “the Little Paris” and, in fact, to describe a historical reality: although Bucharest was deeply anchored in the Francophone space, its professional abilities were culturally dependent on the German space whose influence was much older than the French one, this one having started to dominate Romanian cities only after 1830. Apart from the story of Lipscani Street in Bucharest, which in 1900 transformed from a trade space to the banking center of Romania, we wish to supplement this story with the short account of the lives of the most important traders in Bucharest whose existence was tied to Leipzig, and mirror it into the lives of the most important German traders who chose Bucharest as their life project, such as the Gaiser, Storck or Oppler families.
Bucharest and Leipzig created strong ties between Romania and Germany as modern states born at the middle of the 19th century, and this connection substantially contributed to the strengthening of cultural and intellectual emigration patterns in both directions, even since the 18t century.
Dr. Adrian Majuru