Ion Chitu interviewed by Otilia Teposu

Translation by Adriana N.

The original article Meșter de scări: Ion Chitu din Bran appears in

Note: There are several inaccuracies with dates. Architect Karel Liman was Czech, not Polish.

Stairbuilder Ion Chitu from Bran

His name is Ion Chitzu and was born on November 10, 1907. He lives at the shadow of Bran Castle in a home built by himself over half a century ago. I knew he was one of the oldest people in Bran, and I expected to find a little old man leaning on a cane, a man who at 95 years old could only tell me the stories of Bran of that time. How wrong I was, as I found Nea Chitzu in his carpentry atelier, bent over a piece of wood which he was carefully planing.

- “I am making a crib he said after looking at me sideways and answering my greeting. I am making a crib for my great-grandson, Andrei. I just want to make him a crib, to have it from me and remember about me. If I am the oldest carpenter around here, it would be inappropriate that my great-grandson should sleep in a crib made by somebody else, no?” True, I’m thinking as I curiously look around the atelier where all the tools are neatly displayed, saws, planes, spades, hammers, all kinds of “hand tools” as nea Chitzu presents them to me, and also about 5 machines which I have no idea what they’re used for, but all shinning clean. “Ernst Grafe-1927” is written on one of them more imposing looking. “This is a machine I have been working with ever since 1925, dear little lady, look at it and you will see what true maintenance means. 77 years have passed since I had it and I have only had to change one small part on it. German merchandise! What can I say? Quality, no joke! I took care of it as of my own eyes. I earned my bread with it. When I walk into the atelier, I stop here first, even though these days I rarely work with it.”

Laborer for a stair builder

- You were young in 1925, how were you able to buy this great lathe?

- I was young, it’s true, I was not 18 yet and I had been working ever since I was 14, from 1921, when the works for the restoration of Bran Castle began. I became orphan at 7, my father died in war and I wasn’t able to attend school anymore, even though I was a good student. But I had to start working as laborer to earn a penny. I was carrying construction materials for workers, from dawn to dusk. One day, the boss, Polish architect Limann, raised my salary by three lei above everybody else, because he saw I was a hard worker. I was content, but even more content I was when I started to work around the carpenters. My biggest dream was to be chosen by a carpenter artisan to become his apprentice. There were a few German carpenters, the entire castle was restored with German artisans, from around Turnisor and Sibiu, and I was following them closely. Artisan Franz astounded me from the first day on which I saw him working. He was the best at building stairs. I was looking at his hands when he was working. It was like he was caressing the wood, in such manner was holding it. It was as if the wood was alive. How can you not like such craft, I was thinking? Artisan Franz and my tutor, Spiridon Popa, re-built all the stairs in the castle. I spent around them all the time, even when they discovered the secret stair, that one between the first and third floors.

From them I learned how to build a stair, how to take the dimensions, how to measure the position, on the vertical then horizontal, how to divide the distances at the number of steps. I have made many stairs in my life. I was sought by people from the entire country. Everywhere I worked, I left many stairs behind me, stairs that you can climb up and down on at a relaxed pace. It is not really easy to make a good stair. Even now I have one in the works. It is made of oak. I have a hard time at times, when I lift the lumber as the oak is a heavy wood. I do ask for help from a young man. I do not have an apprentice, though, this is my great sadness, that I do not have someone to pass this beautiful craft on to. You see, I lived in times when a skilled worker was a respected man. Today is not the same. All want to be gentlemen, but they don’t know how to hold a hammer in their hands. Almost four years I stayed apprentice around my tutor and I worked hard labor work. And, when I left him, I knew about everything that was need to know in my work, and from him I bought this machine that you have asked me about. This is the machine with which was done the entire wood work at the castle, and later, the doors and the windows from the hospital Dominta Ileana opened in Bran."

Royal Bran

- About those times far back I would like you to tell us a few things. What do you remember from the life of Bran of past times?

- Do know that Bran was one step ahead of the rest of the villages around thanks to the royal family. In 1921 the inhabitants of Brasov donated the castle to Queen Marie. From that moment on, until 1927 when she died, the Queen came to Bran about every two, or three weeks. She was coming with the automobile by the way of Paraul Rece. She inaugurated this road. She owned a white Lincoln, and had a Romanian driver. She was not coming alone to Bran, but with her retinue, with her adjutant, with her ladies-in-waiting, her friends and her children. Most often, she was coming with Domnitza Ileana who loved these places very much. Maybe that is why the Queen left the castle to her in her will. When it was known that the Queen was coming, a flag was raised above the castle. Then the poor were coming to greet her. She was never coming empty handed, always bringing things, especially for children. Clothes, food, medicine. I also received sweets from her and I remember witnessing something once. A boy who received something from the Queen said “merci” and then the Queen pulled him aside and told him not to say that again because he is Romanian and he should behave and speak according to his people’s traditions. Meaning, he should say “multumesc” or “bogdaproste”. Do know that those from the royal family were big patriots; many times they were more Romanians than the Romanians. They were big lovers of their country, even though there were foreigners. The Queen liked to wear the traditional costume from Bran when was coming here. She was very beautiful and very popular, and was talking with people when meeting them on the road. She liked to take walks with her suite, sometimes she would hike, on foot or horse.

Around 1933 Domnita Ileana moved to Bran with her husband, Anton de Habsburg. They inhabited the houses below, at the base of the hill on which the castle is, the houses from vama. There was no electricity in Bran then, there were gas lamps, petromaxuri, as we used to call them. There was a Branean a bit sharper, I don’t remember his name anymore, who went and brought back from Bucharest an apparatus with which he presented movies to the Braneni. He was showing them at the restaurant near the farmers’ market, where the church is now. They were calling the restaurant “salon”, and the proprietor was German, Mill Beker. There was yet another good restaurant in Bran, also owned by a German, de Lukas. And because there was no electricity, Braneanul bought an engine and produced electricity with a generator. Other Braneni did the same thing and many had electricity in those years, ’35, ’36. There was a noise in Bran, one would become almost deaf. And Anton brought an engine from Germany, an engine of over forty horse power. He brought in light, in the castle and his houses. But this system was very noisy and it was very difficult to maintain, all day long he would do repairs on it, to have electricity in the evening. And then he went back to Germany and brought back a turbine. He built an electrical plant near the hospital, where the old wall of frontier was. They gave us electricity too, those whose houses were somewhat central. We were paying 13 bani per KW, not like nowadays when these people speculate water, forest, gas, goods that are everyone’s, not only certain people’s. Life was good then and people were very sad when Domnita Ileana left Bran with her entire family. They all came together at the bridge from the exit of Bran, and a neighbor, Serbanuca Sigefre, who had a large apple orchard where Domnita liked to take walks sometimes, brought her a basket of apples and said that he gave her the apples, but she had to promise to bring the basket back. This was a sort of invitation for her not to forget Bran and to return to us. Domnita was very attached to the people in Bran, her children grew up with our children, going to the same school, playing together. She was visiting their homes, was participating to their weddings if she was invited, she was God-Mother to a few children from the village. She also came to our house several times because here one of her ladies-in-waiting was renting a room. Domnita Ileana was a down to earth woman, very quiet. I worked with her at the hospital and she was always on time and very hard working, did not like to see when one was not fulfilling one’s duty, when one was milking the clock, when one was wasting time. She was not only wearing a noble name, her behavior was noble. This is what I always appreciated at her.

Morning thoughts

- Many changes have taken place in the whole country in the past years, they are felt, they are seen in Bran as well. Time goes on, though. What do you believe we should not overlook, what do you think should be done to not waste all these years?

- It would not have been bad if we had had a leader with an honorable name, of nobility. Perhaps we would have respected ourselves more as a people. We need noble leaders, royal leaders, because we have become wild beasts after so much communism. Now I am touching those at the top. And nobody from outside can help us, it is us having to rise above. And for this the television and journalists must show the young ones how to work, how to built a house, a road, a fence or a table, important things in life, not naked bodies, drunks, crime, because these have been around forever, but they were kept hidden like shames, like sins, which they are. I don’t even like to watch TV anymore, it doesn’t teach me anything, and I still wish now to learn something new every day. I can’t live for nothing. I don’t want! I am content about what I have realized and I am suffering that I cannot fill in here and there. The sun sets and I recap what I have lived that day. The sun rises and I make plans. I make the project for stairs and steps, some in a spiral, some bigger, other smaller, and I think sometimes that the entire life of a man is like a stair. On one side you step up, on the other down. Only you have to pay attention at the steps, you can’t take a step bigger than appropriate, don’t skip any steps thinking that you will get ahead of the others. Patience and wisdom in everything, this is the recipe. Work your life so you can live peacefully, this is it! And now, if you don’t mind, dear little lady, please allow me to finish this crib for my great-grandson, because tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, he will start asking what I have done on this earth…

Otilia Teposu