I needed a break from Berlin, to see something different.
My friend from Budapest told me about a market set within mountains in a village called Negreni, we knew this was our calling. Retrospectively I have to admit I remember feeling a bit nervous. I had never been further east than Czech Republic in Europe.
We followed descending mountain roads that exposed us to the most beautiful untouched and raw landscapes, thousands of tiny stalls and tents and people where gathered below us.
We parked the car and very quickly realised that our presence was just as unusual for them as theirs was to us. Most vendors and visitors were either Romanian, Roma or Hungarian. Most of the Romanians and Hungarians came dressed in traditional clothing, white head-cloths and elaborate dresses in reds and green hues or completely black.
The older ladies wore black knitted scarves with subtle patterns and fringes around their necks. Some wore white shirts with tiny patterns, pleated skirts aprons like layers that added a domestic element to their wardrobe. The Gents were covered up with small straw hats, wore earthy colors and white linen shirts and sturdy vests.
The rest of the community wore normal civilian casual apparel. Still it was obvious that this is not a well-known tourist attraction. It seemed as though the ladies ran the market, if the husbands were accompanying them at the stall, they kept low- key, munching on pickles in the back.
I was overwhelmed by how welcome they made me feel. The worries I had in the beginning started fading quickly. The setting in the meadow was striking, the little river passing through it, uncontrolled and ignored like an old fashioned train passing every now and then.
The stall vendors, who also used the spot as a camp site, built bonfires, barbecued their lunch, took naps in their tents or in the grass in between antique gems and rare curiosities. It wasn’t just a flea market vibe, it was like being part of their daily routine. Walking through those endless rows of almost everything, I caught tiny glimpses of their lives. A very attractive young Roma guy was drowning in a puddle of shoes. The only evidence I caught of his beauty is a photo from way too far away.
I shot seven rolls of film.
Further at the back of the endless display, we came across a white tent with three older ladies. One of them, with a tiny, sweet face framed by a white headscarf, noticed our curious looks. The knitted blankets on the floor were covered with black and white photographs. She picked up one of them showing a young couple. I really wanted to take it home with me. The little lady told us that this was her and her husband in the picture on their wedding day about 60 years ago. As soon as she told us it was plain to see the resemblance. Knowing it was her in this photo made me want to purchase it even more.
She was very pleased to see how much we admired this rare find and kept showing us similar ones, but with random photos. I didn’t care about the other pictures.
After having gazed at it for a while, it came to me as a shock, “Why is she selling it” I asked my friend Dori to find out for me. The thought of her getting rid of such a significant memory in her life made me change my mind for a second.
She smiled back at us, her small, wise face glowing, and told us she has a couple more at home.
Seconds later the deal was completed, she kissed my cheek, knowing her beloved memory will be travelling thousands of miles with me, becoming a new memory.
A couple of hours drive, 3 boarders and a gigantic jumble sale made me think. I felt very foolish when we left Negreni, Transilvania, Romania all together, thinking back to what my Idea of Romania and its people was before I left Berlin.
Seven rolls of film, A gigantic jumble sale and a few days later.
Photography and Words by Veronika Natter