We met Andra one afternoon, when, at 6PM sharp, she opened the massive gate of the Miksa Steiner Palace, on 3rd August 1919 Blvd, one of the main streets in Fabric, and welcomed us into the enormous and chilly building, with its history engrained in its walls.
At the third floor, past the common hallway, there was a warm and cosy apartment and a cat which purred all through our visit. Andra has been living here since forever. She only changed apartments, never the house. ‘This is where I was born, this is where I stayed’, she said while looking around. She follows her family; Andra’s mother was born in Lipova, but came here as a child. ‘Step by step, we bought some apartments in the house, and now we are trying to buy another one, to cover the whole floor. We were afraid of the real estate mafia’.
Her apartment used to be a part of a bigger one when the palace was built. During the communist times, it was divided into two bedroom apartments, with shared bathroom and hallways. We found out that, at some point, the building hosted a veterinary school. On the windows’ original woodwork ‘are kids’ scrawls - it says on a window. In my parents’ apartment, on one of the doors there’s a Roman 7 (VII), so it was a 7th grade classroom. And my aunt, who lived on the 2nd floor for a long time, came into the apartment and it was smelling like gasoline, because that’s how schools’ wood flooring used to be cleaned’. We don’t know for sure for how long the school worked, but Andra told us that ‘a great-grandfather of mine was a teacher here and, after the school closed, the apartments were divided among teachers. They were renting and were given the possibility to buy. This is how I got to live here’.
She spent her childhood in Fabric.‘Ever since I was little, I realized that I was lucky to live here, that I have the park (Queen Mary Park) across the road. I know it by heart. It’s where my mom was walking with me when I was little. I still remember the arches - they were yellow, now they’re white, but I remember seeing something yellow on the sky and I didn’t know what it was. I used to go to Traian Square to buy bread; there was an old bakery at the corner, Begapam, but it didn’t pass the test of time. It’s been deserted for a long time, it’s very sad.’
The park wasn’t Andra’s only playground because there was - and still is - the building’s back yard. ‘My parents didn’t really agree with me going out, so I was staying in the yard. When I was very little, I was with my sister in the yard and there was an earthquake. My mother had told us not to go up while she was vacuuming, but my sister had a gut feeling, a fantastic intuition, and took pe upstairs earlier. In 2 minutes’ time the earthquake happened and on the exact same spot we were playing, bricks and shingles fell from the house. I don’t really remember this, but they told me.’ The building’s community was vaste, though. ‘There were more kids back then - 3 boys and me. I think this is why I’m so rompish now, because I’ve always played with the guys. But it was a beautiful time. Still is…’.
Andra really like the whole Banat region and is fascinated by historic places. ‘I really like searching old buildings and deserted manors. I started with the website ‘Monumente Uitate’, I know it through and through. Over the last years, I’ve travelled to all of Banat. I looked over the website and said: OK, where to now? And I like discovering the history behind the manors and castles, to know what happened, to whom they belonged, why they got to this state, and why the authorities completely ignore their existence. I don’t know, but I don’t think other places have this problem. I think they care about their heritage. We don’t. Including here, if you walk around the city, you risk getting a brick on your head.’.
This situation is felt not only walking through the city, but also at home. ‘It’s really dangerous, and I tell people to be careful when I see them standing in front of the house. We tried to fence the area in, but we were told we can’t, because it’s illegal. But if a brick falls, we’re the ones to blame. Lately, big chunks of the building fell. When it rains, when the wind blows, we always expect something to fall. And renovations are slow’. Regarding Miksa Steiner Palace’s renovation, Andra told us ‘We chose and architect to design the project. He did it in a relatively short time, but it takes a lot of time to get all the approvals - from the Heritage Institute, from City Hall - there are a lot of notices we need and it takes a lot to get them. This is how the whole process is slowed down and the building is degrading.’.
On the corner of the boulevard, a few steps to the city centre, there’s Băile Neptun Palace. Andra doesn’t remember a lot about it, but she remembers that her mother ‘used to go there when the public baths were there. It was a lot more difficult during those times, they didn’t have a bathroom in the house because the had just been made, and they were only left with a sink. It was really tough washing in a basin. And with the public baths at the corner, she used to go there with my grandma’.
There’s something very sincere about Andra’s way of speaking of the places which surrounded her childhood, so we wanted to find out more about her passion for manors and deserted castles. ‘You know, I’ve asked myself this question a lot of times - is my living here connected to my passion? I don’t know how it happened, I just discovered that website one day and I was fascinated, amazed by the fact that I had ignored for so many years what was near me. There were manors and castles I’d never seen. I told myself that it wasn’t possible.’
At home in Fabric, though, ‘there are problems with the buildings’ facades, which are on the verge of falling. In Traian Square there’s the same problem. Even the recently renovated builsing are starting to degrade. For example, Ștefania Palace: I was so amazed that it was so beautifully renovated - I actually thought it was going to last, that at least one building is renovated. And already…’
‘Another problem of the neighbourhood is that a lot of people don’t know its history. Not just its inhabitants, but generally speaking. The neighbourhood’s name comes from the fact that it was a heavily industrialized area, and if you walk around Traian Square, you can see the buildings - the ground level served as store, and the first floor was the store owner’s apartment. I understood that the Jewish community was significant in Fabric. Look, we have this beautiful synagogue almost falling. It is what it is, authorities don’t do anything’. And maybe, we hope, if people knew more about Fabric, ‘maybe they would take part in projects. Maybe we could give the neighbourhood a fresh look’. Andra’s neighbours also want a new face for the building, but Fabric is not a hotspot, like the city centre. ‘I went to a public meeting (note: at City Hall). There were owners of apartments blocks and historic buildings. There was talk about thermic rehabilitation for the apartment blocks, but it was chaos… there were some straight questions, but we were told to be patient, that we have a lot of time left until 2021, and that, basically, they will cover half the cost.’
But, with everything that’s not going well, Andra doesn’t give up. ‘It’s the city I was born in, and I feel my roots here. I was away for 2-3 weeks at a time, sometimes even months, and I felt like I was going crazy and I needed to come back. It’s not just empty talk, saying you have roots. I actually feel I have to come back, to be on my land. Where I was born.’
At the events organized in Fabric Andra didn’t really get to participate, she always found out about them much too late, and she regrets it. ‘Maybe this would be a solution, to be more largely promoted. I think that the neighbourhood deserves things happening here’.
Photo credits: Flavius Neamciuc