The History Of The Zipser Germans In Central Europe

The Zipser Germans (German: Zipser/Zipser Deutsche/Zipser Sachsen) are an important historical German-speaking minority in Central and Eastern Europe, which has been living since the High Middle Ages in present-day north-eastern Slovakia and since the Modern period in northern Romania as well (i.e. in the historical regions of Maramureș and Bukovina/Bucovina/Bukowina/Buchenland). The Zipser Germans gained their name from the medieval Hungarian komitat/county where the initially settled, more specifically Szepes (known in standard German/Hochdeutsch as ‘Zips’), currently the Spiš region in north-eastern Slovakia and a little bit in southern Poland, namely 14 villages encompassed in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship.

The first waves of German colonists in north-eastern Slovakia arrived during the mid 12th century at the invitation of then King of Hungary Géza II while the last wave of settlers came during the 15th century. This explains why some of the Zipser German dialects as spoken in Spiš/Zips are related to the Transylvanian Saxon dialect of the Transylvanian Saxons in Transylvania, contemporary Romania given the fact that the first waves of medieval Zipser and Transylvanian Saxon settlers had common Western European origins (i.e. stemming from present-day Luxembourg, the Low Countries/Benelux in general, and western Germany). Consequently, alongside the Transylvanian Saxons in Transylvania, central Romania and the Baltic Germans in Estonia and Latvia, the Zipser Germans (or Zipser Saxons, as they are also referred to) are one of the three oldest ethnic German groups in Central-Eastern Europe, having continuously lived in these parts of the European continent since the High Middle Ages onwards. Aside from standard German (i.e. Hochdeutsch), they speak the Zipser German dialect (or ‘Zipserdeutsch’ or ‘Zipserisch’ as it is known in German).

The Spiš Castle (known as Zipser Burg), one of the most beautiful and well preserved medieval strongholds in Central Europe, built by the Zipser Germans during the High Middle Ages near the picturesque Slovak town of Spišská Nová Ves (Zipser Neuendorf). Image source: www.pixabay.com

During the Modern Age, Zipser Germans from contemporary Slovakia also emigrated southward towards Bukovina (more specifically present-day southwestern Suceava County) as well as Maramureș (in northern Transylvania). Bukovina is referred to as either ‘Bukowina’ or ‘Buchenland’ in standard German (i.e. Hochdeutsch) whereas Maramureș is known as ‘Maramorosch’.

Saint Martin Roman Catholic Cathedral in Spišské Podhradie (also known as ‘Kirchdrauf’ in standard German/Hochdeutsch). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Zipser Germans were invited to settle in the Szepes komitat/county during the High Middle Ages in order to develop the respective region, in terms of urbanisation, agriculture, and overall economy. They also built imposing castles, enduring medieval landmarks which passed the test of time to this day and can be visited in Slovakia as tourist attractions. One such renowned castle, perhaps the most iconic of its kind, is Spišský hrad or Zipser Burg which is situated in the beautiful town of Spišská Nová Ves.

Spišský hrad or Zipser Burg. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

After they colonised previous Slavic/Slovak urban and rural settlements beginning in the mid 12th century, along the passing of time they managed to fortify their settlements just like another German-speaking ethnic sub-group in the former Kingdom of Hungary, more specifically the Transylvanian Saxons in Transylvania (being related to the aforementioned).

Several examples of Slovak towns developed by Zipser Germans during the Middle Ages include Levoča (German: Leutschau) or Kežmarok (German: Käsmark). As the Middle Age came to an end, many Zipser Germans started to move southward to Bukovina (Romanian: Bucovina) and Maramureș in northern Transylvania, given the Habsburg Empire’s policy to further develop its eastern lands, thereby encouraging more German immigration through the process of Josephine colonisation initiated by Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. So it is that in present-day Suceava County in northeastern Romania and in Maramureș County in Transylvania, northern Romania there are still sparse rural and urban communities of Zipser Germans, quite well represented politically, administratively, culturally, and religiously to these days.

Levoča (German: Leutschau), an important administrative centre and town of the Zipser German community in Slovakia. Image source: www.pixabay.com

In Habsburg-ruled Bukovina, Zipser Germans were mostly miners and settled in the southwestern part of contemporary Suceava County, helping to develop rural communities across the Bistrița river (German: Bistritz). Several communes in Suceava County that included significant numbers of Zipser Germans during the Modern Age/Modern period include Cârlibaba (German: Ludwigsdorf/Mariensee), Fundu Moldovei (German: Louisenthal/Luisenthal), Iacobeni (German: Jakobeny), or Pojorâta (German: Poschoritta). In a certain way, the Zipser Germans can be perceived as part of the larger Bukovina German community.

The town hall of Fundu Moldovei (German: Luisenthal/Louisenthal) commune in southwestern Suceava County, Bukovina, northeastern Romania. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Iacobeni (German: Jakobeny) at the round of the 20th century, sometime between 1914 and 1918, then still under Austrian administration. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In Maramureș, the Zipser Germans form both rural and urban communities to this day and are represented by the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania (as all other German-speaking groups in Romania). Furthermore, the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania (FDGR/DFDR) has one local councillor seat in the small town of Vișeu de Sus (German: Oberwischau). Aside from standard German (i.e. Hochdeutsch), the Zipser Germans speak their own dialect, called Zipserisch (Zipserdeutsch).

This is how Zipser German sounds like as spoken by a native speaker of the dialect:

Below you can also watch a short documentary on the Zipser German community in Maramureș, Transylvania, northern Romania. Enjoy and all the best!

Documentation sources and external links:

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