Once upon a time, there was a little town, deeply hidden away in the forests of a faraway country, where everybody lived wealthy in fancy castles and had a nice Bentley in front of it. Sounds a bit like a fairytale, doesn’t it? If you leave the Bentley out, it could have been written by the Grim brothers. But this mysterious town, Buzescu, is very real.

In Southern Romania, there is a town called Buzescu. With only 5.000 inhabitants and no mayor tourist attractions nearby, one would not expect a lot more than a quiet, dusty town. But the town’s main road is more like Disneyland: grotesque castles in fairytale like architecture, complete with turrets and towers. The one house even more colorful and bigger than the other, it appears as if some neighbors started boasting and it all got way out of hand.

The story goes that it used to be a classic Gipsy town, complete with most of the people living in caravans. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 this changed dramatically.  somehow they have accumulated their wealth real quickly and these Disneyland-like castles started popping out of the ground like mushrooms. Different stories circulate about the origin of this sudden opulence. The residents themselves claim they have done so by the traditionally making and selling of  pots and pans. That of course is an explanation, but not a very plausible one. Building materials and labor might not be very expensive in Romania, it is questionable that the traditional craft of pottery would pay for a 5 story building and the latest Mercedes.

Others say some of the Gypsies were already wealthy during soviet times, but had been keeping a low profile to avoid government attention. Still others explain it has been the smart Gypsy merchants that took advantage of the chaos after the fall of the soviet union and stripped derelict factories of valuable metals, making good profits on the commodity market. Most likely it is a combination of these factors that explain Buzescu’s riches.

However, there are also stories that offer a different ‘explanation’. Sadly, these are mostly  accusations of  thievery, human trafficking and fraud. On the always reliable and nuanced internet, ‘proud and hardworking’ Romanians proclaim that Gypsies are the ‘filth of society’ and are basically responsible for everything bad in Romania. Others from all over Europe state that ‘their culture is simply different’ and all they can do is ‘steal and rob’. It bizarre to go through all the comments on these pictures online, everybody claims to be an expert on the issue and seems to try to be even more extreme than the preceding post.

So perhaps that’s the most striking about this town, not the extravagant wealth and disproportionate architecture, but the extreme reactions it provokes. Of course, one has to take internet forums with a big grain of salt, but the hate and prejudices that are displayed are truly worrisome. Gypsies have been a people that has been misunderstood, marginalized and discriminated throughout European history and up until the day of today, these feelings are still very much alive in -Eastern- Europe. And let’s be honest, what did you first think when you red this story?

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