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Germans in the Western Carpathians

In the Middle Ages, the kingdom of Hungary was located between the Holy Roman Empire in the West and the Byzantine Empire in the southeast. In the 11th century, under its first King, Vaik, the country began to look more towards the West. Vaik converted to Christianity, taking the name Stephan, and married a Bavarian princess, Gisela. It was he who brought the first Germans to the western reaches of the main Carpathian mountains. Noblemen were granted land and territories by the king on condition that they attracted settlers to live on it. The new landowners employed specialist location agents to recruit settlers and arrange for their passage. The first real wave of immigration took place around 1170. The second and largest influx of German miners, craftsmen and merchants began in 1245. Colonists from the German-speaking areas of the Rhineland, Bavaria, Swabia, Saxony and Bohemia resettled the areas devastated by the Mongol invasion of 1241.

Many of the colonists came from eastern and south-eastern Europe, but the Germans formed the largest group. Along with technical skills, they brought with them experience of civic organisation and structures. In many cases, the indigenous Slavic and Magyar peoples adopted the imported Germanic market and town laws, which were advantageous for citizens. The Town Law of Magdeburg, in particular, was widely used and became something of a standard. During the Middle Ages, the whole region experienced an economic boom from the mining of rich deposits of gold, silver, copper and iron ore. Germans in the region were described as 'Hungarian Germans', or as 'Germans from the Kremnitz settlement', until the beginning of the 20th century, when an umbrella term, 'Carpathian Germans', became widespread. This promoted a sense of community in a time of growing nationalism. In 1918, the Republic of Czechoslovakia was founded as one of the successor states of Austro-Hungary. Almost 140,000 inhabitants of the Slovakian part of the country identified themselves as ethnic Germans in 1921. By the late 1940s, this number had fallen to only 20,000, and today, there are perhaps 10,000 ethnic Germans living in what is now the Republic of Slovakia.