When some people think of European cities, they envision cobblestone streets lined with bronze sculptures, fluffy pastries and red wine in the cafe at every corner and classical string quartets perched on sidewalks happily belting out concerto after sonata. The cool night air kisses the dreamer’s face as the last strains echo down that romantically-lit alley and stay with her all the way to a cozy room in a quaint hotel.
That’s exactly how Salzburg is. If we could do this trip all over again, I’d spend one more day in this city and one less in Munich. Austria is expensive and no one got the plate number of the dollar-euro-exchange-rate truck that hit us, but Salzburg is that good. Even if you skip the rest of this post, take a look at the slideshow:
Rock Me, Amadeus
We spent a night and a day there, strolling, eating and drinking our way through Old Town, the entirety of which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s not hard to see why. Practically every building within it has historic significance and well-preserved baroque beauty, besides having birthed THE BEST COMPOSER EVAR, Wolfgang Amadeus Rockstar Mozart. (Insert mental image of me in one-person rave outside Mozart’s birthhouse here.) You guys, it was all I could do not to touch little Mozart’s first harpsichord in his museum.
Salzburg is gorgeous, quiet and mysterious by night. Standing before a gigantic bronze statue of the chicken-man Papageno, a character from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, on a pedestal in the city center, one regains some faith in this modern world and its ability to cherish and keep.
From Chickens To Eggs. With Salt.
There are shops everywhere in Salzburg that sell nothing but little, kitschy-decorated eggs or items shaped from salt. Why? Austria == Ã–sterreich == Eastern realm == Easter == eggs. Salzburg == Salt Town == Mesozoic salt deposits == salt mines == cash money on which this city was built == chunks of salt for sale. Austria has a long, complex geologic and human history and Salzburg is the center of a lot of that action. The Alps begin right to the south of the city, shaping the River Salzach, uplifting salt formations which were later mined and creating the rolling karst topography and hills on which the Celts, Romans, Roman Catholics and Bavarian Catholics successively built up churches and strongholds in their quest for dominance over bodies and souls.
“Amongst Our Weaponry”
Thomas Dolby put it best in Budapest By Blimp, “See the priceless antiquity frozen in time, built on the ashes of the Jews. And for your curiosity, beauty sublime, signed in the blood of Zulus.” Warrior Catholics, much like Warrior Romans, Ottomans, Colonists and Imperialists, baffle me. Everywhere they go, they break up the existing socio-religious fabric in atrocious acts of intolerance and then turn around and build the most awe-inspiring physical and philosophical monuments to architecture, spirituality, education, classical culture and the human ability to create. The craziest thing, by all means, is that the exact same hand signs the infidel’s death warrant and pens poetry, writes checks to artists and musicians and works out complex mathematical equations. So it is in Salzburg. While torturing, demeaning and booting out Protestant landowners left, right and center, the Salzburg branch of the papacy commissioned and maintained art, music, schools, churches and a huge jaw-dropper of a fortress called the Festung Hohensalzburg. From the fortress’s website:
Initially built in 1077, and later enlarged between 1495 and 1519, it became one of the largest fortresses in Europe. Since then the castle“s exterior has remained substantially the same. The extension of the castle was commanded by Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach, as a response to the Hungarian Wars. During that time, above the main entrance a lion holding a beetroot in its paws was added to the castle, and today this lion remains the Castle’s symbol.
Some pictures. Clockwise from top left: The fortress as seen by townsfolk from the city below; cannon with which to fire upon said pitchfork-wielding townsfolk; they could and did fit a whole town into the fortress (the place has its own zipcode); aforementioned lion and beetroot (although I contend it’s a turnip)
At the time I wished we’d huff and puff our way up to the fortress from town, but I’m glad we took the funicular railway in because it is the oldest one in the world, documented by one Cardinal MatthÃ¤us Lang in 1515. Those of you following along at home (or are devoutly Lutheran or just happen to be fonts of history) know that Martin Luther set off the whole Protestant thing a couple of years later. By 1525 Cardinal Fang Lang, now Prince Archbishop Cardinal of Salzburg, was so unpopular that the townsfolk led an uprising against him and laid siege to the fortress but were ultimately killed by hired guns. This revolt was part of the larger, quelled Peasants’ War which was “Europe’s largest and most widespread popular uprising prior to the French Revolution of 1789.”
I’d rather have been killed in this revolt than captured for these instruments, nicely showcased in the fortress-museum’s Torture section:
Again, such terror and such glory. The fortress’s layout was well thought out and each window comes with a spectacular view. For instance, this is a panorama of Salzburg from the north side of the fortress (stitched from iPhone pictures but you get the idea):
D at the fortress’s restaurant; if it weren’t for those pesky clouds in the way, you would see the Alpine massif Untersburg in the background. The restaurant gave us a plate of nockerl (meringue, basically, but lots yummier) so big we couldn’t focus on the walk back down. Good thing for cameras.
We took the train to Munich that night. The next morning, we visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial. There I realized that destroying with one hand and creating with the other is not a strange dichotomy or illogical. It has everything to do with the lengths corruptible people are willing to travel for absolute power. I don’t know where to start writing about Dachau, if it can even be done, but I will try.
Also Read: Ken’s Life | Changed Plans & Crazy People