Monday, April 13, 2009

Enduring Salzburg

Last February, in the post the Myth of Salzburg, we recommended that No Crowds followers avoid Salzburg during late July and August when crowds and prices skyrocket during the famous Salzburg Festival. But what to do if you love hearing world class music in an alpine Garden of Eden but can’t stand crowds? Thanks to a quick visit to Salzburg this April, we now have the answer. Skip the summer blow-out and head instead for the smaller but no less exclusive Salzburg Easter Festival founded in 1967 by Herbert von Karajan.

We stumbled upon this event completely by accident. We were heading for Salzburg for other reasons than music, namely atmosphere and gemuetlichkeit (that untranslatable word that means something like ‘comfortable and charming’) but our first clue that something was a foot came when let us know that our chosen hotel had overbooked and was sending us somewhere else. We were livid and threw a fit. quickly got us two nice rooms at an old favourite, the Wolf Dietrich Hotel and absorbed the difference in price. I couldn’t say who was responsible for us being ‘walked’ but I was very satisfied with’s response to our problem.

Once ensconced at the Wolf Dietrich, we picked up on the fact that Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic were in town with an impressive line-up of opera and concerts. With only 24 hours to spend and an 11 year old in tow, we passed on the performance of Wagner’s Siegfried and headed instead for the large Saturday market filled with special food and decorations for Easter.

It is moments like this, when the artists and concert goers mix with locals and tourists that Salzburg is at its "gemuetlich" best. The city was buzzing but not overflowing. The locals were dressed to the nines in regional finery and everyone was heading home with arms full of pussy willows and decorations to make an Easter tree. The cafes and restaurants spilled out on to the sidewalks and piazzas and everyone has out drinking, talking, posing and debating the affairs of the day.

After visiting the market, we headed for the Herzl restaurant in the atmospheric Goldener Hirsch Hotel. This informal restaurant, once the favourite of von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein, is a real insiders meeting place, and on the day we were there was a jolly mixture of elegant older Austrian ladies, impresarios, artists and families. A post-lunch walk up to the fortress and along the top of the Moenchberg mountain produced inspiring views of Salzburg and the surrounding countryside and the big discovery of this visit – the Wassermuseum (the Water Museum).

Now who would guess that a museum about water could be a cracker but hidden away underground in an old storage canal on top of the Moenchberg, the Water Museum is exactly that. Open every first Saturday of the month from 12:00 to 16:00*, we walked by at the right time, saw another adventurous couple head inside what looked to be a bunker and so we headed in too. There we met the delightful Raimund Widauer, one of the founding fathers of the museum, who spent a lifetime working for the waterworks of Salzburg. If you speak German, Herrn Widauer can regale you with exciting stories about who and how water was controlled in feudal Salzburg and how water would influence the history and development of the City. If you don’t speak German, we suspect much of the charm of the place will be lost but if you do, we promise this, after an hour with Herrn Widauer, you will turn on your tap with new found interest and respect. At the end of the tour, you get to drink a delicious glass of Salzburg water kept at the perfect temperature and head out into the bright sunshine having experienced a hidden city gem that is completely unique and unfailingly authentic.

As we hiked down the mountain into the city through the back gardens and hidden alleyways of this most perfect alpine city, we reflected how little Salzburg has changed over the last 30 years. We put it this way last year and it holds just as true today:

Like Salzburg’s original tourists, we too go to escape the grind of modern life and commune with a better and more romantic past, a past where women wear beautiful costumes, where everything is served with cream, where a four year old can write a concerto and a singing governess can become a legend. The more the world changes, the more we depend on the eternal, unchanging myth of Salzburg.

* To visit the Water Museum on the Moenchsberg outside the opening time of the first Saturday of the month between 12:00 until 16:00, you may contact the museum to make an appointment. Telephone: 43/662/451515-3203

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