Austria 1996


The Goldener Hirsch Restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived for dinner at 6:45. In spite of (because of?) our use of German, the waiters realized our language was English, and since their command of our language was better than ours of theirs, the rest of the evening generally continued in English. Except for the menu. We had long since realized that translated menus do not keep up with the daily specials, and perhaps not even with seasonal changes. The next night in their sister restaurant next door, which shares their kitchen, but not their ambiance, level of service, and not incidentally, prices, we saw an American couple with sandwiches and a cheese platter, while we enjoyed cream of celery soup, venison stew, and grilled pork.

Eventually the restaurant filled halfway, although I’m not sure how many of "the brightest luminaries of the international music and business community" were among us. Two couples did attract our interest. One was a middle-aged man whose companion was of such an age that she was no doubt his niece. The other was an elderly man with a woman who was probably in her 90s. It seemed his hearing was not as acute as it might once have been, as his discussions with the waiter were impossible to ignore even across the room. So we all realized that they dined well: aperitifs, two wines, multi-course dinner, desserts, and after-dinner drinks.

Although our meal was less ambitious, it was no less interesting; the waiter confided that Betty Lou’s pan-fried duck had been shot from his neighbor’s pond. The preparation wasn’t at all like it sounds – it was crisp and juicy, nearly fat-free, with a complex sauce. Although the waiter didn’t reveal the provenance of my lamb, it was tender enough to have been his neighbor’s daughter’s pet.

The next morning we saw that one of the cable channels showed a series of scenes from scanning TV cameras set up at various resort areas around Austria. It did not look promising for our trip – the only sunny areas were along the Italian border. At least what we saw out our window was not as bad as some of what we saw on TV; or rather didn’t see – raindrops on the camera’s window and nothing but fog behind.

Although the Elefant’s breakfast seemed suitable for such an animal’s appetite, we were amazed at the apparent capacity of a couple who made frequent trips to the buffet table – we soon realized that they were also assembling a hearty lunch. We found a Teutonic breakfast to be generally sufficient until dinner.

We knew we had to see the house where Mozart was born, the Hohensalzburg Fortress – the largest preserved castle in central Europe – that dominates Salzburg from atop the rocky Mönchsberg ridge, the cathedral with its 4,000-pipe organ, and the Glockenspiel during one of its performances. There was also the shopping area, occupying 17th and 18th century burghers’ houses, whose streets we had unintentionally explored by car the day before. And we got a flyer at the tourist office about an Internet café located on the other side of the Mönchsberg, which could be reached through a pedestrian tunnel.

Having lived in Germany, we were prepared for the rain that greeted the audience for the 11 AM Glockenspiel performance. A group huddled in the square to view the 35 bells in action. The nearby Glockenspiel Restaurant had a spacious second story deck that would be an ideal observation place during pleasant weather. We curiously awaited what we had read would be the answering response to the Glockenspiel chorus by the stentorian notes of a "bull organ" in the Hohensalzburg Fortress, since we had no idea what such an instrument was – we still don’t.

Amadeus’ birthplace, now a museum, was painted a, no doubt authentic, garish orange. (Betty Lou corrects me that the color is "marigold.") For someone snubbed by Salzburg during his lifetime, he has since attained great prominence: his statue is the centerpiece of the Mozartplatz; his residence for seven years, bombed during WWII and since rebuilt, is also featured, as is the Mozarteum, which, in addition to his archives, includes the wooden shack, transported from Vienna, where he supposedly composed "The Magic Flute."

Interestingly, we found the opposite to be true of Austria’s probably most famous citizen, born only fifty miles away along the German border in Braunau. In none of the tourist literature did we find information about Adolf Hitler’s birthplace.

Although no one really knows the location of Mozart’s grave, his sister is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, at the foot of the sheer stone wall of the Mönchsberg. A surprise was the grave of an American General, who was in charge of the liberation of Salzburg and who later married an Austrian woman and lived the rest of his life here.

Never having seen an Internet café, we were curious about what form it would take. The route was unprepossessing, through an increasingly residential neighborhood to an office building. Only the fact that we had a flyer with the address led us to open the door across from the elevator in the lobby. It turned out to be a computer store, with a half dozen computers in the back room hooked up to the Internet. I guess you could have bought a cup of coffee, but it would have come from the communal coffeepot in the corner. But, as several of you know, it worked. I had forgotten about the pitfalls of the German keyboard,

which has the y and z keys reversed, the parentheses located one key to the left of ours, and some other vital keys (e.g, @) that require the pressing of multiple simultaneous keys, undocumented on the keypads themselves. (During my work in Germany I used my own computer but a German printer – fortunately I could find a non-standard daisy-wheel that would print properly.) The cost was about $5 for 15 minutes. On our departure we were able to counsel a bewildered young couple on the location of the "café."

The next day, Thursday, we still had received no information about our wine itinerary scheduled to begin on Sunday. We had called the Austrian Weinmarketing Service when we arrived two days before and had given them the Elefant’s fax number. Although we didn’t want to seem to be pressing them, we were getting a little nervous, so we called again. They said the receiving fax machine did not seem to be working. We inquired at the desk. The manager was adamant; "Of course it’s working – look, one is coming in even as we watch!"

Oh well, since the weather was sunny this morning we walked over the Salzach river, swollen by the summer’s incessant rains, to see the Mirabell gardens. Before we got there it started raining again. Fortunately this was more typical of the European rain we had encountered when we lived there and it soon ended as abruptly as it had begun.

The ornate designs of the formal flower gardens were bordered by rows of trees and punctuated by fountains, pools, and statuary. To one side, in the middle of a geometric maze of trimmed bushes, we came upon a stage faced by several hundred chairs – "Romeo and Juliet" was scheduled for regular evening performances. An alternative location was listed for inclement weather, leading us to speculate about how many open-air performances had been staged this summer.

On the way back we were able to see for the first time what a spectacular backdrop the Mönchsberg provided the Old Town. The sheer cliffs were topped by the Hohensalzburg Fortress at one end and the glass-fronted café Winkler and casino, accessed primarily by an elevator up the rock wall, at the other. I say primarily because the day before, after leaving the cemetery, we had headed towards what sounded like an interesting bierstube tunneled into the ridge up the hill a little ways. The vague directions kept us thinking it was probably only a little bit higher, until we realized at the top that we had long since passed its actual location.

We did enjoy a panoramic view from the vicinity of the Winkler. Retracing our steps, we realized that the Fortress was within sight of the path from the city. So we toured the Fortress and finally rested a little with an espresso in their café, which had an equally impressive view from the back side of the ridge. I guess you could say that our unplanned climb saved the cost of the funicular trip to the Fortress. However, since we did take it down, that doesn’t seem to be a very good rationalization either.

To the east of Salzburg, the Salzkammergut is the product of ancient glacial activity. With its long, deep, narrow lakes, surrounded by the sharply-chiseled facets of granite mountains, it has long been a popular resort area. Bad Ischl, only 35 miles from Salzburg, became particularly fashionable during the long reign of Franz Josef, who established his summer residence there. We discovered that the "Entertainment Paris" book we had purchased to provide us with a half-price ($39) hotel room in Cannes this spring also listed a hotel in Bad Ischl. As it is said to be a summer destination for Austrians – and Germans – we thought it unlikely that there would be any half-price rooms available in the high season. "Of course!" the reservation clerk assured us when we called.

No doubt the rainy weather contributed. In fact, we were able to take advantage of the Entertainment discount two more times in our trip: in Vienna, at a hotel with a prime location on the Schubertring, and in Nuernburg at a hotel overlooking a park and within walking distance of its Old Town. (I almost said we used it three more times, but when I called the luxurious Arabella Hotel in Frankfurt at the end of our trip, they told me that it could not be accepted on weekends. Instead of half of the normal weekday rate of $330 we would have to pay the weekend rate of $120!)

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