Where the music was BORN

Juneau writer travels to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's hometown of Salzburg, Austria

Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2005

Courtesy of Don Harris

  Impregnable fortress: Hohensalzburg Fortress sits atop a cliff near Salzburg, Austria. The formidable structure has never been attacked.

My husband, Don, and I have discovered on our trips to Europe that the trains are crowded on Saturdays. Before we flew to Germany last year, we purchased Eurail Select Passes that provide first-class passage for two persons traveling together.

When we traveled from Munich to Salzburg on a Saturday, we had our own compartment instead of being jammed and standing in second class.

The area between Munich and Salzburg is rural and photo-perfect with green rolling hills and fields, white farmhouses and out buildings, the occasional church with high narrow towers and rugged, snow covered mountains in the background.

The Salzburg train station's tourist information books rooms and within minutes we were in a taxi on our way to our small room at Gasthaus Weisses Kreuz that is tucked into the bottom of the rock cliff atop of which is the old castle fortress. The guesthouse is quite convenient. The steep path up to the fortress runs right in front of the guesthouse that is only a block from the large square and the cathedral. Bells rang often.

After lunch we made the steep climb up and around switchbacks to the old castle, the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The views from the different levels are incredible. We looked down at the city of Salzburg and the river that runs through it. We admired the many church domes and bell towers, old buildings, tile roofs and the activity in the church plaza that included chess players and a brass band.

Courtesy of Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg

  Famous citizen: Salzburg was the birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

Across the river on the hills opposite are the ruins of another fortification. The snow-covered Alps majestically stand in the distance. My stomach dropped when I looked straight down from the fortress wall. It is easy to understand why the cliff-top fortress has never been attacked.

Sunday was Mozart Day for us. Our first stop was Mozart's birthplace where he was born in 1756. For about 24 years, Mozart's family lived on the third floor above their landlord's living quarters and the ground-floor shop. The home is now a museum that displays musical scores, books, paintings, prints, musical instruments and copies of many letters.

Both Mozart's father and his sister were accomplished musicians. Mozart's father wrote and published a treatise about playing the violin. Unfortunately, none of Mozart's sister's musical compositions remain or have been found.

From his birthplace, we walked across the river to the house where the Mozarts later lived. This house is more upscale than the birthplace. Each time we entered an exhibit number into our English audio guides, the audio began with an excerpt from one of Mozart's compositions. Again we saw musical instruments, musical scores, paintings, etchings, letters and translations of some of the letters. We watched a short video about Mozart's and his father's tours to other countries in Europe. What a thrill seeing Mozart's original compositions and the instruments he played!

After lunch we went to the Dom, the Salzburg Cathedral that is massive and decorated in the baroque style with sculptured cherubs and exuberant paintings on the walls and covering the dome. Mozart was baptized in the cathedral and, when he was older, he was the cathedral's organist for two years. The Dom has five organs.

Many candles burned in the cathedral, including candles in the main aisle around a plaque on the floor that commemorated Pope John Paul II's visit in 1998. People, a few at a time, lit a candle, walked to the plaque and read it. Everyone in the Dom was quiet and solemn. Pope John Paul II had died recently. The church bells of Salzburg rang often.

From the cathedral, we wandered the crowded cobbled streets of the exclusive shopping area but soon escaped and visited another museum, the Residenz, the former home of the noble bishop-rulers. We toured the state rooms. Our favorite room was the armory. Each of the brass supports for the armory's banister was tuned to a different note. The banister was a musical instrument!

We also visited the picture gallery and admired the Peter Paul Rubens painting and the Rembrandt portrait of an old woman believed to be the Dutch artist's mother. The Rembrandt was in a special case to prevent theft.

Courtesy of Alma Harris

  Weapons enthusiast: Don Harris, the author's husband, inspects a cannon at Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg, Austria.

However our favorite "rooms" were the best WCs we have ever visited. The Herran had a drawing of a lit candle as a target in the urinal. The Dammen had a self-cleaning toilet that also cleaned the toilet seat as it rotated around. In addition, the Dammen was elegant with its smoked mirrored walls and counters.

The next morning, we traveled from Salzburg to Wurzburg, Germany. We choose Wurzburg because Rick Steves recommended the reasonably priced Alstadt Hotel and highly praised the hotel's restaurant, Giaani's Bistro, for handmade pastas. When we arrived at the doorstep to the hotel, Giaani and his wife immediately knew we were Rick Steves readers.

In the market square we saw a travel poster advertising Alaska and the Yukon. We went into the brightly painted and gilded Marienkapelle Gothic church that features nude Adam and Eve sculptures above the main door.

We crossed the River Main. Along one side of the river was a lock for the river barges. Every river we saw in Germany had barge traffic. Along the other side of the river, a 1700s crane is no longer used to load or unload barges. The folks on both sides of the river enjoyed the famous German beer gardens.

In the Town Hall gate is a small room with a model of bombed out Wurzburg in 1945. Very few buildings were intact after 300,000 incendiary bombs fell on the town on March 16, 1945. Many of the buildings have been rebuilt to look like they did before the war. We have discovered similar restorations in other European countries; the towns were rebuilt to look like they did before World War I and World War II.

We spent some time in the 950-years-old Dom St. Killan, a large cathedral founded by the Irish missionary, St. Killan. When we entered the Dom, a musician was playing the pipe organ. It was quite atmospheric. This Catholic church has a gigantic menorah that serves as a symbol of the creation and the Old Testament people.

Visiting Catholic churches just before and after Pope John Paul II's death was a different experience because people were in the churches praying and lighting candles. In St. Killan, the people were also signing a book and writing for several minutes.

Of course, we ate dinner at Gianni's Bistro elegantly set with white linens and china. Gianni asked, "What can I do for you?"

The question was totally unexpected and we finally mumbled something about a menu. He said, "I am the menu. I suggest ... "

Our eating adventure was under way. We have learned at other restaurants in the past when the chef says, "I suggest," wonderful food follows.

Our wonderful meal began with a starter of lox wrapped in a thin noodle with two sauces. I had a salad with grilled shrimp. Don's greens had prosciutto. Two different types of tortellini were served separately. The wine was fine and the dessert was delicious. Our dinner adventure cost us just 50 Euros.

Wurzburg proved to be a wonderful stopover on our way to Germany's western border to visit the ancient Roman city of Trier.

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