Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Mozart!

The hills around Salzburg are alive with the sound of music. It was, after all, the setting for the movie “The Sound of Music” and the real-life story of Maria von Trapp that it was based on. But Salzburg is first and foremost alive with the sound of the music of Mozart for the city is justly proud of its most famous son.
I traveled from Vienna by train which turned out to be a very comfortable ride on Austria’s efficient rail system. The time went by quickly as we passed villages that looked like scenes from fairy tales. Too soon the train pulled into Salzburg station. My compartment companion was on his way to spend a weekend in Salzburg with his girlfriend and said they would drive me to my accommodation.
After settling in my lodging next to St. Sebastian Church, I went out for a walk around Salzburg. Winding streets where no vehicles are allowed are lined with shops to entice the tourist: savvy fashions, hand made pottery, cafes and of course, restaurants.

There are many concerts where one can hear “a little night music” performed in Salzburg. Churches in Salzburg often pay tribute to Mozart by using his music in the Mass, which is, of course, for what many pieces were originally composed. The best part of these “performances” is that they are free!
Some of these performances include dinner such as does the one at St. Peter’s Stiftskeller, which claims to be Central Europe’s oldest restaurant. This restaurant, built in AD803, was documented during a visit by Charlemagne. I searched the winding streets to find the church and restaurant and, when I finally did find it, decided to have dinner there. The turkey schnitzel served with parslied potatoes and cranberry sauce accompanied by a glass of white wine was truly heavenly.

At its Mozart’s concert, later in the evening, the restaurant serves a menu that is made up of 18th century dishes; food that may have been served during Mozart’s time. Mozart’s Mass in C-minor was first performed at St. Peter’s Church in 1789 and the Mozart family did actually eat at the restaurant at least on one occasion (but more than likely more often). Nannerl, Mozart’s older sister, wrote in her diary, “Papa and Henry had lunch at St. Peter’s and made music.” Nannerl, whose real name was Anna Maria, was a talented musician in her own right and both she and her more famous brother, Wolfgang, were taken by their father to play at the courts of Europe. You can still see her grave behind St. Peter’s in the cemetery.

Mozart’s birthplace, a house on Getreidegasse 9, is now a museum where the violin he used as a child is on display along with other items. A later Mozart residence, Tanzmeisterhaus or The Dancing Master’s House is near Trinity Church on the Markartplatz. It is also open to the public with an entrance fee.
The next day I took a short city bus ride (# 6 bus to Plainbruke) followed by a pleasant twenty minute country walk to Maria Plain Basilica. On the way I passed typical Austrian farm houses, complete with the smell of manure, and looked back on fantastic views of the city of Salzburg. There were spring flowers blooming along the road and the air was crisp and cool. Maria Plain is a twin-towered, cream and turquoise basilica on the top of a hill overlooking Salzburg. At the altar is an icon of the Virgin Mary which in the 16th century miraculously escaped being destroyed in a fire. Mozart chose the peaceful sanctuary of this basilica to compose his Coronation Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary. From the hill where Maria Plain is situated there is an unbeatable view of Salzburg lying in the valley below.
At the traditional nearby Gasthaus I had a light lunch of cold cuts, salad and scrumptious fresh bread before walking back (this time downhill) to Salzburg and the bus.
On the bus I noticed the stop, Mirabelplatz, and decided to get off to explore. In the gardens of the Mirabel Palace, amongst fountains and formally laid gardens, there is a moss-covered pavilion where Mozart composed one of his most popular pieces “The Magic Flute”. One of the fountains made an appearance in the movie, “The Sound of Music”, too, for that is where the family danced and sang “Do, Re, Mi.”
A tour offered by one company is a “Sound of Music” tour which takes you to places featured in the film including the convent where Maria was a novitiate nun before her marriage, the church where Maria and Baron von Trapp were married and the villa used as their home in the film. I didn’t take this tour but I did hear that it is very worthwhile.

Back in central Salzburg I relaxed with a melange (the Austrian version of cafe latte) and apfel strudel at the Stern Hotel Terrace and drank in the view as well. The Hohensalzburg Fortress, built in 1077, overlooking the Salzach River and the town below with its many church steeples is a memorable picture.

The narrow streets of Salzburg are filled with unconscious charm, no doubt one reason the old, baroque part of the city has been chosen as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sight. There are outdoor restaurants, graceful arches with painted murals and the inevitable gift shops overflowing with Mozart chocolates, liqueurs and other souvenirs.

Even if you are not a fan of Mozart there is still lots to keep you occupied in Salzburg. Slosh down an Austrian beer with weiner schnitzel at one of the outdoor cafes. Get lost in the small winding streets shopping for china or drindls (traditional Austrian dresses). Spend a peaceful moment in one of the lovely old churches. Or climb up to the Fortress for another view of the town. One thing is for certain, you will never be bored in Salzburg.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Good Friday, 2008.
We are often led to believe that churches nowadays are empty. Oh, one may guess that the more lively, aggressive churches attract members but the Catholic churches plagued by scandals and an outdated papacy must have empty pews. Right?
Well the Catholic church I went to on Good Friday was packed to the rafters – no sitting room and people standing at the back. As there is nothing unusual about this parish, I have no reason to believe that any of the other parishes in the area were lacking worshippers either.
Why would people spend two hours in church on a spring day-off from work? Were there just old people there or those who had nothing better to do with their time? No. There were old people and young people, families with small babies, those with young children and those with teenagers. There were old and young and those in between. There were just as many men as women. There were those who were dressed in jeans and hoodies, and those that were dressed in “dressier” outfits. There were teachers, business men and women, truck drivers, students, stay-at-home moms, electricians and university professors. There were those who were born in Italy, Ireland, Germany, the Philippines and Korea and those who were born in Canada.
One might say that these are the Christmas/Easter crowd –those that go to Mass only at these times. But this was Good Friday not Easter Sunday. The ‘twice a year crowd’ would normally go on Easter Sunday.
In a former age (years ago when I was kid, for example) one could say people went to church because it was good for business, they had to keep up appearances or they wanted to look good. But today it is not particularly fashionable to go to church, it is not necessary and one doesn’t gain much socially from going. Furthermore, why go on Easter if you don’t go the rest of the year?
But there they were – people going up to venerate the cross, people kneeling and praying – traditions and prayers that have been used since the first centuries of Christianity. Not all of these people are stupid or deluded or out-of-date. Maybe, just maybe there is something to Christianity after all.
Whatever. I have come to the conclusion, though, that the people who spread the rumour that churches are empty are people that never really go themselves. Perhaps it is one of those “urban legends” one hears about!