Too many notes! – Salzburg, Austria

Property 784 – Historic centre of the City of Salzburg, Austria

If it is possible for a city to make a living entirely off the exploits of one person, I suspect that city would be Salzburg.

On the surface Salzburg is a perfectly pleasant Austrian town at the foot of the Alps, just over the border from Bavaria. It has lovely town squares and baroque architecture. There are even some people wearing dirndl, or rather less frequently, lederhosen. But if you stay in Salzburg more than about thirty seconds it becomes clear what the only game in town is.

Mozart.

Or more specifically, cashing in on Mozart. He’s been dead more than two hundred years but his name is plastered across everything that will stay still long enough. Cafes and bars have his image on their front doors. Tourists can visit not one, not two, but three separate “Mozart Residences” which have been restored and converted into museums, and now contain various relics from his youth. Most delicious is the universally available Mozart-branded liqueur-filled chocolates, which can be purchased in boxes of dizzying abundance.

I can hardly blame Salzburg for capitalising on its most famous resident. Even though he departed for Vienna as a young man (and died there as a slightly less young man), he did spend his formative years in the town and there developed his early reputation as a musician of uncommon ability. For better or worse it is events such as Mozart festivals which bring the tourist Euro, particularly for a location which is something of a backwater, in a country of distinctly faded glories.

The Salt Fortress

Originally a Roman settlement on the edge of the barbarian world, it morphed into the middle ages into a trading post whose residents made their money from salt mining and export. This is reflected in the name, as Salzburg literally means “salt fortress”. In the reformation and counter-reformation the Salzburgers took a decidedly conservative stand, and expelled all the local Protestants in the general direction of Prussia. A tug of war in the 19th century between Bavaria and Austria resulted, with the intervention of Napoleon and sheer exhaustion of the citizens, in Salzburg becoming part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and later, independent Austria. The forcible amalgamation of Austria with Germany in 1938 transformed the city from a border town into one located in the heart of the Reich. This fact did not go unnoticed by Hitler, who set up a fortress at nearby Berchtesgaden. In the chaos following the war Salzburg had the good fortune to be liberated by the Americans rather than the Soviets.

The old town follows the traditional model of a town built on the banks of a river, flowing through a verdant valley. The UNESCO designation nominates a number of specific buildings in the property description, but wandering through the town I felt no desire to investigate them too thoroughly. While old, Salzburg doesn’t seem to trigger my curiosity in ways that other places do. I was content to just walk, perhaps turning a corner and admiring a particularly pleasant view, or noting that the shade of cream that seemingly every building is painted contrasts nicely with the green of the hills and the blue of the sky.

I feel like Salzburg shouldn’t need to lean so heavily on the Mozart connection. It’s a perfectly lovely place with some real antiquity to it. And unlike many of the other lovely small towns in Central Europe, it managed to avoid being annihilated by Soviet tanks or Anglo-American air raids. While I didn’t really want to linger or to investigate in great detail, the town provokes a pleasing fugue that is nice enough.

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