Saturday, 8 February 2014
Today, I wander about Salzburg’s inner city by myself. The morning sun on the buildings adds to their appeal as I soak up the atmosphere of this magical place. At this time of year the usual crowds of visitors from all over the world are still absent.
The Getreidegasse, usually choc-a-bloc with tourists, is only loosely populated this morning. Rows of very chic shops in its arcades offer luxury goods; some in keeping with the place, others less so.
Artistic signs, suspended above the shops, add a special touch to this long, narrow lane that runs between the river and the rock. At its centre is the house in which Mozart was born on the 27th January 1756. There are no queues at this time of year. After paying ten euros for a ticket, I climb the stairs to the third floor, where Mozart’s family lived at the time. These rooms are fairly large with low ceilings. Their white-washed walls show painted paragraphs in delicate grey lettering that describe the Mozarts’ lives in these quarters. Objects such as music scores, letters and a few personal belongings are displayed in glass-topped cases, and those well-known portraits of family members look down from the walls.
And then one enters the bedroom where he was born. Wooden floorboards, creaking slightly; bare, white walls, and a simple Kachelofen in the corner. Five black, slender pillars are installed along one side of the room, each containing a few relics in a subtly lit Perspex segment: locks of his hair, a ring, mother-of-pearl buttons and his embroidered silk purse amongst others. In the corner by a window, Mozart’s child-size violin is suspended in a glass case, floating above three words engraved in a brass plate below: Liebe, Leben, Licht – love, life, light. There I stand still, close my eyes and listen to his music, to the voices of piano and violin emanating from a hidden sound system and filling this simple chamber with the dimension of heaven.
Never one to participate in active fandom and so far unmoved by relics, shrines and autographs, I am suddenly gripped by a deep reverence – here, in the heart of this wonderful city where he was born. His music is my home on the road, my spiritual haven; and this city would have been my home too, had I been allowed to choose. I live in hope that I shall find my way, after death, to that realm in the universe where his music originates. But here, at this precise moment, I feel connected to it all.
Later, as I look out across the River Salzach from the promenade, I am approached by an elderly lady – very elegantly dressed – who asks, “Sind Sie Salzburgerin?” (Are you from Salzburg?) Shaking my head, I reply, “Leider nicht – zu meinem unendlichen Bedauern!” (Unfortunately not – to my infinite regret!) And so it is.
Crossing the footbridge, I notice hundreds of colourful padlocks of all sizes, clasped to the wire mesh beneath the banister. Why are they here? No clue is given, but upon closer inspection I notice that each padlock bears two names or initials, often with a heart or a message like ‘In love forever’. It seems that couples commemorate their union in this way, in this place, instead of carving their names into the bark of a hapless tree. It is an appealing idea, attractive to look at and full of significance. What a pity that I have no one to share a padlock with! I briefly consider adding one with the name of the city, and mine; but experience has taught me to use ‘forever’ with caution.
Less pleasing are the beggars seated at intervals along the bridge and in the lanes of the old town. They seem to be from Eastern Europe, possibly Romania, and even to my inexperienced eye it is clear that these are not poor individuals who have fallen on hard times, but members of an organized gang. As so often, the women look a lot unhappier than their male counterparts as they brave the cold, kneeling on the tarmac in various poses of supplication, uttering plaintive words in German, “Bitte schön, schönen Tag, danke schön …” and holding out paper cups in the hope of moving the passers-by to a donation.
However, in six hours of wandering the streets, I do not witness a single instance where their pleading is successful. People avoid looking at them and give them a wide berth. I smile at one of these women and reply, “Einen schönen Tag auch!” without being tempted to fork out money which I know she will have to hand over to the boss. She returns the smile, glad to have been acknowledged, and when I pass her again later, she recognizes and greets me. Dark eyes in a dark face, friendly, and resigned to their fate …
Beggars are a new element in the mix of this city, and I am astonished by their numerous presence. Should such a foreign enterprise, so alien to this country and its culture, really gain a foothold here?
Having crossed the river, I ascend a steep path that leads along the Stations of the Cross to the Kapuzinerberg. A little way past the old monastery, there is a small statue of Mozart. It marks the place where a wooden shack once stood, in which he is said to have composed large parts of ‘The Magic Flute’. On the pedestal are the lines: ‘Jung gross, spät erkannt, nie erreicht’ (early greatness, recognized late, never matched).
The woodlands up here are a nature reserve, and the view across the city is splendid. I sit on a bench and soak up the sun, squinting at the scenery from this new angle. And I love, love, love being here …
… revelling in the uplifting effect this place always has on my soul. What is it about this city that pleases me so intensely it comes close to a physical sensation? The beauty of its buildings and the care with which they have been preserved certainly play a part. The eye, with its keen appetite for aesthetic pleasure, is served a banquet of tasteful vistas composed of elements that cannot help but appeal. Akin to Mozart’s music, this architecture speaks a universal language of beauty and heavenly harmony, speaks of a realm to which the soul, mired as it is in the depths of daily concerns, can rise in moments of awe and wonder. Here, in the heart of the city, there reigns a grandeur so far removed from the mundane and purpose-driven style of the suburbs, a historical splendour so steeped in the traditions of an age when beauty in tone, stone and manners was considered to be of supreme importance – it is impossible not to be enchanted.