Friday, January 30, 2009

Ousted from Österreich

Österreich = Austria

New Years Day dawned, enrobed in a blanket of fresh snow. At least, I’ll assume that’s how it dawned. There was still a fluffy layer of snow over things when I woke up around 10.

Really a fresh snowfall is the perfect way to start a new year. To quote Hobbes (the tiger not the philosopher), “It’s like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!” and we quickly fell to drawing on 2009 by exploring Salzburg on foot.

Our first destination was Mirabelle palace, where we watched the concert the night before. This time it was light out and we could appreciate the frosted gardens where they shot a bunch of material for “Do-Re-Mi.” Of course posing had to ensue. Behind our arms is a rearing Pegasus statue, a tough sculptural feat.

Statues were placed throughout the garden including unicorns, dwarfs, and this sugared lion:

It all vaguely reminded me of “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” when Edmond walks through the witch’s palace and sees mythical creatures from across Narnia frozen in stone and snow. You have to give the corrupt prince-archbishop some credit for his Romantic tastes.

Our walk then took us into the Altstadt of Salzburg, past quaint cafes, the house where Mozart was born (behind the photographer) and where he grew up (through the arch, on the right). We found street vendors selling cheese, meat, and more lucky pigs while searching for every steeple in town. As indicated by the ruling archbishop and the singing nuns, the town has been staunchly Catholic for quite a while and each church is stuffed with priceless art and history.

The interior of the University Church (Kollegienkirche). Presumably it gets heavy traffic near exams. The place was built in 1707 and was decked out with “Baroque excess” in 1721. Including statues in the side chapels for the various schools of the University: St. Thomas of Aquin represents the School of Theology, St. Luke stands up for the School of Medicine, St. Ivo (who I’ve never heard of) is in for the School of Law and St. Catherine represents the School of Philosophy.

I think Carolyn is describing the difference between Baroque design and Rococo. The University Church kind of bridges the gap. Key signs of Rococo include scallop-shell motifs and tons of stucco. In case there was any question about how or why Carolyn and I work, just listen to her drop a few obscure but fascinating facts in a Rococo sanctuary and it will all make sense.

On the Universitätplatz where farmers markets and souvenir shops mingle. If you stuffed the two of us into some lederhosen, I think we would make pretty authentic locals. Until we opened our mouths. Then there might be problems. I envision wandering the town, charging 50 cents for a picture with a "real" Austrian in full costume. I might even yodel for an extra 20.

Lunch. This is Stiftskeller St. Peter and they've been in business over 1,000 years and gets called out in Charlemagne's biography. Those are credentials. In reality, no one actually knows how old the place is, because it was well established when Charlie came through town and he died in the early 800s. Chew on that. Then you can chew on this: they serve traditional Austrian fair including duck and more boiled beef. The interior is a maze of booths, wooden tables and private rooms. A large, wealthy Salzburger family was celebrating the new year with a reunion in one of the private rooms near the bathroom. As each of us trooped up to the WC, we would peek in at the commanding patriarch surrounded by his sons, sons-in-law, the matriarch and all the grand kids.

Fortified and with slightly warmer, drier feet, we went back into the streets and churches:

St. Peter's Church. Built in 1147 in Romanesque style with semi-circular arches and very Medieval mosaics, the Benedictine monks that run the place decided it needed to be modernized in the mid 1700s. The stern frescoes were white-washed and the putti were applied liberally, creating a Rococo wedding cake of murals and alters, creating the perfect setting for Mozart performances.

As the oldest church in Salzburg, St. Peter's also has the oldest cemetery. Of course, that's really not saying a lot. In Germany, you rent your burial plot for a limited amount of time. Once your time is up, your family can opt to maintain your rent or you get exhumed and a new guy gets your grave. Often the graves are kept in the family, or a familial alcove is rented where your headstone and name is displayed with several generations of your descendants. This means there aren't a lot of particularly ancient dates in this cemetery, or any cemetery in the German-speaking world. Sometimes the headstones that no longer have a head under them are tacked to the wall of the church. Sound of Music buffs will remember this as the setting for Lisle and Rolf's last encounter as the family tries to hide from the Nazis.

In the background is Festung Hohensalzburg ("High Salzburg Fortress"), one of the largest Medieval castles in Europe. We opted not to venture to the top, leaving that for another trip, but admiring its commanding presence from the town is also a memorable experience. I'm sure trying to assault a fortress perched on a cliff is also memorable, but that too will have to wait until my next trip when I remember to bring my trebuchet.

These roses actually managed to bloom during our mild December, leaving this poetic image on new years.

Another view of the castle as the family wandered towards Salzburg Cathedral. To the right, over Carolyn's head and hat you can see the funicular tracks leading to the castle. Over dad's head you can see public art. There was a convenient sign describing the artist and the piece's installation. When asked why he bothered to put a guy on top of a massive gold sphere the artist gave the ultimate cop out: "That's for the viewer to decide." I decided I was confused by it and thought it obstructed by view of the castle. I'm also a heathen, so take my opinion with a grain of Salzburg salt (Salzburg means "Salt Castle" by the by).

Everyone was out for a walk, enjoying the fresh snow and brisk day. These two didn't make it very far though. Maybe with a little help from one of the bored horses in the background, they might make a little more progress.

Salzburg Cathedral, a baroque masterpiece from the 17th century and dedicated to St. Rupert of Salzburg, the patron saint of the city. Mozart was baptized here. There has been a cathedral and dom on this spot since at least 774. Its foundations were likely orchestrated by St. Rupert himself before he went out to convert the pagans in the area. Before that this was probably a site of Celtic religious ceremony and sacrifice. There's been a lot of worshipping through in the area through the centuries.

If you go down into the crypt, you can see the tombs of Archbishops, both honorable and dubious. They already have tombs prepared for the next dozen (or so) Archbishops of Salzburg. I wasn't able to figure out which tomb held the Prince-archbishop with the trick fountains. For some reason they don't make note of such accomplishments in marble.

The Nativity scene in Salzburg Cathedral. Looking over the manger is the Salzburg Fortress and vineyards. It's part of the European tradition to make the Christmas scene take place in town. I would like to see a Cincinnati Nativity scene with Union Terminal and the Roebling Bridge. Maybe a Columbus scene could feature the Roaring Olentangy and The Shoe.

A final good-luck picture with a dozen piggies counting down to 2009. The clock actually worked, though the date function needed calibration.

After our walking tour, Carolyn and I wandered through town while Mom and Josh did some shopping and we met up again for a Classical music concert on the plaza in front of the Cathedral. Just the night before the stage was graced with Street (Something), but for this concert the musicians were armed with instruments and tunes more befitting of the city of Mozart and Maria. A soprano performed opera pieces and "Edelweiss." The ensemble performed a series of waltzes, an Austrian tradition on New Years Day (if not New Years Eve, apparently on the Viennese do that). Of course, we fell in 1-2-3-ing.

It's difficult to waltz on slanted cobblestone streets with bottles, ice, and paper underfoot, and a couple hundred fellow waltzers around you. But everyone pulled it off without sustaining any major injuries.

Of course, the Blue Danube waltz is the stable of a New Years dancing experience. Carolyn and I got to show off our newly polished skills. Unfortunately, everyone wasn't willing to get into the dance, so we couldn't use our newly acquired turning abilities. It just proves we need to find a ball somewhere they takes poor graduate students.

Josh is a slightly more confident dance partner than dad. To dad's credit, he doesn't get to work on his steps as often as his son who became a featured dancer in Onegin last semester (Note: Operas are not known for their company dance pieces, and Josh says the choreography was very simple, so his notoriety doesn't mean much. Still, the boy can bust a move when he want to.).

The string and brass ensemble also played "The Gallop" by Jacques Offenbach, otherwise known as "you know, the Can-can song." We didn't have a lot of room and we were still slipping around on the ice and snow, but the three of us were able to kick and balance without humiliating ourselves. We even managed to spin our little chorus line 180 degrees. I was hoping other spectators would join us, but Austrians are apparently just as reserved as their German counterparts.

After the concert mom and dad headed to the Golden Ente restaurant to eat in its comfy wooden interior while Carolyn, Josh, and I started walking to the outskirts of town to the Augustiner Bräustübl. The brewery came highly recommended and we were excited to explore a new neighborhood of Salzburg. We climbed the street to the Abby where the restaurant was supposed to be waiting for us and were greeted with a simple, familiar word: Geschlossen. Apparently the monks needed time to be with their families. We were a little shocked by the sign. Salzburg had lulled us into a false sense of perpetual open-ness. Now we had to turn around and find another place serving local brews and food.

One estabishment seemed promising, with large wooden tables glimpsed through the ancient windows. We walked in and were asked if we had a reservation. Nein. The waitress went into the back to see what could be done for us. The room seemed empty except for two families talking in subdued voices. It was supposed to be peak dinner time, but no one seemed to be out. It was not the boistrous bar I had envision for heralding the New Year and seeing Josh home in style. We beat a hasty retreat before the waitress could return. I think it was already clear we somehow didn't belong there, and she probably sighed with the same relief we felt to get back on the street.

After wandering through the Altstadt, we finally retraced our steps to an Irish Pub at the bottom of a narrow stairway. I'm becoming a dungeon bar conneseiur. The beer cellar was a labrynth of arches, nooks and squat chairs. Perfect. Josh had the opportunity to try his first Guiness.

Guiness is actually the first beer I had when I was in London with my family in 2004. I ordered fish, chips and a Guiness, the way it should be done. Unfortunatley I didn't have much of a pallat for bitter at that point. I didn't even really like coffee, so the Guiness had to be finished by my father. I was able to continue this tradition by helping Josh finish his after he decided he needed something a little lighter.

The pub didn't seem to have food, so after a few rounds of hearty stuff from Austria, Germany, and the UK, we went back to meet the 'rents. We had enjoyed massive pastry/pretzels earlier in the evening, so our hunger really didn't get to us until we sat down with mom and dad. We asked the waitress if we could have...something, maybe schnitzel? It didn't matter, because they were out. Then we found out the restaruant was getting ready to "geschlossen." So, once again, we ordered soup and called it a meal. It was really good soup though and I was warm and happy, enjoying the final night of the Borths Family adventure.

The next day mom, dad, and Josh were departing for Frankfurt to fly home and Carolyn and I were headed for Munich. After looking at the map of the city, we decided we could walk to the train station with our luggage. This was a mistake. The Austrian (and German) philosophy of snow maintainence is to just leave it, let it become slush under foot and pinch some salt on it if you need to clear a wheelchair ramp. Our rolling suitcases were not cooperative striking out into the slush and we had to give up the cause. I ran laps around the taxi stand outside Mozart's house, trying to figure out who was next. A driver lethargically signaled I should come over. I directed him to our pathetic clump of people and luggage and we were able to get better wheels under our stuff. Dad went with the cab while mom, Carolyn, Josh, and I took one final trip to Mirabelle palace to prove our Ohioan pride:

At the train station we said our goodbyes and headed to our respective tracks. As soon as I sat down on the train to Munich, I was already missing my family again. Just having everyone together, sharing our stream of consciensness conversations, shamelessly people-watching, and reminding outselves how much fun it is to all be together was an incredible Christmas gift. I don't really get homesick for familiarity as some people do, missing the routine of being in a city or house you understand. I just really miss my mom, my dad, and my brother.

But I couldn't mope too much. Carolyn and I had an adventure in Munich to plan with castles to see and textiles to scrutinize. Intrigued? Say tuned.


P.S. In case you have been wondering, yes, have been doing and seeing interesting things in January. Those will come to light next week after the Epic of Christmas is concluded. You will also hear about my trip for Budapest which I will be departing for in about four hours. I'm looking forward to a great weekend with Fulbrighters. I hope you have a fantastic weekend as well!

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