gold and salt

Gutentag nach Salzburg.

      Salzburg is a city in which one could easily be lulled into a belief that there were no issues in the world, like crime or environmental degradation or rudeness. We’ve spent two lovely days here in this very pleasant city on the Salzach River in northern Austria. Everything is green in all directions. The taxi driver explained thus: “We have many rains”.

We were drawn here partly because it was the birthplace (in 1756) of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I especially wanted to attend a concert (konzert) of Mozart’s music. Tonight we satisfied that desire with a magnificent performance in the equally splendid castle above the city.

the 14-year old brain

 I suspect that most readers will agree that history lessons at school are usually lost on the average 14-year old. This fact is accentuated when you visit some of these European places. Here, they’ve undergone massive changes in rule over recent centuries. Perhaps the 14-year old brain is not ready for abstract questions like the way humans organise themselves politically. In fact, the region now known as Austria has been ruled by many differing regimes over the centuries. I remember at school learning something of the Ottoman empire, the Austro-Hungarian empire, etc. Despite having autonomy over changing colours and borders on maps, I never fully grasped the significance of either.

Hellbrunn Schloss near Salzburg
salt mining

Salzburg was built from wealth generated by salt mining in the middle ages. (Salz = salt) I did a tour through a former salt mine this morning to learn about the wealth it created. It’s a bit of a surprise to find that salt could be such a lucrative mineral. Apparently a Roman senator once stated, “We can live without gold but not without salt.” From very early days it has been used for curing and preserving food. And these days is used in medicine and glass manufacture.

Salt is mined from the limestone mountains here. When in blocks, it has a translucent brownish colour. This particular mine was first worked by the Celts, from about 500 BC. When the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich ruled the town at the end of the 16th century, he realised that trading salt could create great wealth. The town sold 36 000 tonnes every year.

This wealth allowed Dietrich to authorise the construction of a lot of public buildings in Italian architectural style. Of course, this includes the famous white castle atop the hill (featured in “The Sound of Music”). This massive building stands out from all parts of the valley, especially at night when floodlit from below. Our Mozart concert was in one of the rooms on the third floor. Upon entering the magnificent room and finding a seat, ready to enjoy Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the bloke next to me said, “G’day”. The greeting seemed a bit incongruous in such a setting. I don’t care too much for castles because they represent a mode of rule which is unequal, but this one certainly provided a superb venue for our concert.


 Just a few days ago, we had an opportunity to sample some Austrian Gemutlich. This is one of those curious untranslatable words which relates somehow to hospitality. After a bushwalk through lush forest, lunch was at a mountain alm where the host was Micky in his lederhosen. We had Bauernkrapfen mit sauerkraut which was very agreeable. We also tried radler, a mixture of lemon squash and beer. The brewer here claims continuous production since 1492!

Micky played the accordion very skilfully for the post-prandial entertainment. In the cramped old building, our smiling host was accompanied by bilingual Susan from England, playing the devil’s violin. That’s a home-made percussion instrument, a combination of a tambourine, cymbal, strings and evil face (at the top of the fret). At Micky’s place – a fully-functioning restaurant – there is no refrigerator! (The drinks were naturally cold!)

Radioactivity is good for the body.

I also decided to try the remedy offered by the mountain water. To do this, you immerse yourself in a bath filled with “special” water, as Klauz described it. The healing water has come from “possibly 4000 meters under”. This was a Radon bath, said to provide radioactive assistance for those suffering from certain ailments, including respiratory disease. (This I had to try after my recent indisposition.) The benefits were unspecified but so far no ill-effects! These treatments are all on the fringe of modern medicine, even here in the mountain country, but I figure, even if they’re nothing but a placebo, that’s still of some benefit anyway. Apparently, all of the radioactivity should have since passed from the body.

Austrian hosts

The Austrians have been tremendous hosts. Tomorrow, we’re on the road again, into Switzerland.

Auf Weidersehen from Salzburg


Other photos from hereabouts

Lake Hallstatt

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