I realized today that it’s been more than a year since I visited Salzburg last January, so I better get my act together and post pictures now if I’m ever going to. I think I put off Innsbruck and Salzburg for so long because they were just so fraught. How do I properly explain what I experienced while there? I was constantly in almost painful awe of the city’s beauty, and I was overjoyed just to roam the wintry streets, sit in the cozy cafes, and gawk at the baroque opulence. But I also kept getting caught up in angry rumination about how Austria could stand to face a little more of its ugly past. And then I’d get whiplashed by doubts and start obsessively googling for evidence both to justify and to counter my resentment. The whole thing was mentally exhausting.
But that’s just me. As I said in my Innsbruck post, if you don’t have relatives who died in the Holocaust, you should definitely visit Austria. It’s gorgeous! Let me show you…
The proof that Salzburg is off-the-charts magnificent is that I, a night owl who has tried and failed to become a morning person basically every few months of my life, sprang spryly out of bed at 6:30 on both of my Salzburg mornings, just to maximize my time to explore the city. I started out by walking to the top of a hill near my hotel, and then I followed a path down the other side, making my way towards the river. It started snowing huge flakes and I felt like I was in a fairy tale.
If Innsbruck dipped my toe in the water of baroque pastel cream puff architecture, Salzburg drowned me in the deep end. I wanted to eat the buildings like macarons.
So I walked down the path to the river, and then I crossed over the bridge to the other side. I had bought a one-day sightseeing pass at the hotel, which meant I could visit almost all the various monuments, cathedrals, and museums for one price. Also included in the pass was an elevator ride up to the top of a hill that wraps around the old city, as you can see in the picture above. From there I followed another wooded and magical path along the city’s edge, heading towards Hohensalzburg Fortress (the castle on top of the big hill). The views were show-stopping.
Finally I arrived at the fortress, where I did a fairly quick self-guided tour.
The fortress was built in the 11th century, but each ruler upgraded the infrastructure and updated the interior with the finest luxuries of the period in question.
When I left the fortress I continued along the hillside path and just kept sucking up all the beautiful views like my eyes were straws.
Eventually I made my way to the center of town, the alte Stadt (old city), and just generally continued filling my eyes with treasure.
Above is a complex of church, cathedral, chapel, catacombs, and cemetery that I got lost in for awhile.
Then there’s the Dom zu Salzberg, or Salzburg Cathedral, which I also got lost in for awhile.
I went for lunch in a famous cafe called Tomaselli. I realized in Salzburg that Austrian cafes don’t tend to serve much food. They do coffee (with fresh whipped cream, my absolute favorite), desserts (none of which I could eat because gluten), and Austrian-style bar snacks. What I lost in lunch options, though, I gained in ambiance.
After eating, I wandered into the big town square to find the glockenspiel and Mozart statue.
While there, I happened upon what looked like a modern art installation. It was a boxlike contraption with a glass top, and you couldn’t see into it unless you walked right up to it and peered over the edge. When I did, I saw this:
It is an artist’s representation of a book, to commemorate the day in 1938 when the Nazis had a big book bonfire in this square. Here’s the plaque that explains the art.
When I saw this thing, I got so angry that tears sprung to my eyes and I started shaking. These motherfuckers erect a memorial to books, ones that they had the gall to say were “rounded up” by the Nazis, but they don’t put up a memorial (or even give a slight mention here) to the Jews, Roma, and Sinti who were rounded up and sent to their deaths with Austrian collaboration and complicity. (In Salzburg, my googling revealed, far more Roma and Sinti were deported to concentration camps than Jews, because their communities were larger. Apparently they were first held in a camp in the city. I read that two memorials to the Roma were created in the 90s and 2000s — one at the site of the camp and one at the deportation site — but both spots are well off the beaten path and seem to consist of little more than commemorative plaques. My googling also revealed that there are supposedly stumbling stones around Salzburg, but I did not see even one when I was there, and it further enraged me to think I might have stepped on a murdered person’s name because the city couldn’t be bothered to put a memorial in plain sight, where it belongs.) Even thinking about this now, I feel my jaw tighten and my eyes narrow.
Eventually, I realized I should be grateful to have experienced that combination of impotent rage and hurt, because it helped me to viscerally understand how the denial of racism, and the flying of Confederate flags, and the refusal to take down Civil War monuments, and the failure to commemorate massacres and lynchings, are daily acts of emotional violence against Black people in the United States. I was barely able to withstand three days of historical amnesia and back-turning in Austria, yet Black Americans go through a lifetime of it, on top of physical violence and systemic oppression that were never a fear for me in Austria.
There’s no good way to transition from that topic to Mozart, Salzburg’s favorite son… except maybe through his sister? I felt a lot of anger and disgust on her behalf as well.
This is what I learned during my tour of Mozart’s birthplace, above. Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna, was a musical prodigy in her own right but got shafted because of the patriarchy. Who knows what works of transcendence she would have blessed us with if she had only been encouraged.
Below is the room Mozart was born in, I think, with various relics including his childhood violin (in the case to the right).
By the time I left the house of Mozart’s birth, the sun was setting. I hurried back across the bridge to see his childhood home before it closed, stopping plenty of times to gape at how beautiful the city was in the winter light.
If I remember correctly, his family moved to the home above pretty soon after his birth. Both places are now museums, and both have cool stuff. Below is one of his concert violins. I guess it’s not that interesting to look at the picture on the internet, but to stare in person at the tool through which he channelled his genius was pretty neat. And I don’t even like his music.
I do, however, love the chocolate truffles named after him and sold in every shop in Salzburg. I consoled myself with one of them since I couldn’t partake of any strudel or linzer torte.
I did, though, go to the Salzburg outpost of the cafe that created the linzer torte. It was gorgeous. All Austrian cafes are. I went to the one below twice, I loved it so much.
I’m basically trying to decorate my apartment like this cafe (with some success, actually). Look at the clock below! The burl wood panels! The woodwork in the transom windows! The newspaper rack behind the waitress! The caned chairs! It’s all so good.
Getting a coffee at the cafe was the last thing I did before leaving town for Slovenia the next morning. But before the cafe, I visited Mirabell Castle. You could only visit one interior room, which was empty and pretty but nothing Salzburg-level special. The gardens in the morning light were really the most beautiful draw.
And with that, thank goodness I can move on to Slovenia and Italy, which were 100% wonderful and did not make me think about Nazis even once (though Slovenia did make me think about Melania and her husband, which was arguably worse). I hope to bring you those photos soon!