Thursday, June 21, 2018

Salzburg and Salt (June 21, 2018)

The Friesacher Hotel, Salzburg
Outstanding breakfast buffet!
Salzburg today is known for music, but it was salt that made Salzburg prosperous. At the start of my day, I enjoyed a bountiful breakfast buffet—overflowing with choices: whole grain breads, hams, salamis, smoked salmon, eight or nine cheeses, liverwurst, cereals, eggs, omelettes, cakes, pastries, and more—before leaving my quintessentially Austrian hotel (the Friesacher) for the center of Old Salzburg, where a guide led me on a walking tour that included views of the famous Mozart Statue in the Mozartplatz and of the Nonnberg Convent (where the real Maria Von Trappe studied), the Hohensalzburg Fortress, and a visit to Mozart's birth house.

Mozart composed The Magic Flute on this instrument
It was interesting to see the room where Mozart was born and to get a sense of how the Mozart family lived, but some of the displays were badly lit and hard to see. The guide moved quickly and the small rooms were overflowing with other tour groups. Despite that, some of the artifacts made a deep impression. Of special interest was a small, improbably modest-looking keyboard instrument that the guide revealed was the instrument Mozart used to compose some of his last and greatest compositions, including The Magic Flute, which remains by far my favorite opera by any composer. It was moving to see an instrument used to create a piece of music that has become a human cultural treasure.

Ceramic room heater in the Mozart House
Of interest to me were the large, often elaborately decorated ceramic oven-like structures against the wall in the corners of many of the rooms. These appear to have been room heaters, apparently fed with firewood from outside to avoid smoke. The guide didn't remark on them until I asked. They aren't part of the official tour. It seemed strange not to mention them while a great deal of time was devoted to mostly mediocre portraits of the Mozart family and associates—although there was a rather nice pencil portrait of Mozart's sister in one of the cases.

Coat of arms of Leonhard von Keutschach
I love the turnip
Hohensalzburg Fortress, which dominates the town, is accessed by a steep, fast funicular railway. The ride is dramatic. You rush up the mountain and in a few seconds have a panoramic view of the city below. The fort was of some interest and the surrounding scenery impressive. Among the coats of arms displayed on various buildings around the fortifications was that of Prince Archbishop Leonhard von Keutschach (1495-1515). It sports a turnip. I used my free time after lunch to see a show of Japanese photography that happened to be at Salzburg's modern art museum. Lunch was pasta with chorizo made at the restaurant proprietor's "piggery" and Mediterranean vegetables with a local weissbier (Stiegl); the pasta dish was delicious but excessively salty—which seems to be the way the Austrians like their food. Fruits and vegetables for sale at an outdoor stand looked very tempting, particularly the berries, including fresh red currants and gooseberries, fruits we very seldom see in California.

Market produce, Salzburg
Later in the afternoon I toured the salt mine at Hallein (about 30 minutes south of Salzburg). For many hundreds of years salt has been mined near Salzburg. Celtic settlers in the area began mining salt in the area with wood and iron hand tools as early as 200BC. After a long lapse, mining began again in the medieval period and continued into the 20th century. Tourism has long been part of activity at the mine (the Hallein mine bills itself as the oldest exhibition mine in the world; visitors have been allowed to tour the shafts since the 16th century).

The local beer, Salzburg
Modern mining used modern methods. The salt deposits at Hallein are not crystalline. The salt is in seams about 40% salt mixed with clay, limestone, and other substances. The salt has always been extracted with water (to create brine that is then heated to cause evaporation and crystallization), but industrial-scale slurry mining eventually became the norm with water pumped directly into mine excavations and brine pumped out after insoluble components settle out of the mix.

Visitors enter the mine as modern miners did, wearing white, hooded uniforms (provided by the mine for the tour, ill-fitting and probably unnecessary, but part of the fun) and on a small-gauge railway with no cars, straddling a metal beam (there are no seats), everyone pushed close together in seated single file, and then move further underground on a series of wooden slides, polished with use. Both the fast-moving train and the slides were a hit, with shouts of "Wheee..." echoing through the mine shafts as we raced through the dimly lit tunnels on the train, each holding on to the closest passenger in front of us, or on the slides. Once underground at mining levels, a slow boat takes visitors across one of several underground lakes, remnants of the slurry-based mining process (the 100-yard trip a bit comically dramatized with colored lights and incongruous music). Walking about a mile through the tunnels to the exit point takes visitors across the Austrian–German border underground and back again, no passport required.

Wooden slides in the salt mine
The weather has been hot and humid. It's been nice to have the delicious alpenwasser (water from the Alps) available everywhere, even from street fountains in old Salzburg.

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