By Jim Ferri
While in Austria a few weeks ago I was lucky to have a half-day tour in Salzburg.
I’ve been on many tours but what made this one unique was that it showed me areas many travelers visit, but few ever really see, all within a three-block or so area in the city’s old town. It was as if I was taking a tour of “Secret Salzburg.”
My guide was Heidi, a woman bubbling over with enthusiasm and knowledge, who kept me moving at a good pace since there was so much she wanted to share in such a short period of time.
“Meet me at Mozart’s birthplace,” she told me when I called. I quickly headed off to the childhood home of Salzburg’s most famous native son, watching the shopkeepers open their shops on cue at the stroke of nine as I went.
When we met I was surprised that we didn’t go into the birthplace. Instead Heidi whisked me into a small alleyway filled with little shops to the left of the famous building. “You should see this,” she told me as she parked her bicycle, and brought me into Blume + Duft, a little florist shop where the potted plants were just being brought out front.
Inside I was intrigued by the beautiful flower arrangements fashioned using flowers dried through a special process they had developed, which looked as if they had just been cut that morning. The shop’s specialty, though, were arrangements of dried flowers and spices, especially those then being made for the holidays.
I learned that the spices had a greater significance than just being used in the arrangements. The old building was originally the place where merchants imported spices from Venice that had come from the Middle and Far East.
We chatted with the owners for a few minutes before walking out of the other end of the alley and into the narrow plaza in front of 17th-century University Church. Heidi hadn’t brought me here to see the church, but rather the small farmers market that shared space with the little tables tumbling out from nearby restaurants. I was amazed at how perfectly formed and clean every piece of produce looked and watched as a few restaurant chefs arrived to complete their menus for the day.
We walked around to the other end of the mini-market and turned into another alleyway. Many of these alleyways that surround Mozart’s birthplace once housed craftsman and artisans who worked out in the open in them as far back as the 13th century, I learned. Today the tiny open courtyards brim with little cafés and clothes and jewelry shops.
“Let’s go up here,” Heidi said as she turned down another little alleyway and headed for an old elevator. I didn’t know where she was going since I didn’t see any signs but she soon had me in the upstairs shop of Andreas Kirchtag, a Schirmerzeuger, or umbrella maker. Kirchtag’s family has been hand-making umbrellas for 100 years and it’s an art that’s all but disappeared elsewhere.
Standing in the tiny shop crammed with umbrella parts everywhere, I was amazed that Kirchtag even makes the wooden handles by hand, carving them out of numerous different woods he imports. He sells 350+ handmade umbrellas every year, and repairs other customer’s favorites, in his shop down on street level. You can only visit Andreas’s little workshop with a tour guide.
We left his shop and headed for Mozart’s house, stopping for a half-hour in the ornate Café Mozart for our morning coffee. As one would expect, the birthplace contained various memorabilia of the composer including the violin he played as a child and the clavichord on which he composed several different works including the Magic Flute.
But the most interesting part of the house was the top floor where we found an intriguing exhibit called “Mozart Online.” On a series of computers here we could actually look at the script of Mozart’s musical manuscripts as they were played: a page is shown and a light bounces across each note as it’s played, a wonderful interactive way to experience the man and his music.
Once downstairs again, Heidi was off into another alleyway to Schatz-Konditorei, the oldest pastry shop in the city. We browsed about in it for a few minutes and as we stepped back outside Chef Erich Winkler spied Heidi from his second-floor kitchen, called out to her and came down to greet us.
We chatted for a few minutes before we were off to visit St. Peter Stiftskeller. On the way Heidi wanted me to see Triangel Restaurant, which is behind the University Church and adjacent to the festival halls of the famous Salzburg Festival. It’s a popular and cozy little place (always two entrees for €4.50 each on the luncheon menu) but during the Salzburg Festival Heidi told me that you’ll find festival patrons in suits and gowns sharing outdoor lunch tables with folks in shorts and t-shirts.
Since the area is so compact the restaurant St. Peter Stiftskeller wasn’t far away. It claims to be the oldest restaurant in Central Europe, if not the entire continent, since it was first mentioned in writings in 803.
Located in a still-functioning monastery (but not associated with it), the restaurant is quite deceiving. Walk in and you see one small room to the left and then another room across a little courtyard to the right. But when you go up the stairs there’s a whole labyrinth of different private rooms for dining that culminate in a large, ornate, chandeliered room at the end.
In this room the restaurant hosts its Mozart Dinners – three-course dinners prepared with traditional 18th-century recipes. They’re served during the intermissions of candle-lit performances of some of Mozart´s most popular compositions performed by musicians and opera singers in period costumes.
The Mozart Dinner is anything but a secret, of course. But in the cemetery adjacent to the restaurant one secret may have gone to the grave, Heidi told me.
There rests Dr. Franciscus Wasner, the choir conductor who left Austria with the famous von Trapp family many decades ago. Salzburgers believe the youngest von Trapp son has an uncanny resemblance to Wasner…the reason for those once-secret whispers of an affair with Maria.
My visit to Salzburg was partially sponsored by the Austrian Tourist Office. As always, however, all of the views and opinions expressed are strictly my own – J.F.
If you go:
Tel. +43 662 88 98 70
Heidi Hochriesser (guide services)
Raphael Donner Straße 24
Tel. +43 662 62 87 29 / (mobile) 664 1605335
Tel. +43 662 84 13 10
Blume + Duft
Tel. +43 662 84 57 79
Tel. +43 662 842792
Cafe Restaurant Triangel
Wiener Philharmonikerg 7
Tel: +43-662-84 22 29
St. Peter Stiftskeller
Tel: +43 662 8412 680