Salzburg is far more than Mozartkugeln, especially during festival season
While other cities die a slow summer-death in July and August, in Salzburg it’s taken literally. At least on stage: This is the time when Death’s famous call in “Jedermann!” resounds over the old town, awakening it from its winter sleep and transforming Salzburg into Austria’s bustling capital of the arts. Summer is Festspielzeit – Salzburg Festival time – in one of the country’s most picturesque settings. This is the season when Salzburg is finally able to flaunt all its traditional beauty and small-city grandeur as the world of high culture and high society looks on. The opening night attracts stars like Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón and Riccardo Muti but also the German chancellor and Festspiel-lover Angela Merkel with her husband Joachim Sauer.
A good 10 minutes after descending from the train at the Hauptbahnhof, the sublimely manicured Mirabellgarten surrounds me, as lost in thought, I watch two newlyweds being photographed on the carved stone staircase in the center of the gardens. As the first groups of tourists arrive, it’s high time to get going before busses clog the Altstadt, the old town. Passing the renowned Mozarteum conservatory and the Salzburger Landestheater, a stop at the Café Bazar overlooking the river is de rigueur. A fin-de-siècle Kaffeehaus of polished brass and inlaid wood paneling, is the Traditionscafé, whose historic guest book includes Stefan Zweig, Thomas Mann, Marlene Dietrich and the Festspiel’s founders Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Max Reinhardt. Although not as well known, Feinkost Kölbl across the street also serves delicious sandwiches.
Reinvigorated, it’s time to head for the Altstadt, crossing Staatsbrücke, the city’s main bridge over the Salzach, and passing the elegant Hotel Stein. They say that in a city with so many magnificent views it’s hard to find the best – but the Steinterrasse, the rooftop-café and restaurant on the seventh floor of the hotel, certainly is a strong contender and well worth a visit. [ed. note: The Hotel Stein and Steinterrasse are closed for renovations this summer and will reopen in spring 2017]. Glistening in the sun, the Altstadt’s facades on the opposite bank are the perfect backdrop for a first picture of the city.
Of course, the city’s famous son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is everywhere, peering out of countless storefronts. A must-see for the culturally versed is the composer’s two residences: Mozart’s birthplace, a beautifully renovated building on Getreidegasse; and Mozart’s residence, close to Mirabellgarten, rebuilt after World War II. Both spots are best visited in the early morning, or the late afternoon after the hordes have moved on.
Mozart, the composer, child prodigy and musical genius is far more relevant to natives than the American musical The Sound of Music – famously set in Salzburg, but almost equally unknown to local Salzburger. However, even they would agree that the film location, Schloss Leopoldskron, is worth a visit. While the interior of the rococo palace might only be accessible for resident guests, the pristine view across the Leopoldskroner Weiher lake alone is worth the tour. Since 1918, when Festspiel-founder Max Reinhardt purchased and renovated the estate, the palace has played an essential role in Salzburg’s cultural and academic scene, housing since 1947 the Salzburg Global Seminar, the prestigious center for dialogue and exchange of ideas best known for East-West dialogues hosted throughout the Cold War.
Salzburg has a complex relationship with Austria, only becoming part of the nation in 1816. This former independence has kept Salzburgers somewhat ambivalent, feeling neither German nor fully Austrian. Thus, the Festspiele are also an important affirmation of identity, founded by the famed duo, Reinhardt and Hoffmannsthal and supported in its early days by composer Richard Strauss. Local son and iconic conductor Herbert von Karajan held court there every summer beginning in the 1950s, leaving a mark upon the city and the festival second only to Mozart’s.
Having a ball
Strolling down Getreidegasse, arguably the most scenic shopping street in Austria, it is disarming how the city has dressed for the occasion – both buildings and natives. Salzburgers tend to don a conservative yet informal style – including Dirndls worn casually on weekdays, as well as Saturday market days – blending elegantly with the pastel facades that flank the small street. Turning left at the end, the star of Salzburg summertime makes its entrance: the Großes Festspielhaus, the main stage of the festival. Often you can catch a glimpse of the singers, spending free afternoons at Café Triangel on the corner – opposite the Haus für Mozart and the Felsenreitschule, the other main venues.
This is a place to indulge: At Café Fürst I treat myself to a Mozartkugel, the chocolate-covered marzipan–pistachio delight, the local equivalent to Paris’ macarons. Here, the originals (created in 1890) come wrapped in blue and silver foil instead of the more familiar red and gold, outdoing them not only in look and size but also, most importantly, in taste.
Relishing the moment, the polished beauty of Austria’s most bourgeois town is impossible to ignore. The rich baroque grandeur under the rule of its 18th century prince-archbishops surrounds you, with horse carriages, top-hatted gentlemen and ladies in lavish gowns strolling the narrow alleys – all miraculously easy to imagine.
Over the course of history, the city of Salzburg has managed to maintain its dignified grace.
What to do
The many charms of Salzburg can leave you spoilt for choice. Here are some things to make your visit complete
The annual Salzburg Festival stages 250 opera, theater and concert performances at 14 different venues. The most iconic play is Jedermann (Everyman) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, traditionally performed open-air on the Domplatz, (Cathedral Square), with the Salzburger Dom as a magnificent backdrop – unless the similarly iconic Salzburger Schnürlregen (“string rain”) forces the production to move to the Großes Festspielhaus. This year’s lead roles are sung by Cornelius Obonya (Everyman), Miriam Fussenegger (Paramour) and Christoph Franken as Death.
Other highlights at this year’s Festspiele include Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte, directed by Sven-Eric Bechtolf. The Exterminating Angel by British composer Thomas Adès, was penned especially for the official opening of the festival.
Just a few bus stops from the Old City, refreshing Himbeertorte (raspberry cake), Marillenfleck (apricot tart) and homemade ice cream beckon at Konditorei Ratzka (
Enjoy a stoneware stein of fresh Pils at Stiegl’s Brewery () the city’s preferred beer maker, founded in 1492. Taste Salzburg’s best take-away snack, the Bosna, at Balkan Grill Walter in the passage at Getreidegasse 33.
Flee the scorching heat and visit the Hellbrunn Palace, a Renaissance gem replete with pleasure gardens and grottos. But be warned, you might get wet! (
Take bus number 10 to Hangar 7 – Red Bull’s modern glass construction. Located near the airport, it houses the very impressive Red Bull airplane collection, a restaurant and a café. (Salzburg Airport/ Wilhelm-Spazier-Straße 7a)
Salzburg Tourist Information:
http://www.salzburg.info/enTel: +43662 88987-0