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An Informal account of my Comenius visit



Francis Pettitt

December 1999



Salzburg, is the capital of Salzburg Bundesland ("federal state"), north central Austria. It is situated in a level basin on both sides of the Salzach River near the northern foothills of the Alps and the Bavarian (German) border. It was originally the site of a Celtic settlement and later of the Roman town of Juvavum. By about 696 the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter and the Nonnberg Nunnery had been founded there by St. Rupert. Salzburg was made a bishopric by St. Boniface in 739 and was raised to an archbishopric in 798. Its archbishops were acknowledged as princes of the Holy Roman Empire in 1278, and the city became the seat of their powerful ecclesiastical principality. Among the most notable of the prince-archbishops were Wolfdietrich von Raitenau (reigned 1587-1612), who brought Italian Renaissance architecture and styles to the city; Paris, Graf von Lodron (reigned 1619-53), who founded the city's university; and Leopold Anton von Firmian (reigned 1727-44).

A unique combination of scenic alpine landscape and architectural richness has led to Salzburg's reputation as one of the world's most beautiful cities. Because of the building activities of its later archbishops, little remains of its medieval architecture. Its chief glories are the episcopal buildings and the burghers' houses, displaying an Italian Renaissance and Baroque influence that earned Salzburg the designation of the "German Rome." In the centre of the older town on the left bank of the Salzach is the Residenzplatz with the archbishop's residence (1595-1619). Opposite is the Neugebäude (New Building; 1592-1602), with a carillon in its tower. The cathedral, or Dom, the first church in the Italian style on German soil, was built in 1614-28 on the site of an earlier basilica.

Near the Mönchsberg (Monks' Hill), a wooded ridge (1,617 feet [493 m]) overlooking the old town, is the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter; most of its buildings date from the 17th and 18th centuries, and its church (1130-43) was remodeled in the Rococo style. North of the abbey is the Franciscan church with a nave (1221), a 15th-century Gothic choir, and Baroque chapels. Crowning Monks' Hill are the great fortress of Hohensalzburg (1077; altered to its present form c. 1500), St. George's Church

(1501), and the Nonnberg Nunnery.

Among landmarks in the newer town (on the right bank of the Salzach) are St. Sebastian's Church (1505-12), with the graves of the wife and father of the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the churchyard; the Holy Trinity Church (1694-1702); the Mozarteum (1910-14), comprising a music academy, concert halls, and Mozart archives; and Mirabell Castle (1606). On the city outskirts are the Capuchin Friary (1599-1602) and the castles of Leopoldskron (1736) and Hellbrunn (1613-19). The university (1623-1810) was reestablished in 1964. The Kollegien, or University Church (1694-1707), is a Baroque masterpiece of the architect Johann Bernhard

Fischer von Erlach.

A music centre for centuries, Salzburg is most famous as the birthplace of Mozart, whose house, No. 9 Getreidegasse, is preserved as a museum, and as the site of the annual Salzburg Festival. There were music festivals in Salzburg at irregular intervals throughout the 19th century, and in 1917 Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Richard Strauss, and Max Reinhardt founded the Festival Theatre Committee, which mounted a festival at Salzburg on an annual basis. The Salzburg Festival now comprises recitals, concerts of orchestral and chamber music, church music, opera, and drama. The music of Mozart dominates the festival. The Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre), converted from the court stables built into the cliff of Monks' Hill, consists of the Rock Riding School (1693), an auditorium for open-air performances; two large indoor opera houses (1926, 1960); and the Winter Riding School, used as a reception hall.

Salzburg is the northwestern gateway to Austria and is an important road and rail junction with an international airport at Maxglan. It is one of Austria's chief tourist resorts and an international conference centre. The city has large breweries; its manufactures include musical instruments, hardware, textiles, and leather. Salzburg was the headquarters of the U.S. military forces in Austria from 1945 to 1956. Pop.

(1986 est.) 137,833.


As part of the European Community Comenius Project I visited Salzburg with Jonathan Guy, Woolwich College Librarian in December 1999 specifically to work with a team form the HTB technical School on a booklet and a web page for the project.

A report on the work carried out has been prepared. But since "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" I also relate what we did in our free time.

The Surroundings of Salzburg

Bundesland ("federal state"), west-central Austria. It is bordered by Bavaria (Germany) on the west and north and is bounded by the Bundesländer Oberösterreich on the north and east, Steiermark on the east, Kärnten on the south, and Tirol on the south and west. The province is drained by the Salzach, Enns, and Mur rivers and occupies an area of 2,762 square miles (7,154 square km).

Nine-tenths of Salzburg Bundesland is situated among the Alps, and it contains some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world. The trough formed by the upper Salzach and upper Enns rivers separates the Tauern mountain ranges to the south from the moderately high Kitzbüheler Alps and, farther north, the Salzburg Limestone Alps, whose karst features include caves, notably the ice caves of the Tennen Mountains. The Flysch Alps

north and east of the city of Salzburg are part of the Alpine Salzkammergut.

The region was widely settled in prehistoric times, both in the mountains and the alpine foreland, because of its mineral resources. Copper mining (near Bischofshofen) in the Bronze Age and salt mining (Dürnberg, near Hallein) in the Iron Age were important for the whole of central Europe. The area was settled by Celts in the later Iron Age and by the Romans after AD 15. Juvavum (Salzburg) became a Roman municipium in approximately AD 50. Invaded by Germanic peoples in the 5th century, most of the region was then settled by the Bajuwaren (Bavarians). The territorial and

political forerunner of modern Salzburg was the much larger state ruled from about 1278 by the prince-archbishops of the city of Salzburg (q.v.). Salzburg lost some of its possessions but was still larger than the present Bundesland when it was secularised in 1803, during the Napoleonic Wars. It passed permanently to Austria in 1816, losing some territory. An administrative district of Upper Austria until 1850, it then became a duchy and Habsburg crown land. In 1918 it became a Bundesland, a status that was restored in 1945 after it had been a Reichsgau ("Reich's district") during the Anschluss, or incorporation of Austria into Germany (1938-45). The archbishops of Salzburg retained their ecclesiastical authority after 1803 and retained their status and title of princes until 1951. They have held the honorary title primus Germaniae ("first in Germany") since the 17th century and have been entitled to wear cardinal's purple

since 1184.

The state's population has increased since World War II, but its density is still one of the lowest in Austria. About nine-tenths of the inhabitants are Roman Catholic. The principal towns are Salzburg (the capital), Hallein, Badgastein, Saalfelden (qq.v.), Zell am See, and Sankt Johann.

Nearly one-half of the land surface is in farms and about one-third in forests. Cattle and dairy farming are extensive, with horse breeding in the Pinzgau (the valley of the upper Salzach), some arable farming (wheat, rye), and fruit growing on the Alpine foreland. Timber, wood products, and paper form the bulk of Salzburg's exports.

Salt from Dürnberg and copper from mines near Bischofshofen are still the major mineral resources. A large aluminum plant (using imported raw material) is at Lend, magnesite is mined at Leogang, and tungsten near Salzburg city. Reservoirs in the Tauern valleys are used for generating electric power. Industries, mainly in the Salzburg Basin, produce beer, textiles, clothing, leather, and music organs. The tourist trade, including winter sports, is a major source of income, with the main centres at Salzburg City (especially its music and drama festivals), Badgastein, and Zell am See. The state has good road and rail communications. Pop. (1988 est.) 442,301.

8 December 1999

I'm writing this in the staff room of the School I'm visiting in Salzburg.

The morning is really fine and from the window I can look out on the hills that surround the southern part of the city. They already have mantles of snow.

The journey here was excellent. I caught the train at Woolwich Arsenal station in time. At London Bridge I changed to the northern line and then the central line for Liverpool Street where I got the Stanstead train. At Stanstead I met Jonathan Guy at 13.000, as arranged. He was also carrying a rucksack and wearing boots and an anorak. The Go flight left on time and reached Munich ahead of schedule due to some strong tail winds. The cabin crew was very informal, wearing T-shirts, just like Virgin airlines. Unlike Virgin. However, no meals or drinks were served on board and by the time we reached Munich station, after having caught the bus from the airport we were beginning to feel quite peckish. On the bus journey to the station we were able to see the exterior of some of the magnificent buildings of the Bavarian capital: in particular, the facades of the Pinakotech and some magnificent Jugenstil doorways. The shops were full of wonderful items, such as we rarely see in our part of the world, like Fur coats, exquisitely painted tiles, crystal chandeliers etc. Christmas trees on the main squares, and all the other Christmas lights gave the place a truly seasonal feel.

The train wandered through the southern Bavarian landscape. We couldn't see very much in the dusk but each station we passed or stopped at seemed to have more snow piled up on its platforms and the train corridors got colder.

We reached Salzburg Hauptbahnhoff at around 20:30 and gave Helmut and Gina a call. Within minutes Gina was there to pick our luggage and us up in her car and we drove to our Hotel, the Auerhahn, which is not only close to the station but also virtually opposite the School. The hotel was beautifully fitted out in Tyrolean style, with lots of interior woodcarvings, stuffed animals including a fox and, of course, the Auerhahn and wonderfully painted doors.

We were surprised to find that we each had separate rooms, as this was not we had ordered and at first thought that this would cost us more. But Helmut had, in fact, wheeled and dealer with the Hotel owner and got us two separate rooms at a cheaper price than the original double room. I put my stuff in the room which is really comfortable with an en suite bathroom etc. and went downstairs where Helmut and Gina took us out to a Tavern where I had a huge dumpling knodel placed in the middle of a stew of lambs stomach intestines and brain (tasting a bit like a disembowelled andouillette) liberally accompanied by huge warm pretzels and beer. This meal was really welcome, as we hadn't eaten anything since the early morning.

Helmut then took us back to the hotel. We were still wide-awake and decided to see Salzburg by night. Seeing a trolley bus near the station we took it and were soon over the Salzach River in the Zentrum.

It was now 11.00 and there was hardly anyone in the streets. We wandered down a complete deserted Getreidegsasse, passed Mozart's house and witnessed the towers and dome of the cathedral against a completely clear and star-filled night sky with the constellation of Orion looming over the fantastic baroque shapes of this incredibly beautiful town. High above. Like a spectre, the Hohensalzburg fortress floated like an apparition.

We walked all the way back to the Auerhahn, which didn't take too long, as Salzburg is actually quite a small place.

Today we have already seen (and taught in) a substantial part of this fine college. Comparisons with Woolwich College are useless. Everything here seems to be on a higher quality plane all round.


9 December 1999

I’ve just delivered a lesson for Christina on the English school system (as part of an English lesson) to the following class: 1A. The class consisted of 18 students aged around 15. Their knowledge of English is really good at this age and they took a keen interest in the lesson. I explained the difference between the GCSE and GNVQ approach and also said something about the distinction between private ('public') and state schools.

Yesterday afternoon after morning teaching for Helmut's class - 2HNC - (decline of old industries in Woolwich, the role & significance of Woolwich College etc.) I went to do some more sightseeing in Salzburg. Jonathan also did the same but left earlier as he finished earlier.

I took the Bus into the Centrum, passed the Mozart Wohnhaus, where the insurance building which formerly stood alongside it has been demolished and replaced by a reconstruction of the part of the house that was bombed during W.W.II. I started at the Kajetaner church and made my way gradually past the Cathedral where the Christmas market was in full swing. Under the massive porticoes a small choir sang carols, to one side a stall was selling Gluhwein (mulled wine) and stalls were filled with Christmas decorations including fruit stuck with cloves which spread a fragrant scent over the square.

I then took a small turning to one side of the square and found myself past a fast flowing mill-stream in St Peter's Friedhof, where people were placing Christmas wreaths on the tombs of their loved ones. Some of the tombs were placed in a colonnade actually excavated into the side of the Monchberg which loomed high above, crowned by the archbishop's fortress.

I entered St Peter's church, which was very cold, temperature wise and which boasted the remains of St Rupert, the first archbishop of this city. The walls were covered with canvases and frescoes of religious scenes and the ceiling was gracefully with delicate plaster decorations. It was in this church that Mozart’s great C minor Mass, composed to thank God for his marriage to Costanze, was first performed.

I had hoped to continue to the place where I think we parked our car but then realised too late this was at Nonntal, at the other end of the old town. At this point in my walk the Monchberg very nearly squeezed out the road, which passed through the outer town gateway. Below was a pleasant riverside walk with good cycle lanes. We intend not to hire, but to buy, bicycles here, as it's cheaper to do so (and then sell them back when we leave).

I had to get back to the school by 17:00 as Helmut was to pick us for his evening class so I jumped on a crowded rush hour bus and soon found myself back at the Auerhahn where I met Jonathan again, who although, visiting Salzburg separately, had seen virtually the same things that I had visited.

Helmut drove like a fury to the small village where he had to deliver his evening English lesson. He said he couldn’t be late for the class. When we arrived I could see why. A group of mainly retired fold was gathered outside the locked doors of the local primary school. Helmut was the school-keeper too on this occasion!

Anyway, they hadn't waited too long which was just as well since the evenings are below freezing already.

The lesson passed most pleasantly and consisted mainly of Helmut dividing us into small groups for conversation and then shifting us around. The second class of the evening was made up of more advanced students and by about 9:00 we wound up. It was most interesting to teach mature students that came, not from Eltham or Plumstead but from Hallein and Puch in Salzburg region. We are promised cookies, Mozart Kugeln & Gluhwein from them on our next lesson! Helmut drove us back and we had a couple of welcome beers at the local pub.

Helmut is a great negotiator and he has already not only arranged separate rooms for us but also made them cheaper. He also organises trips for his students to places like Florida and Hong-Kong!

Needless to say we slept very soundly!


10 December 1999

After the lessons yesterday we took the bus again into the centre of Salzburg. It was raining moderately and very cold so we decided to visit a museum. I chose the Haus Der Natur, the natural history museum and found it most interesting. In fact the museum occupied us for at least three hours. The superb aquarium with its corals and sharks, the reptilium with its two crocs, snakes and iguanas plus all the stuffed animals, included wild cats, marmots etc, then the geological section with its minerals and fossils and even an excellent section on space travel, to say nothing about the section on witchcraft and mythical animals plus genetic aberrations were all fascinating.

After the visit we went out onto a cold evening, in a still raining Salzburg towards the Getreigegasse and the Christmas markets. In one little square we had a glass of Gluhwein which warmed us up in a very frosty evening. We then drifted towards other squares, also filled with little wooden stalls selling the most beautiful carved toys, fruit with cloves, the finest vegetables you've ever seen and the most delicious chocolates and nuts.

Eventually we reached a familiar square for it was near here that we parked our car back in 1993. There was the little church of St Erhardt where we heard the rehearsal of music and near it the cafe where we had that expensive cup of coffee and a cake. We went into it to seek refuge from the drizzle, looked at the menu and found it very reasonable instead. You see, the Schilling has lost out against a strong pound. I had knodel soup for 30 AS, which is less than £1.50 and followed that with a big beer.

Refreshed, we then caught the bus back to the Auerhahn where we had an early night for a change.


11 December 1999

After our morning at the school on Saturday we decided we would visit the Kapuzineberg, a substantial hill on the north side of the Salzach which counterbalances the fortress-crowned Monchberg on the south. The afternoon filled with beautiful sunshine as we climbed up the steps leading to the Kapuzine monastery. The wonderful city gradually came into full view with its towers, spires and domes.

The Stations of the Cross lined the way and at the top was a house where Stefan Zweig, the famous writer, used to live in before he went to Brazil. Appropriately the path we took to get to the top of the hill was called the Stefan Zweig Weg. Before us stretched an array of wonderful beech trees, silvery against the incandescent blue of the sky. Little, unvandalised signs showed us what to look for in the forest. This included the Marder (Pine Marten). We did not see any animals, however, only some chaffinches and other birds.

At the top we came across an old bastion, part of the ancient fortifications, stepped inside where there was a gemutlich bar and treated ouirselves to a beer. Refreshed, we then carried on round the hill, retraced our steps and descended by a very steep staircase past a little church down to the Steingasse, perhaps the oldest street in Salzburg. Here we chanced upon a Stille Nacht museum showing how life in the city was once like. A little room contained a bed, a spinning wheel and some other items of furniture. The owner-Author-guide was talking about Mohr, who lived in this house. Mohr is credited with having written the words to Silent Night (as Gruber is credited with having written the music) but the somewhat mad guide stated that this was wrong: Mohr was an excellent musician and there is no reason to suppose why he had not written the music as well. Also, the story about a broken down organ supplying the pretext for writing the carol was, in his opinion also wrong. We carried along the ancient and narrow Steingasse lined on both sides with very tall buildings with thick stone walls, crossed the river and made our way to the Cathedral square where the Xmas market was, again, in full swing.

The original cathedral was built in 774 by St. Virgil (745-784). After the fire of 1598 reconstruction of the cathedral commenced in 1614 under Prince Archbishop Markus Sittikus to plans by Santino Solari. It was consecrated in 1628 by Prince Archbishop Paris Lodron. The Dom must be Salzburg’s most distinctive religious building and must have been even more astonishing when it was first built: the first truly renaissance church north of the Alps. The interior is stunning with wide spaces, exquisite stuccoes and altars; a wonderfully old Celtic baptismal font carried on four lions and a glorious organ. It is difficult to imagine that bombing during the last war seriously damaged the cupola and a large part of the cathedral, so carefully has the restoration work been carried out.

We then visited the Rupertinum, a modern art gallery where we were treated to a exhibition of photos by Wee Gee, an American photographer who depicted 30's and 40's seamy USA, of whom I had previously known nothing. The subjects were often sordid but always remarkable and vivid. On the top floor was a select collection of Austrian expressionist and fin de siecle paintings and engravings of which the high spot was a magnificent and evocative lake landscape by Gustav Klimmt.

We had made an appointment to meet up with Helmut at the Mozart statue for a cathedral square concert at six and as we had a little time we treated ourselves to another Gluhwine and a hot punch, sorely needed as by this time the temperature had descended several degrees below zero.

We met up with Helmut and his colleague, Prof. Ekehardt, and shortly afterwards the concert began. From the top of the portico fronting the cathedral a brass ensemble played some renaissance Salzburg fanfares.

These were then echoed by another brass ensemble placed on top of the tower of the Town Hall. A third brass ensemble was placed on the roof terrace of the Cafe near St Joseph’s church on the far side of the square. And so it went on with more renaissance pieces and some beautiful chorales and traditional Austrian Christmas carols none of which I knew but which seemed to be well-known among the populace since they were humming along to them.

The acoustics with the echoes of the brass against the walls and buildings of the square, the silent star-lit sky and the bells of the fiaker taking their blanket wrapped passengers along the streets added inestimably to the atmosphere, which was quite enchanting.

After the concert Helmut took us to a local pub where we were suitable warmed up after a couple of beers and thence home to the Auerhahn to crash out.


12 December 1999

On Sunday we had the whole day to ourselves.

In the morning I visited the Mozart Wohnhaus. I had visited this house before in 1964. Mozart lived there between 1770 and 1780, after the family had moved out of the cramped quarters in the Getreidegsasse and before Mozart moved permanently to Vienna. It is a very spacious house, reflecting on the increased status of the family and is most elegantly finished.

Unfortunately, half of the house was bombed and destroyed during the war. When you) (and I last visited it in 1993 an ugly office building occupied the bombed part. But now that building has been demolished (in 1996) and the rest of the Wohnhaus rebuilt as it was before the WW2. It really looks fine now.

Inside I visited an excellent exhibition dealing with Mozart's family, which actually taught me many things I had not known before. (E.g. what books his dad had in his library, that Wolfgang liked rifle shooting at targets etc.)

In the afternoon we visited the Salzburg Festung, or fortress. Built in 1077 by Archbishop Gebhard, considerably enlarged by Archbishop Leonhardt Von Keutschach (1495-1519), largest, fully preserved fortress in central Europe. The medieval princes' apartments and the
Fortress Museum are of particular interest. Since 1892 the fortress can easily be reached by funicular railway departing from the Festungsgasse.

We took the steep path up past the Nonnsal nunnery which had a beautifully mysterious gothic church with extraordinary views over the Alps (the scene filmed in the Sound of Music as an amazing Bournemouth gay we met there informed us) and through the various rings of fortification walls and gateways into the main Fortress area.

I think this is probably the most impressive castle I have ever seen in my life (though Chillon, Stirling and Bodiam come close). Not only are the views over Salzburg and the mountains stunning and the military equipment very complete, the state apartments dating from the gothic period are absolutely gorgeous in their blue and gold. You really get the feel of what it was like to live as a mediaeval knight there (they also have jousting here!)

In the courtyard a Christmas market was taking place and we warmed ourselves up again with a glass of Gluhwein. A brass quartet played some old music and there was an enchanting festive atmosphere all around.

We took an acoustic tour of the rooms and the commentary was very good. The whole admission charges were less than two pounds each. Compare this with the Tower of London's eight pound rip off... and the fortress here seemed to encourage the local community to visit it rather than standing off like the tower of London.

Actually, Salzburg is much cheaper than I expected. No beer costs more than 1.50 per glass, the coffee is also cheaper than that on any station platform in London and the admission charges are very reasonable. I would say that, together with the transport it is considerably cheaper than London is!

We then walked the length of the Monchberg to descend into the area of Mulln. Although it was getting quite dark now family groups, couples and cyclists were still taking their evening walk, complete with fur coats and Tyrolean hats, and there was no sense of threat such as one gets in London if one ventures into Hyde Park after dark. The citizens of Salzburg have always had their space and have to think of reclaiming nothing of this space, unlike the benighted inhabitants of London.

The views from this end of the Monchberg were out of this world. Salzburg twinkled below with its ornate domes, onion spires and palace windows like a miniature city model and through its centre the river Salzach reflected the lights of the embankments on both sides. This was a fairytale scene.

At the end of the path the tower of the Agostiner church beckoned and we descended into the street below where the wonderfully guided church was disgorging its congregation. Happy groups talked in the streets and met acquaintances and many made their way across the lantern-lit street to the portals opening into the Agostiner Bier Keller. What a good way to finish a church service - after spiritual refreshment some more earthy one!

When you enter the Agostiner Keller you descend a monumental staircase with a Saint at each end. You then find yourself in a wide corridor, which has little food outlets on one side where you can buy schnitzels, chips and salads. Jonathan had a salad and chips and I chose schnitzel and chips, all very reasonable priced at less than fish and chip prices (and much more delicious.)

From the corridor three beer Kellers open out, each one larger than the other. The atmosphere is very nineteen-thirties with dark smoke shadowed walls and wood panelling. Each Keller must be at least as big as a fair sized swimming baths hall. At the end of the corridor shelves of the characteristic dark-grey beer mugs in half and litre sizes are laid out on shelves. We each took one, washed it in the ornate brass fountain in the centre, paid for our beer at the kasse, obtained a ticket, went to the counter where the beer master took our tickets and poured out a delicious frothy beer straight from the barrel.

We took our beer and our food to one of the tables and dug into our food and drink.

We each had one Marzer beer and two, stronger bock biers and felt none the worse for it. Towards ten we left the Keller walked towards the river, went across on the footbridge, caught a bus for the Auerhahn and crashed out.

What is nice about these bier Keller is their family-friendly atmosphere. Wives, husbands and children meet there in cosy groups around the tables, eating, drinking, talking and laughing. There is none of the hideous drunkenness one meets with in many English pubs. A visit to the Keller after evening service is the most natural thing; it seems for Salzburg society!


13 December 1999

Yesterday after a morning and some of the afternoon teaching & working on the book, Regina took us for a car ride in the surrounding of Salzburg. Within 15 minutes we were out in the country at Maria Plain where there is a beautiful baroque church on a hill with a lovely big sloping lawn in front of it and a most amazing view of the whole Salzburg valley and the magnificent back cloth of mountains.

Today more snow is predicted.

After the ride we went back for kaffee & kuchen at Gina's flat. Before that, however, we had a delightful walk round her neighbourhood down a tributary of the Salzach, down to the Salzach and back.

In the evening we paid probably our last visit to the Agostiner Keller. We had the delicious bock bier, which is only made during the Christmas season and is nice & strong.

After that back to the Auerhahn.


I’m at work today and more snow is on the way.

Visited more of Salzburg yesterday afternoon. In the evening took evening class at Hallein, a lovely old town, formerly a major producer and exporter of salt, in the mountains to the south.


Yesterday afternoon we returned after a good day's work teaching and working on the book which is going well. In the evening we helped out Helmut at his evening class in Hallein which is a town about ten miles south of Salzburg. We then went to Helmut's apartment where we had some good beer and drank prosecco. Helmut showed me his photo album, with all his motorbike trips through Europe. He's got a Honda 500cc.

He’s also an amazing artist using China Ink and paints old street scenes etc in the area. In fact his local bank commissioned Him to paint their Hallein branch and put it on their customer Xmas card. Helmut’s still waiting for the interest on his account to be reduced as a result.


15 December 1999

After a morning's work at the school we returned to the Auerhahn to pick up our bags and wait for Helmut. Helmut took us to a beautiful chalet in the village of St Leonhard Grodig, which is to the south of Salzburg. (In 1993 we must have passed it on the way from the Grossglockner to Salzburg.)

By now it had been snowing since the early morning and the countryside was as Christmas card-like as you can get with white glistening fir trees and white roofed houses. The landscape was magically changed.

My room in the pension is fantastische! Under the eaves with a sloping roof it has a double bed and a balcony with a beautiful view over the upper Salzach valley. In front loom the steep rock slopes of the Untersberg mountain (over three times the height of Ben Nevis) with its top mysteriously covered by thick mists.

We didn't remain long at the Pension as we had received an invitation to meet Utte and her husband who live in Puch, near Hallein. Helmut told us to expect an exceptional house and it was! Built by the husband's architect brother it is very modern, yet traditional at the same time, and very beautiful with an aerodynamic roof, solar panels, amazing triangular plan, and a superb winter garden with flowering geraniums and tropical plants with vast views looking over a snow-mantled landscape stretching to the mountains.

Utte and her husband, who is a retired civil engineer, treated us to Austrian sweetmeats, cookies and coffee and tea. Each family has its own secret recipes for the traditional Christmas cakes and doesn't disclose them to anyone else (on extreme pain of punishment!). But clearly marzipan, schnapps, raisins, nuts, candied fruit, chocolate and hazelnut spread, must be among their most common ingredients.

Utte then took me and Jonathan on a guided walking tour of Hallein (which we two also passed not the way to Salzburg in summer 1993). This very old town (one of the oldest settlements in Austria and originally founded by the Celts) was a major salt production and exporting centre until recently. In fact, the major reason why the Salzburg prince-archbishops were so rich and powerful was that they had a virtual salt monopoly over Europe by owning the major salt mines. Another place, with salt mines, was at Les Salines in France - you remember we stopped there. We walked passed old arcaded streets and gabled houses up to the church and imagine my surprise when outside the elegant renaissance church we came across the tomb of Franz Gruber, he of Silent Night fame. Gruber was the organist at the church in the 1820's and he wrote the carol there. Every year on Christmas Eve a special service is held in his memory. Gruber wrote lots of other church music but only Silent Night is widely known today. His tomb is surrounded by a wrought iron railing and is in the cosy square around the church. On the wall of the house next to it is a plaque commemorating the carol and by its side is a beautifully illuminated fir tree. Could anything be more Christmasy, I thought.

Inge's tour was delightful. She was most glad and proud to practise her English on us and we told her that she would make an excellent tour guide for Hallein.

We returned to the splendid house and found Helmut there joined by his charming wife, Inge. We chatted and chatted until it was after ten and then in the snow-filled night drove back to our delightful chalet at Grodig.


19 December 1999

On Saturday after working hard in the morning teaching IT and writing up the book Gina and her partner Gernot took us across the border into Germany for a great lunch at Freilassing. We had sausages and pork with heaps of horseradishes in a delightful Gasthaus near a fast flowing mountain river.

We then returned to Gina's home and watched a video of the Chicken House Santa Claus tour 1998. Chicken House is the pop group of which Gernot is base player. Gernot is Gina's partner, and is 15 years younger than her. She was brought up as a Protestant. He was brought up as a Catholic from a well off Salzburg family and works in an engineering firm near the Wallersee. She's got a standard VW Polo in her favourite metallic blue colour. His car is a converted Austrian ambulance and it's naturally very roomy inside.

The group's called Chicken House because its first rehearsals took place in a farm building once housing chicken. The music - a cross between relaxed West Coast rock and heavy metal - sounds really good and I've suggested that they tour England in the near future for further fame and fortune.

After this we had a chat about lots of things and then went off to see the Pretchen.

Perchten is a street carnival in which evil sprits arise and (hopefully) disappear by the end of the evening. The Perchten took place in a suburb of Salzburg and the streets were cordoned off not prevent traffic from going through.

We were definitely not prepared for what followed. Suddenly weird shapes and beings clothed in wild animal furs, bearskins rabbit pelts, cats (?) entered in a procession on the street. The demons and spirits sported the most horrifying masks with terrifying grimacing expressions and huge tooth and moveable jaws and decorated with big mouflon horns coming out of the skull. I was reminded of the demon exorcist masks form Tibet. Some of the masks were based on animals like the bear and Deer, others were clearly modelled on the faces of witches and yet more looked like death's head skulls. Many of the masks were of wood and wonderfully carved and decorated.

But this was not the end of the Perchen's activities. The furred demons pounced on unsuspecting spectators lining the roads and had a particular predilection for nubile girls. One demon grabbed a fair-haired pretty one round her waist, thrashed her with the thongs he carried in his right hand and lifted her high in the frozen night air. Suitably subjugated the poor and truly terrified girl was then thrown to the demon's companion outstretched on the road. Sandwiched between two hellish fiends the girl had no option but to resign her to an act of ritual rape. It was not for real, of course, but it looked very life-like. The girl was then released and escaped from the clutches of the monsters. Pallid-faced with shock she was visibly shaken by the traumatic experience, which were amusingly watched by the other spectators.

Carts with symbols of witchcraft and skulls illuminated by bright red flares trundled throughout the street in nightmarish procession. Screams and gasps followed from the multiple abductions these fiends lavished on the spectators.

This was the dark side, the unconscious side of Salzburg, the releasing of undeclared tensions, the resolution of conflicts, and the defeat of evil. Jonathan and I could not quite believe what we were witnessing and at the end when the wild fur wrapped spirits with their ghastly masks and their huge curved horns disappeared into the dark night we thought we almost might have hallucinated and attended a walpurgisnacht, a witch’s Sabbath of blood and terror.

As Gina "this country has not only produced Mozart. It has also produced Freud."


December 1999

This morning we had our usual breakfast at the hotel. It is very good and filling. There is muesli, kaffee, and glass of orange, cheese & ham rolls rye bread with peach blossom honey & jam and yoghurt and as it's self-service you can eat as much as you like. (Also there is hardly anyone else in the hotel at present: we seem to have the whole place to ourselves). We also make up another roll to take away, as in Holland. Then off to the school, which is at the back of the hotel and thus only 5 minutes, walk.

Here we have more kaffee, this time in a great little staff room, which looks like an alpine hut inside with pine, panelled walls etc. Today we were offered Krapfen; delicious cream and jam filled Austrian doughnuts. And then, perhaps after another kaffee or two, we might even get some work done!


After a good morning's work teaching and also writing up the book yesterday, Gina picked us up and we had a nice walk around two frozen lakes near her house. After that we went in for a great lunch of vegetable strudel.

We then caught the train for Puch where Inge picked us up and we headed for Bischopshofen and the mountains. The car soon started driving though snow (they use special tyres in winter) and parked the car at a suitable place. With our toboggans we walked up the snowed under road and eventually reached a mountain Gasthaus. Here, in a most convivial atmosphere in a wood panelled room heated by a large tile stove and decorated with various stuffed birds including the Auerhahn in Balzen position with ruffed up feathers, we had delicious cheesy knockerl in a saucepan in the centre of the table and on top of that place on a sort of tripod, hot sauerkraut with bacon. This lovely meal we ended with fruit schnapps served in miniature beer mugs.

We then went out into the freezing cold evening. The sky was the clearest I have ever seen with all the constellations and all the Pleiades on twinkling show. Absolute silence reined. There was not even the slightest breath of wind. Time seemed to stand still.

We then jumped on our toboggans and sledded down in the almost full moonlit evening between snow flecked fir trees. It was quite magical. The effect of the moonbeams on the scintillating snow was stunning and the moon shone like an astrally ethereal searchlight bathing the silhouettes of mountains and firs in silvery light.

We got back into the warm car we drove to Inge's school (she teaches nursery school student teachers there) where there was a school end of term show. Inge's daughter played the drums in one jazzy piece and there was also a sketch based on the character of the departing music mistress, poetry and prose readings and at the end an arrangement of Lennon's song about Christmas followed by a great arrangement for choir (in which Inge sand) of the Irish blessing.

After that we were invited to a reception in which the principal uncorked various bottle of red and white wine.

They have a great way of celebrating advent here in the staff room. A trough filled with multi-coloured balls has hidden in it various film canisters in which sweets are placed. A member of staff is then blindfolded and has to go into the trough and search for the canister among the coloured balls. Everyone has to have a go and evidently it's very therapeutic for stressed out members of staff.

We then returned to our adorable accommodation in St Leonhardt's near Grodig.

This morning we took a bus into town to the school passing the most wonderful scenery, the old folk's home which with its baroque spire and courtyard must be the best place to end one's days and skirting under the huge Salzburg Fortress past the theatrical producer Max Reinhardt's mini-palace & now we're hard at work on the book before we teach again at 11.00.


After a morning's work at the HTL Gina picked us up and took us to her flat where we had a scrumptious lunch of spetzlern, which is a type of knockerl topped with cheese, sour cream etc. followed by raisin-filled baked apples.

She then took us with her little daughter Susanna to the Wallersee where her family has a chalet.

We approached the lake through a snow-covered landscape. The lake stretched out to a hazy horizon, the only sign of life on it were a few great-crested grebes paddling laconically in the icy waters. By the lakeshore stretched a neat row of lovely wooden chalets with balconies. Gina took us to hers, which had a boathouse in front of it with three boats including two sailing boats inside.

Outside a path led to the lakeshore. On either side larger tarpaulin covered boats slept during the winter. This is clearly a great place to go sailing in spring and summer and the lake becomes more than warm enough for swimming in.

We returned to the flat for a huge torte with kirsch and topfen and then Helmut met us to go to teach the evening class at Puch.

We didn't have much of a chance to teach English, at least conventionally. The students had put an amazing spread in front for us with cakes and cheeses and hams and little Xmas decorations on the table and we each received a little pottery hand-painted Xmas tree as well.

Snaps and wine were liberally served and Helmut gave us a whisky testing presentation starting with black label and finishing with the rarest of Irish whiskies.

After a lot of leave taking we returned to Helmut’s where we completed the whisky tasting session and then drove back through a silent snow-covered landscape to our chalet.

This morning I woke up to a magnificent view of the Untersberg before me. This was the first time we could see its jagged summit since we arrived and the sight of the morning sun guilding the upper snows and the little refuge hut at near the summit was truly glorious.

We then went to the Dom. Platz in Salzburg where Helmut picked up his Christmas tree for the family from the Christmas tree man near Mozart's statue. A sign proclaimed that all the trees were Mond Schieden, or cut by moonlight, and this meant that they would not loose their needles so fast.

Anyway here we are at the Hochschule and since Helmut has a bad cold and throat we shall take some of his classes for Him.

Many legends are in circulation dealing with this Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. They say that he is not dead, but that he shall live until the Day of Judgement, and also that no legitimate Emperor shall rise up after him. Until that time he will remain hidden in the Untersberg. When he appears he will hang his shield on a dead tree, and leaves will sprout from the tree, and then better times will be at hand. From time to time he speaks to those who find their way into the mountain, and from time to time he makes appearances outside the mountain. Generally he just sits there on a bench at a round stone table, asleep with his head in his hands. He constantly nods his head and blinks his eyes. His beard has grown very long, according to some it has grown through the stone table, according to others it has grown around the table. They say that it must grow around the base three times before he awakens. At the present time it has grown around the table twice.

In 1669 a peasant from the village of Reblingen who was hauling grain to Nordhausen was taken into the mountain by a little dwarf. He was told to empty out his grain and allowed to fill his sacks with gold in its place. He saw the Emperor sitting there entirely motionless.

In addition, a dwarf led a shepherd into the mountain who had once played a tune on his flute that had pleased the Emperor. The Emperor stood up and asked: "Are ravens still flying around the mountain?" When the shepherd answered "yes," the Emperor responded: "Then I must sleep for another hundred years."


Incidentally, presents are given here on Xmas eve, not Xmas day!



Monday, 20 December 1999

Yesterday Sunday went to the local church, which is next door to our hotel and attended a really nice service with carols etc. in the delightful baroque pilgrimage church of St Leonhardt.

In the afternoon we went to Schloss Leopoldskron which was Max Reinhardt’s house and is only open one day a walk.

It was amazing. Even more amazing was the fact that it had now started to snow and with a very short time Salzburg with its cupolas and spires and palaces and trees was covered with a magical blanket of snow. Wonderful.





This is a Christmas time of gifts

and resin smell of fir,

of snow upon dusk statues breasts

and healing scent of myrrh.


Along the frozen lake strange cries

weep through a glaciered copse

as falling pellicles enshroud

the tracks of silver fox.


Across the whiteness a faint light

seduces my numbed face

while in the palace window flames

leap up through curtains of lace.


Blanched deserts of the mind enfold

a fabled valley's shape;

the path has stopped, the flakes still fall,

my fingers stroke your conjured nape.


They hold a raven braided hair,

they gaze through endless eyes,

they touch red holly-berry lips

and one more kiss expands and dies.






Red moon through windows,

lanterns by the farmhouse,

unmeasured night plains.


Her face reflected

against a giant’s circle:

hair caressing glass.


A dragon combs night

apparelled with galaxies

of cosmic jewels.


He follows me still

across primeval forests:

so large this blood moon



Is that a false light

beyond the lairs of eagles

beyond gods eyelids?


The year’s shortest day

burns unpassioned behind peaks

of infinite snow.


Could green ever be

the colour of death’s membrane

the shade of life?


Seized on night’s mantle

this steel-fanged journey has no

beginning no end.






High Bishop's rooms cast eyes on me

with instruments of pain;

gold serpent columns of delight

enfold my heart again.


The dusty feuds collapse like swords

enrusted with old age

and warring suits of armour plate

release the gibbet's cage.


Upon this fortress hill I look

across an icy chain

while in the courtyard brass bands play

a carol's soft refrain.


The Christmas market's like a hive

attracting sweetest wine

where chattering groups drink warming cups

upon the cobbled chine.


The bull lies silent in the tower

and glasses clink on stands:

between fur coats and silken wraps

gloved hands connect with hands.


Ice mountains rise with souls of fire

and eagles pause on air;

below the city goes to sleep

beyond all wordly care.





It’s a long journey

for a tired and greying man

but what a charmed spot!


Steep chasm-edged road,

marble tunnel and lift’s door

and then: home at last.


Such a sweet present:

a pity that I am scared

of heights and caverns!


A fresh dawn ascends

on golden eagle’s nest:

pallid doubts disperse.


The transfixing light

smiling above all others:

new planets dispose.


White land lies fallow:

weakness of defeated heart,

jackboots of the night.


Steel sword is cast in fire,

dragon tongues implode on blades,

incise a crescent.


To take tea and cakes

in the company of gods,

in idols’ twilight.


The patisserie’s

exquisite .. I cannot wait

To boulevardier.


Thank god no perfume..

but her sable coat displays

short thrift for nature.


Within the knights’ rock,

at the core, the new order

is not dead but sleeps.


Hoards of darkness crushed

by plates of tectonic force

refine the weak blood.


Here’s mind’s sepulchre,

the catacombs of the soul

and superman’s cloak.





A flute and harp pursue each other’s flight:

like humming-bird and bee they seek the tongue

of sweetness, inner calyx of love’s night,

and suck a phrase unheard, a song unsung.


Around, insidious plants hide in the dusk,

with putrefying smells and flesh-scarred thorns;

yet here is argent silk and scent of musk

that lighten darkness, draw smiles on scorns.


Dark marble wraps the frozen chapel wall,

a lover’s name enshrined upon a plaque

seducing phrase that glides before its fall,

entwirls, roulades, cascades and then grows slack.


Young man, your head is filled with golden dreams

before your life collapses at its seams.





A chocolate portrait is what I’ve become,

complete with powdered hair and candied glance:

such gorgeous truffles (yet too sweet for some)

delicious invites to dusk’s carnal dance.


Was I too early or was it just chance

that I escaped from that exquisite slum?

Court posers tremble to be overcome

while my concertos sing and life-enhance.


They’re taking cash on my unfinished scores,

my serenades play at the restaurant

and corporations and effetes embrace

the shade of him whom god alone adores.


Meanwhile, the solemn sound of death’s calm chant

vibrates through worlds of curled perukes and lace.








Could I earn your friendship,

clear mirrored soul,

and cast this impaired life

into one whole?


A cold morning breaks,

the land stares dead,

yet under the iced soil

fresh tubers spread.


A pure refiner’s fire

shall dissolve stars,

create new worlds of light

and heal deep scars.


Your eyes open windows

on unknown paths,

your lips turn a gateway

to unfelt hearths.


Tracing the orbs of suns,

your hand in mine,

I’ll look on blossomed lands

that always shine.



© Francis Pettitt 1999