The border between the Czech Republic and Austria offered a sharp contrast. The highway and the surroundings changed instantly on crossing, reflecting the relative wealth of Austria, and the long economic doldrums suffered by the Czechs under Soviet domination. Once on the Austrian side, we noticed even country houses were in excellent repair, often decorated with colorful flowers in window boxes.
The City of Salzburg confirmed this impression. The city was “on show,” with many fashionable shops and boutiques, and all sorts of public monuments. One of the chief attractions is the house where Mozart was born:
We stayed at the Hotel Graml, just outside of town, and traveled by tour bus to and from the city center.
The performance of the service was to take place at St Peter’s church, where Mozart himself first played the C minor mass. While the singers rehearsed, I inspected the church cemetery, some graves of which date to the 13th century.
After rehearsal, we and our friend Kay went for a late afternoon snack at the nearby market plaza, where, after a few minutes, we were addressed by a solitary fellow patron who was sitting near us. From his clothing it seemed he might be a laborer on break, or even unemployed. He was interested in talking to us because he could tell we were Americans.
He wanted to express his enthusiasm for…Elvis Presley! Our conversation consisted of exchanging titles of Elvis songs, and he quickly got beyond our knowledge of them. He told us that, next to Jesus, he admired Elvis the most. We always laughed among ourselves later that in Salzburg, a monument to Mozart, this man had very different tastes! Perhaps our reaction went a little too far. How often do we find ourselves ignoring our own town while admiring others, even in distant countries?
Our groups sang the service the next day at St Peter’s Church. In the afternoon we went to see Salzburg castle, which dates from the 11th century.
In the evening we were able to buy tickets to a concert, played in the Schloss Mirabell, where Mozart himself used to play. We heard trios by Mozart, Dvorak, and Schubert.
The next day we visited Mondsee, at the little village that played such a big role in The Sound of Music, including some informal singing in the village church where the wedding scene was filmed. One or two of the singers went swimming in the lake.
We enjoyed our stay in Austria. The Salzburgers we met were well-organized, professional and polite, although seemingly not as excited to see us as the Czechs were. After all, their city has been a tourist attraction for a long time. Many years later we returned to Austria to visit Vienna.
Our next stop was back in the Czech Republic: the city of Cesky Krumlov.