Lead review

  • Book: Salzburg: City of Culture
  • Location: Salzburg
  • Author: Hubert Nowak, Peter Lewis (Translator)

Review Author: tripfiction



I have been to Salzburg once. It is a small town nestled amongst the mountains and hills (it’s important to mention the hills when you are in Salzburg, for obvious reasons), with a river at its heart (the Salzach), located not far from Italy and Germany, and busy doing its own, low key thing.

Most people would associate the city with Mozart (and it is Joannes Chrysostomus Wolgangus Theophilus Mozart). This is a city that is quietly going somewhere. Those in the know are blessed with being part of an arty, historic and culturally vibrant metropolis – if they can stand the glut of Mozart memorabilia and architectural tributes.

On page one of the book we discover that Salzburg, the city of Mozart’s birth, couldn’t really accommodate his free and colourful spirit. He was given the cold shoulder, so he ended up in Vienna. It was 50 years after his death that the city elders realised what a missed opportunity his defection had been and the first of many statues to him was erected. Salzburg has tirelessly been working on the Mozart theme ever since, and stealthily his name has become synonymous with the city (hard luck Vienna!).

The ‘other’ cultural phenomenon (if you can call it that) is that it is the setting for the film The Sound of Music (the hills are alive, and all that….). If you have the stomach for it, you can visit many of the locations in the film (including the Alm – the hilly pasture where Maria sings) taking a 9 hour round trip by coach. Unlike the city’s dedication to Mozart, which now offers two museums to the man, it is strangely ambivalent about any tribute to TSOM. There is nothing that would, at first glance, link the city to this iconic film. Is it embarrassment, perhaps, a certain discomfort with the Nazi theme of the film, or a touch of snobbery that has precluded them from cashing in on this extraordinary film (a film of which virtually everyone has heard!)? More people know about the film than they do about Mozart, the author cites his examples! Who knows, though, why they are so loathe to cash in on the film’s success.

In this book, there are all kinds of nuggets of information about the city – the mountaineers in the Spring who chip off any loose boulders on the mountain face that might fall on unsuspecting pedestrians; or hear tell that the paving stones on the iconic Getreidegasse cost €2 million; and property prices are the highest in Austria, beating prices even in the capital Vienna.

For me it was particularly delightful to see mention the multitude of crime novels set in the city. This is actually ironic because they have about one murder per annum in the city and the crime usually gets cleared up (one could add a few attempted murders over the years to boost these squeaky clean statistics). Meet Manfred Baumann’s Kommissar Martin Merana (his role model being Donna Leon and her character Commissario Guido Brunetti) whose most popular title (of six books penned so far) is Everyman Death (Jedermanntod) – a body is found on the Everyman stage, part of the Festspiele (festival) held every year. Unfortunately these books remain untranslated and in their original German (*waving* at any publishers who fancy taking on the task of translation/publication?).

This is a book I would definitely take and read on my way to visit the city. It would really get me in the mood! It is written with wry humour, acute observation, and the author’s fondness for the city really permeates the pages.

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