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Wonderfully Odd & Oddly Wonderful: Salzburg’s Curiosities
They do still exist. Places with a scurrilous history, fascinating quirks, half hidden from the gaze of the public. Often, intriguing witnesses to compelling times. And all too frequently, oblivious, we stroll past them in total ignorance. That’s why we set out to track down some of Salzburg’s curiosities.
Our short walk begins in beautiful Mirabell Gardens, in the heart of Salzburg City. A colorful sea of flowers in springtime and summer, these magnificent grounds, which were originally designed back in the 17th century, exude a very special, albeit somewhat restrained magic during the autumn and winter months as well. For example, if you stroll alongside the stone wall behind the famous Pegasus Fountain during the second half of the year, you can make out something that is generally hidden behind voluptuous climbing roses: Two faces, hewn into stone. stare out at us: At first, we are a little taken aback – understandable after all, since those two stony-yet-sublime expressions do have something rather scurrilous about them. Carefully, we slide the last remaining tendrils to the side and move in for a close-up look. What tales could they tell us? How on earth did they end up here in this wall? Historians assume these are actually the heads of statues that once stood on top of the palace. In all likelihood, they fell victim to the great fire of 1818. But so that the heads could be spared at least, they were incorporated into the wall right across from the palace. An odd couple indeed!
A Tank in the Steingasse
Spurred on by our first “find”, we now roam in the direction of the Steingasse. Awaiting us there is a relic from more recent history. Right there on the corner of “Das Kino”, a Salzburg institution and magnet for movie buffs, a chunk of stone broken out of the wall recalls the final days of World War Two. Apparently, it was precisely at this spot that a group of American soldiers managed to get their tank stuck. Rumor has it they had wanted to trundle through the Steingasse so as to pay a visit to a “house of ill repute” known as the “Maison de Plaisir”. The truth of that aspect of the story can’t be verified, of course. But we are certain that the tank was well and truly wedged in on the corner of Steingasse, and eventually had to be cut out. What remains is a nick out of the stone wall. And yet another hidden curiosity in our beautiful, venerable city.
“Dich sing ich wilde Zerklüftung”
Just a few meters from the corner where the tank took a bite out of Salzburg, we encounter the next unusual place in our travels. We stroll along the Steingasse heading away from the main part of the city, stopping at the Inneres Steintor. Right here, where a sign confirms that we are indeed standing in front of the “Inneres Steintor”, an anonymous literature aficionado left behind a piece of fan graffiti dedicated to Salzburg poet Georg Trakl. “Dich sing ich wilde Zerklüftung” from Trakl’s poem “Die Nacht” has been immortalized here in a florid hand. There are eight official memorial plaques in Salzburg City dedicated to Georg Trakl. But I guess, thanks to this unendorsed Trakl commemoration, we can now raise that number to nine.
A church used as a stable
Our unusual walk now brings us to the Collegiate Church. This beautiful house of worship on Universitätsplatz is one of the most important baroque churches in Salzburg. That said, its beauty wasn’t always appreciated quite as much as it is today. Back in 1800, right after the bloody Battle of Walserfeld, French soldiers occupied today’s Collegiate Church. It’s fair to say, they weren’t exactly awestruck by the holiness of the building, preferring instead to turn this baroque church into horse stables. Because the troops also liked to hang out here, and the Salzburg nights do tend to get a bit chilly on occasion, they didn’t think twice about lighting a nice warm fire right there in the middle of the church, on the beautiful marble floor. The centuries-old charred patch caused by the fire still exists. But today, we are pleased to say, instead of horses and soldiers, you are far more likely to encounter believers “trooping” in and out of the beautiful Collegiate Church. Good reason, then, to pause here and allow this sacred building to work its wonders on us as well. And then, we step outside and set off for our fifth, and final “place of scurrility”.
Advertising from the 18th century
Our goal isn’t too far from Universitätsplatz, located inside one of the so-called “through-houses” that run to and from the Getreidegasse. Right about in the middle of one of these, known as the “Treasure Through-House”, we stop and look up. And there they hang – of all things, a shark and a whale rib. Sounds a bit weird, right? But it’s true! The story is this: In the 18th century, a resourceful merchant came up with the idea off presenting his products, which he imported from the Levant, in a way that would grab the public’s attention. So, without further ado, he suspended a small shark from the ceiling, and next to it the whale rib. No doubt the talk of the town “back in the day”. The “flying monster” would even make one more grand appearance, in a production of “Faust” directed by Max Reinhardt.
We take a look at this advertising from early modern times from different angles, before setting off for home with a smile on our faces. You’d think that, in a small place like Salzburg, you’d already know all of its little secrets. But far from it. Clearly, the city still has all kinds of quirkiness just waiting to be unearthed. And how cool is that!