Salzburg to Vienna

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Salzburg to Vienna

(COURIER: You can either take the scenic route via the Salzkammergut, or else the quick route, staying on the Autobahn the whole way. We'll give both routes here.)


Salzkammergut  We'll be skirting the famous lake district of the Salzkammergut, one of Austria's most scenic areas. This is due to the lakes, forests, and resort towns like Gmunden, Bad Ischl, and St. Wolfgang. The harmonious balance of mountains, lakes, and valleys has often invited comparison to the classical style of Mozart's music. Mozart knew the area well. The beauty of the area made it a perfect setting for the filming of the Sound of Music. The Salzkammergut is named for the rich salt deposits which have been mines ever since the Middle Ages. The city of Salzburg itself grew up from the prosperity that flowed from salt mining, over which the Archbishops of Salzburg held a monopoly. There are salt mines (like the one at Hallein) that visitors can go down into.

Salt Mining (COURIER: You might use this if you haven't already.) This part of Austria has always been famous for salt mining. Salzburg includes the word "salt" in its very name, and the city's wealth over the centuries was based on the mining of salt. Today, salt mining is only a minor industrial activity, but it used to be otherwise: from prehistoric times to the 20th century, salt was a precious mineral to be exploited. Recall that before refrigeration, salting meat was about the only way to keep it from spoiling, and salt could also cover up the taste of slightly spoiled meat. Salt was ordinarily a government monopoly, which meant that a tax was levied on salt. This tax was one of the most irksome of all, since people felt that salt was a basic necessity — as if air or water were to be taxed. In the Salzburg area, salt was the monopoly first of the Archbishops of Salzburg, then of the Habsburg emperors. The Salzkammergut area was full of salt mines, and therefore banned to visitors and settlers in order to prevent untaxed salt from being smuggled out. (This is why the area has remained unspoiled over the centuries.) The peasants who lived in the towns were "locked in" and prevented from leaving; citizens from other regions were "locked out" and could not move in. This situation lasted until the early 19th century, when the Emperor Franz Joseph, in his youth, discovered its scenic attractions. (By this time, the area was no longer "quarantined," since the salt monopoly had been done away with.) Franz Joseph established his summer residence at Bad Ischl, and the Austrian aristocracy began to flock to the Salzkammergut.

How salt is mined: First, miners locate a salt bed underground. Next, a pit is dug down into this bed, and the pit is flooded with water. The water dissolves the salt, forming a salty solution. This salty water is then pumped out of the mine and poured into huge vats built on the mountainside. In the early days, the salt was refined right on the spot, using wood-burning furnaces. But it was difficult and expensive to keep hauling this firewood up the mountain, so instead huge pipelines were built to conduct the salty water miles away to salt refineries. These pipelines were sometimes of wood, sometimes of iron. The longest one ran for 49 miles! Sometimes aqueducts were built to cross over narrow valleys. If you go up into these mountains, you'll see bits of these old pipelines zigzagging up and down the slopes. Footpaths were worn in the mountainside alongside these pipelines, and even where the pipelines have been taken down, the paths remain, and have become popular hiking trails for weekenders. Sometimes the salty water was transported on river barges. Today, modern mining and refining techniques have done away with a lot of this, but picturesque ruins of salt works can still be seen here and there.

"Salty" traditions: Other remnants of the past survive in the mines of Austria. The salt workers still think of themselves as a kind of "guild," a brotherhood. There are many old words and expressions still used, such as Gluck auf (Good luck); on festival days in local salt-mining towns, the workers wear their traditional uniforms, and exchange tales of gremlins and ghosts which are supposed to haunt the deeper shafts of mines at certain times of the year.

Salt spas: In one respect, salt is still very much in "fashion." Salt springs have always been held to have curative value: for rheumatism, heart ailments, skin rashes, arthritis, even sexual impotency. Europeans are nothing if not great hypochondriacs, and they'll head for a mineral spa at the drop of a headache. Thus, salt spas remain popular places for young and old alike. They bathe in salt water, soak in salty mud, and breathe salt vapors. There are many towns with the name "Bad" (bath) incorporated into their name: Bad Ischl, Solbad Hall — a sure sign they're resort spas.

Mondsee (COURIER: See under "Scenic Route." Use as much of the write-up as is appropriate to what you can see from the Autobahn.)

Attersee (off Autobahn to our right). This lake, also in the Salzkammergut, is the largest body of water in Austria. (Also known as the Kammersee.) The lake is exactly twice the size of the Mondsee: 12 miles long, 2 miles wide. At its deepest, it's 560 feet. There's much traffic on the lake: sailboats (famous sailing regatta held every year), fishing boats, gravel boats carrying the product of the pits in the mountains, and peculiar rafts which are used to carry just about anything. The water is clear and very cold (unlike the Mondsee, with warm water), hence very little swimming. Abounds with fish: char, lake trout, pickerel. Austrian celebrities have traditionally built pleasure villas along the shore.

(COURIER: After the Autobahn exit for Gmunden, the two routes to Vienna are the same.)


Mondsee  The town and the lake have the same name, which means "Moon Lake." The name was given to the lake by the Romans, who were impressed by its beauty. Some say they called it that because of the lake's crescent shape, some say it was because the Romans were awed by the reflection of the full moon in the lake. The water is the warmest of the Salzkammergut lakes, and swimming is popular. The town goes back to the Benedictine abbey built here in 748. (The only remains of the Romans are some tombstones in the entrance porch of the abbey.) Medieval abbeys weren't just humble monasteries located out in the countryside, full of monks spending their days in prayer and contemplation. Abbeys often owned large tracts of land, including villages and towns, and they collected taxes from the peasants and townspeople. They were also responsible for providing defense of their lands. This made the abbeys a powerful influence, with the abbot exercising political as well as religious authority. The abbeys were a part of the whole feudal pattern of medieval Europe, the abbot being just another kind of feudal lord. With the coming of the modern nation-state, the abbeys were invariably the target of kings, who sought to strip them of their political power. Henry VIII did this in England by simply expropriating their land and plundering their riches. Other monarchs took a gentler approach. During he French Revolution, the abbeys of France were either dissolved or deprived of their political authority. The Abbey of Mondsee, like abbeys elsewhere, had grown wealthy during the Middle Ages. Its church, built in 1470, was (and still is) the largest in the province of Upper Austria. In 1791, Emperor Josef (son of Maria Theresa) closed the abbey, made its church the local parish church, and converted the other abbey buildings into a castle. This castle was later owned by the German royal family, who used it as a summer resort, and then was used as an American summer school up until WW II. Today, the ground floor is a tavern, and the upper floor is a quality antique shop.

Mondsee lake dwellings: Though the Benedictine abbey goes back to 748, and the Romans were here even before that, the earliest settlers of all came here during the Stone Age (ca. 3,000 B.C.) Remains of lake dwellings on piles have been found, indicating that this was one of he earliest parts of Austria to be inhabited. The Stone Age settlers were either escaping wild animals in the woods, or else protecting themselves from rival tribes —probably both.

Legend of the Mondsee flood: A popular local legend tells of the creation of the lake. Originally, the story goes, there was no lake here, only a magnificent castle surrounded by fertile fields and a small village. The villagers were hard-working and God-fearing, while the knight in the castle was cold-blooded and cruel, exploiting his subjects for every ounce of tax money he could get. On Sundays, instead of attending Mass, he put on extravagant feasts. One night, the Virgin Mary appeared to the parish priest, urging him to tell all the villagers to pack up and leave the village at once it they wanted to survive the divine judgment upon the wicked knight. That same night, the people did exactly as they were told, picking up all their belongings and settling in a new spot — where the town of Mondsee stands today. The knight watched this exodus with great amusement before returning to his feast. Then a great storm blew up, lightning flashed, and the heavens opened, pouring water down on the valley. A bolt of lightning struck the castle, and it went up in flames (evidently impervious to the rain waters). By the next morning, the whole valley had been swallowed up in water, leaving only this lake. It is said that on a clear day one can still see the old church steeple deep under the lake surface, and many a fisherman claims to have heard the dreadful screams of the knight and his drinking companions, still coming up from the lake bottom.

St. Gilgen  Resort town situated at one end of Lake St. Wolfgang. The town, lake, and surrounding mountains are often photographed for travel posters — they make up a spectacular panorama. Centuries ago, this town was the easternmost outpost of the powerful Archbishops of Salzburg, who ruled Salzburg and the territory around it. The town has connections with Mozart's family: his mother, Anna Maria Pertl, was born in the town in 1720. His sister, Nannerl, came here to live after marrying the governor of the district. In the central square, in front of the Rathaus, is the Mozart Fountain, dedicated in 1927. Today, St. Gilgen is a popular winter and summer sports center. In summer, sailing competitions are held on the lake, and are known to be arduous because of sudden squalls that blow up and often overturn the sailboats of unprepared crews. In winter, skiers take the funicular railroad up the slopes of the Zwolferhorn peak (4994 feet), which looks down on the lake from the south.

Along Lake St. Wolfgang  This lake is about the size of the Mondsee, and, like it, is popular for summer sports. The water of the lake frequently has a deep blue color that resembles the Mediterranean. Steamers cross the lake from the south shore to the town of St. Wolfgang on the north shore. Looking across the lake, we see the highest peak of this area, the Schafberg (5,676 ft.) A rack railway goes from the town of St. Wolfgang almost to the summit, where there's a large hotel. From the top, the visitor has one of the finest views anywhere in the Alpine region: 13 lakes can be seen.

Town of St. Wolfgang: This resort town is directly across the lake from us. It is especially popular since it's located a little off the beaten track — away from the main road and railway, which run on the south side. The town's most popular attraction is the White Horse Inn, which was the setting for the setting for the famous operetta. Its greatest landmark, however, is the parish church which contains an altar carved by Michael Pacher (1481) — one of the finest examples of Gothic wood carving left in Europe. The church was a popular pilgrimage site, since it stands on the spot where St. Wolfgang was supposed to have founded his hermitage.

Legend of St. Wolfgang: Wolfgang was the Bishop of Regensburg, a city about 65 miles N of Munich. Tired of administrative duties in a big city, he longed to cut himself off from the world by seeking a secluded place where he could pray and meditate. One day he left his comfortable lodgings in Regensburg and trekked off to find such a place. He came to this lake, then called Abersee, and lived in a primitive hut for five years (in the place where the town of St. Wolfgang is situated today). Local peasants started bringing their sick to him for healing and blessing. The Devil didn't take kindly to this force for good at work, and attempted to kill him by releasing a rock that plunged down the mountain in the direction of his hut. But Wolfgang stretched out his hand and the rock turned to soft putty — the imprint of his hands can still be seen in rock, it is said. Soon Wolfgang decided to build a church for his visitors, but didn't know where to locate it. So he picked up an axe and simply threw it, and the spot where it landed was where his church would be built. He immediately began work, but his strength soon gave out. The Devil, seeing his chance, offered Wolfgang his help if he could have the soul of the first pilgrim to come to the church. Wolfgang agreed, and by evening the building was complete. The Devil waited for his victim, but nobody came. In the evening, a large wolf ambled up to the church and entered. Wolfgang thus fulfilled his promise, and the Devil went mad with rage and disappeared forever. For ten more years, Wolfgang lived peacefully next to the church before returning to Regensburg.

Strobl  A lakeside resort with a large beach. Preferred by those looking for a quieter vacation site than Bad Ischl or St. Wolfgang.

Bad Ischl (Pop. 13,000) The most popular resort of all, situated in the heart of the Salzkammergut. Though it's as popular today as ever, it will always be associated with the 19th century, when it was the most fashionable summer resort for Austria's aristocracy. The Emperor Franz Joseph (reigned 1848-1916) was responsible for this, since he established his summer villa here to enjoy the scenery and especially to hunt in the woods. When the Emperor went, the whole of society followed. But even before Franz Joseph started coming here, the town had been known for the curative powers of its salt waters, established in 1820 by the Viennese physician, Dr. Wire, who pointed out astounding cures as a result of salt treatments. The Viennese elite of the 19th century came to Bad Ischl: composers like Bruckner, Brahms, Johann Strauss, and the composer of popular operettas, Franz Lehar. The Emperor himself was man of fairly simple tastes—far simpler than those of his courtiers. His first love was hunting, and his rooms in the villa were modestly furnished. He spurned newfangled luxuries like automobiles and telephones. In fact, his one and only ride in an automobile took place here in Bad Ischl, when he was invited to do so by King Edward VII of England, who was vacationing here, and who had had his car shipped here from London.

Today, the carefree life of imperial Austria has vanished — though the town is still full of gossip about the scandals — but the resort goes on. The major emphasis now is on the modernization of the thermal equipment, and Europeans, hypochondriacs all, take the "salt cure" as seriously today as they ever did, especially for respiratory ailments, liver trouble, and disorders of the stomach and digestive system.

Visiting Bad Ischl Aubockplatz - good starting place. In the square is the Trinkhalle, formerly a pumping station for salt water.

Pfarrgasse - main shopping street, with buildings remaining from the "cure life" of 19th century. E.g. Zauner cafe.

Esplanade - On this shady river front walk lived rich businessmen who made their fortune in salt refining. One of the houses (No. 10) has a typical Rococo facade and triple gables. Long before this became the Hotel Austria, the unfortunate Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, was born there in 1832. (He was the brother of Emperor Franz Joseph, who suffered many tragedies.)

Kaiserpark - north of River Ischl, is where the emperor's villa stands. On the grounds is the Cottage Kaffee, a small chateau which used to be called the Marmorschlossel, the favorite retreat of Empress Elizabeth (wife of Franz Joseph).

Along the River Traun (from Bad Ischl to Ebensee). This stretch of valley is called the Traun Corridor, since it forms a natural passage through the mountains. This used to be one of the great European salt routes. To the left of the road, a track follows the course of one of those old pipelines that took salty water from the mine to the refining plant. To our left is the massive Hollengebirge (Hell Range), its highest peak reaching 5,500 feet. The River Traun, which ahead becomes Lake Traun, is one of the major tributaries of the River Danube, which if flows into about 40 miles ahead (near Linz). The river was a convenient means of shipping refined salt in great quantity — and is still used for the purpose. Being linked with the Danube, the Traun gives access to the whole of central Europe. A major obstacle to shipping is a 50-ft. waterfall, the Traunfall, which once forced the off-loading of cargo. In 1952, a canal was cut around the falls, enabling salt boats to pass straight through. (The falls are ahead of us, but quite a ways off the Autobahn.)

Salt Mining (COURIER: See under "Quick Route." Use as much of it as is appropriate.)

Ebensee  Salt brought down the Traun Corridor was (and is) refined in the town (pop. 10,000.) From here the salt is shipped to the other end of the lake, where the River Traun resumes its northward course to the Danube. Today, glassmaking and chemical plants supplement the salt works.

On the Corniche  The corniche (ridge) from Ebensee to Traunkirchen is famous for its views. The mountains are so steep that the road has had to be hewn out of rock. Looking across the lake, you can see the Rotelspitze (3600 feet - the lower one, standing out from the one behind) and the Erlakogel (4500 feet - the highest peak). The higher peak is called die schlafende Griechin (Sleeping Greek) by the local people. If you enjoy solving puzzles, try to pick out the shape in the crests of he Erlakogel. The lake itself is the deepest in Austria (627 feet), and is situated at an elevation of 1,300 feet.

Traunkirchen  This town used to be dependent on stone quarrying, but is today a favorite stopping place for visitors, and can rival any other spot in the Salzkammergut for its scenery.

Traunstein Peak  This is the other major height on the E bank of the lake (5,500 feet). If you look carefully, you can spot the slope pitted with quarries from centuries of salt mining.

Altmunster  Oldest settlement on Lake Traun. The town has attracted musicians, many of whom have lived here at one time or another, e.g. Brahms and Wagner. Wagner composed his greatest opera, Tristan and Isolde, while staying at the villa of Otto Wesendonk. However, his interest in Otto Wesendonk's wife eventually deprived him of these lodgings.

Schloss Ort  This island-castle is linked to the mainland by a breakwater. In 1878, the Emperor's nephew, Archduke Johann Salvator, acquired the castle. Tired of court life, he lived under the assumed name of Johann Ort, hence the castle's name. When the Emperor's son, Rudolf, was found dead with his wife, "Johann Ort" claimed to know how it happened, having, he said, irrefutable evidence in a casket. But he suddenly left with the casket and took a cruise off the coast of South America, where he mysteriously disappeared.

Gmunden  The largest resort town in the Salzkammergut, and, like Bad Ischl, a popular watering place today. The town goes back to Roman times, when salt was brought here across the lake (it still is). As the salt trade continued throughout the Middle Ages, there are Gothic buildings and castles in and around the town. One of the castles is a double castle, with a Landschloss on the shore and a Seeschloss on the lake, the two connected by a causeway. Gmunden's lake beach is the best equipped for water sports in the Salzkammergut. Visitors enjoy walking along the lake-shore Esplanade, which extends for 1 1\\4 miles past flower beds and chestnut trees. There are two theaters in the town, and in the summer a major sports festival. Gmunden is most famous of all for its ceramics, especially its decorative tiles.


(COURIER: From here to Vienna the quick route and scenic route are the same.)

Kremsmunster  This Benedictine abbey goes back to the year 777, when it was founded by Tassilo III, Duke of Bavaria. According to legend, Gunther, the son of Tassilo, was killed on a wild boar hunt, and his father wanted to create a religious community on the site in order to preserve his memory. The Duke gave the abbey an exquisite chalice (known as the Tassilo Chalice — the major attraction of the abbey), which is the earliest piece of goldwork extant in Austria. A famous school was located in the abbey, numbering among its pupils some of Austria's greatest men. The 197-foot tower is known as the Mathematische Turm, and contains a library full of priceless old books (100,000 vols.) as well as science museum. The tower was part of the abbey school.

Linz (Off the Autobahn to our left - west.) This industrial city is the largest port on the Middle Danube, owing its very existence to its strategic location on the river. The Romans were the first to exploit this advantage, and they built an encampment. In the Middle Ages, merchants who shipped salt from Salzburg and the Salzkammergut used Linz as their port. Austria's first railroads ran through Linz, linking it to other industrial centers in Europe. Today, the city specializes in steel and chemical production, ship transport, and storage. During WW II, Hitler, formerly a frustrated artist, gathered a huge collection of Nazi paintings for his intended art museum in Linz, which he wanted to glorify as his birthplace. But construction was interrupted by the fall of the Third Reich. After the war, this collection of Nazi paintings was located by an American lieutenant and shipped to the U.S., where it is stored in Army warehouses and occasionally exhibited to the public. The paintings are mainly portraits of Hitler, battle scenes showing German victories, or scenes of Nazi rallies. The paintings cannot legally be returned to Germany under the Potsdam Denazification laws (which forbid the exhibition or even existence of any material tending to arouse German nationalism).

River Danube  The Autobahn won't take us very close to the river, but we can see it from a distance from time to time.

Geography: Longest river in central Europe (1,794 miles), second longest in Europe (after Volga, which is 2,292 miles). It crosses eight countries; three capital cities (Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade) are built on its banks. It forms the border between Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, runs right through Hungary, forms the border between Rumania and Bulgaria, and finally between Rumania and the U.S.S.R. It splits up into a delta and flows into the Black Sea. The river originates high up in Germany's Black Forest, about 100 yards from where the Rhine River (going the opposite direction) has its start. The Danube is formed by the junction of two mountain streams, and it grows larger and larger as rivers of all sizes flow into it. The Danube is frozen in places for about a month each winter. The river carries two billion gallons of water each day, and drains an area of Europe that's 3 1\\2 times the size of Great Britain!

Danube in history: Any river this big was always a strategic prize. Romans tried again and again to defeat the Dacian tribes to get permanent control of this waterway — and succeeded for a short time. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Danube area became a melting pot of different tribes, which is why there are so many ethnic groups (hence, smaller countries) in this corner of Europe. Over the centuries, conquerors of all kinds have used the Danube as an invasion route (e.g. Turks aiming at Vienna, Napoleon also marching to Vienna, and the Russians trying to eject the Turks from the delta area). Generally, however, the Danube isn't quite the strategic prize that the Rhine is; the Danube freezes, has shifting sandbanks that have to be marked every year, flows unevenly, and drains into an inland sea. The Danube's value in history is mainly cultural: it remains a symbol of Austria's once-vast empire, which covered half the territory through which the Danube flows. Romantic writers and musicians made the Danube a part of the "gay Vienna" of the 19th century, and that's how most visitors prefer to think of it today.

Enns (off Autobahn to the left - north). Although it has a population of only 9,000, this little town is believed to be the oldest town in the province of Upper Austria. At the time of the Romans, the whole central portion of Austria was the province of Noricum. Enns (then called Lauriacum) was big enough to be made its capital. In 304 A.D., a high Roman official named Horianus was converted to Christianity. At this time, the Roman Emperor Diocletian was carrying out a major persecution of Christians, and Horianus was ordered arrested and executed. He was taken out of the city, then thrown into the Danube. During the Middle Ages, a famous abbey, named for "St. Florian" (as Horianus came to be called), was built just a few miles from here. Since he met death by drowning, St. Florian came to be the saint called upon against drowning, and then against fire. The local townspeople would pray: "Good St. Florian, spare my house and if necessary burn my neighbor's." St. Florian became the patron saint of Upper Austria, and there's hardly a church in this province that doesn't have a statue of him, shown dressed in Roman uniform and holding a sprinkling can to put out flames.

Abbey of Melk (Visible from the Autobahn.) This famous abbey overlooks the Danube from a height of 150 feet. The original version of the abbey was built during the Middle Ages by the ruling family of Austria, the Babenbergs. Centuries later, during the Turkish invasion of Austria, the building was burnt, and in 1702 the present Baroque building was begun. The magnificence, outside and in, is characteristic of Benedictine abbeys of this time. The Benedictines were a wealthy order, owning many estates, and they built a large library, chapels, and apartments at Melk for visiting abbots, nobles, and even kings. Napoleon used the abbey as his headquarters during campaigns against the Austrians in 1805 and 1809: it was the most splendid building in the area.

St. Polten  Like other towns in the area, St. Polten goes back to Roman times, when it was a military outpost of Vienna (then called Vindobona). St. Polten was called Cetium. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, huge migrations of tribes, involving vast numbers of people, took place in this area. One tribe would come up against a neighboring tribe, pushing it back. That tribe, in turn, would knock, domino-fashion, against a third tribe, etc. It was this domino-pressure that ultimately brought about Rome's fall, but after the fall, the same pressure produced instead some savage fighting between the tribes jumbled into this part of Europe. During this time, the town of Cetium (St. Polten) was completely destroyed, and didn't come back to life until 800, when a small settlement grew up here belonging to the Bishop of Passau. The city's Town Hall and Cathedral are the main attraction for visitors today.


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