Salzburg, whose name literally means ‘salt castle’, was originally a town sustained by taking tolls from the salt barges passing through on the river. Now, it is a town sustained by music. And I’d love it if by that I meant something as wholesome as selling scores, CDs or tickets to concerts.
It is a town which must, if the contents of the shops are anything to go by, be entirely financially dependent on Mozart chocolates. Barely any kind of shop did not have a small stand dedicated to these small, spherical sweetmeats. Worse, there were some shops entirely devoted to peddling the little round bastards.
I decided that under no circumstances would I buy into this blatant tourist exploitation, but it was a vow which became progressively harder to keep. Everywhere these chocolates were sold—sorry, allow me to abbreviate that—everywhere, there were little irritatingly intriguing cross-sectional diagrams showing how, like those little pictures in GCSE physics textbooks of the interior of the planet Earth with crust, mantle, core et cetera, the Mozart chocolate contained within it shells of brightly-coloured goo. The temptation to buy one, bite through it, and see if it really was bright green at its centre was almost unbearable. And, did I mention? They’re everywhere.
If the ubiquitous Mozart chocolates hadn’t already sated your (literal) hunger for Mozart goods, there were more. Everywhere. All the standard crap like pens, rubbers, key fobs and other tourist tat, but also more normal products Mozartified—the supermarket where we decided to buy dinner even stocked “Mozart” Golden Delicious apples.
Golden Delicious is never a name which has much satisfied me in descriptive terms, seeing as the apples in question are neither golden, nor especially delicious. In fact, “Light Green Slightly Wanky” would be a far better name (but probably harder to market). But Mozart Golden Delicious? Should we add a few extra totally redundant descriptions on too? Antarctic Ten-Metre-Long Kung Fu Mozart Golden Delicious from Outer Space? At what point can I expect a complaint from the trade descriptions people? When I start selling strawberries under that name? Not in Salzburg.
In Salzburg, the word ‘Mozart’ is quite invisible. The tourists go blind to it, but if something isn’t prefaced by it, it evokes a sense of uncertainty, of doubt, like something you can’t quite put your finger on is missing, and no-one will buy your souvenir junk. It won’t be long before products already called ‘Mozart’ somethingorother will have ‘Mozart’ put on the front again, just to make sure and, before long, shops will be selling Mozart Mozart Mozart Mozart Mozart Mozart Mozart Mozart Mozart Mozart Domestos bleach cleaning spray, and the event horizon will have been reached. It will no longer be possible to write anything other than ‘Mozart’ in Salzburg. Luckily, since it is already an economy subsisting in such conditions, this state of affairs will likely go unnoticed. In fact, it is probably happening right now.
In a bid to reduce the amount of Mozart we were being subjected to, we headed for a Mozart museum, Mozarts Geburtshaus. The Germans, never disappointing in their ability to super-literally jam words together, have simply whacked together ‘Geburt’—meaning ‘birth’—and ‘haus’—meaning ‘house’—making this, literally, Mozart’s birth-house. Similarly, Salzburg is his Geburtstadt (‘birth-town’, keep up), January 27th his ‘Geburtstag’ (‘Tag’ meaning ‘day’), presumably making Austria his Geburtsland, Europe his Geburtskontinent, and Earth being his Geburtsplanet. Fascinating.
The museum was a bit weird, though. Some idiot had let some other idiot, by the name of Robert Wilson, turn what would’ve been a perfectly acceptable collection of Mozart artefacts into what is described as a “space experience”. Whoa. What this means is that somewhere between an overly literal and totally-stoned-off-your-face interpretation of a theme has been plastered over every room.
For example, the first room contained a cot with a strange porcelain Mozart doll (just to clarify, it really was a Mozart doll—a doll of Mozart—not some other doll which I’ve subconsciously added the word ‘Mozart’ in front of), above which there was a blue neon light. The slightly freaky visage was an attempt not at poor model-making, but at artistic expression: “the face, at once young and old, ageless, like his music” (or some such claptrap), accentuated by an “otherworldly neon glow”. I managed to take one photo of the scary doll before being told to put my damn camera away in three languages.
Mozart’s Geburtszimmer (that’s right, ‘birth-room’) followed shortly afterwards, with a flock of blue geese flying across the ceiling (that’s the stoned-off-your-face part), and the very next room, the death-room (not just slightly morbid, but also seeming to me to defy the storytellers’ maxim calling for a middle between beginning and end) was painted black, all black (that’s the overly literal part), to the point where there was barely enough light by which to see any of the exhibits.
Robert Wilson is an idiot.
Salzburg’s reprieve is that there’s surprisingly little Sound of Music paraphernalia. I can only hope that this is an indication that Mozart will out-last Julie Andrews’s eardrum-torturing classic. And implore you to remember Mozart by your mobile ’phone ringtone. I would say his music, but the only Mozart piece I can reliably hum is Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (it’s true, he wrote it), usually coming out with one of Beethoven’s classics by accident.
On the other hand, I can sing several excerpts from The Sound of Music, in spite of never having watched it all the way through.
I like to pretend I am more cultured than Mozart chocolates, but I’m clearly not.