by Kung Fu Zu 2/2/15
This was my first trip outside Vienna since I’d arrived in Austria, to study German, some two months earlier. I chose to visit Salzburg because of its well known cultural heritage, plus it was Mozart’s birthplace. Traveling alone, I had the opportunity to practice my German, while I wandered through the streets and explored the well known sites of the beautiful city.
For a former music student, the cathedral where Mozart had played, as an employee of the archbishop, was a must see. The old town with its many narrow lanes was full of charming shops. The most delightful of these were the Konditoreien. These were combination confectionary-pastisserie-coffee shops where you could sit and drink coffee, eat cake and read a newspaper all day without anyone pressing you to hurry up and pay your bill. As for the sweets, I especially liked the “Mozart Kugel”, which had nothing to do with Mozart. But a chocolate ball surrounded by marzipan dipped in more chocolate was worthy of the genius’ name.
Of all the wonderful sites, I found the Burg, the massive old fortress perched on the side of a mountain, to be the most impressive. In its day, it had been an impregnable citadel. Large enough to hold the entire population of medieval Salzburg, it contained everything needed to carry on with life while holding off would-be conquerors during a siege. For me, the tour of the Burg was, itself, worth the visit.
After leaving the Burg, I strolled through the streets of the city for some hours. In time, the lengthening shadows told me it evening was coming, so I needed to find a place to spend the night. I jumped onto a streetcar, not exactly sure where I wanted to go. At the back of the car, I bought a ticket from the conductor who was sitting in a type of cubicle, which separated him from the passengers. I asked him if he knew of any “Pensions” or inns nearby. Shaking his head, he apologized and said that he didn’t.
A little girl, about ten years old, had been observing this exchange. She had short brown bobbed hair, neatly combed with a floral headband on top of her head. Her dark blue dress, which looked like a school uniform, was perfectly ironed and starched with a white bib from the neck to the waist. She wore polished black shoes over spotless white socks. On top of this, she wore a dark green Tirol style Loden overcoat. She was a fusion of beauty and innocence which one only encounters in pre-adolescence. I gave her a smile and she shyly smiled back.
While wondering where I might find a place to stay, there was a tug on my sleeve. I looked down and the little girl was still holding it when she said, “Excuse me. Are you a foreigner?” I chuckled when I replied, “Yes, I am.” It was pretty clear from my accent that I certainly was, but the little girl was being polite in face of the obvious.
She then said “I heard you speaking with the conductor about a place to sleep tonight. I wanted to tell you, we take in boarders.” This surprised me, and I became a bit more serious. I asked her if she was sure about this. Nodding her head she confirmed she was and said, “Oh yes, my mother is a good cook and housekeeper.” Wanting to be certain, I again asked “Are you sure your mother won’t mind?” The girl responded immediately saying “Oh no, she won‘t mind, our house is very near. We need to get off at the next stop and it’s only about five minutes walk from there; please come.” Needing a place to stay, and thinking that on basis of the little girl’s appearance and behavior she must come from a good family, I accepted.
We got off at the next stop and walked, side-by-side, toward the girl’s house. Along the way, the girl asked me where I was from, what it was like there, and such questions one often hears as a visitor to another country.
Although it was not yet four pm, the sky was beginning to darken and it was noticeably cooler than an hour before. Daylight is fleeting in a European winter.
After about five minutes, we turned into a side street and the little girl pointed toward a woman standing in front of a nearby house and said “That’s my mother!” We approached the woman and the girl blurted out “Mutti, he’s a foreigner, can he stay with us?” The woman glanced at her daughter and then at me with a puzzled look. I realized immediately something was amiss and that the woman didn’t know what to make of the situation.
Before she could say anything, I explained how I had met her daughter on the streetcar and that she had told me the family took in boarders, thus my appearance at their front gate.
A look of relief came over the woman’s face. Now smiling, she said “I’m sorry, we don’t take in boarders. I don’t know where Anna got such an idea.” The little girl blushed at hearing this and said “But Mutti, I told him…”
To avoid embarrassing Anna or her mother any further, I cut in “Now, now, Anna you heard what your mother said. I can find another place to stay tonight. Don’t worry about it. In any case, I would like to thank you very much for your help.” I patted her on the head and turned to the girl’s mother saying, “I must apologize for any trouble I may have caused. It was clearly a case of Anna wanting to help someone in need. You have a sweet child you can be proud of.”
I said “Auf Wieder Schauen” and was about to walk back to the tram stop when the woman said “Please, wait just a moment. We don’t take in boarders, but the people next door sometimes do. If you will come with me, we can go over and ask them. Anna, please go inside”. Before Anna could leave I held out I hand to her, which she grasped and shook like an adult. Again, I thanked her and watched her disappear into the house.
Anna’s mother and I went to the neighbors’ house and knocked on the large wooden door. An elderly woman who must have been in her seventies opened it. She was about 5’3” neither fat nor thin, with white hair pulled back from her face and pinned in a bun. Anna’s mother explained what had transpired and asked whether or not the old lady might have a spare room for me. “Certainly,” she said. To Anna’s mother she further said “No problem; I’ll take care of everything. Thank you for coming by.” I thanked Anna’s mother once more and, after she left, I never saw her or Anna again.
Closing the door, the old woman asked me to follow her. The house was immense. Large gray slate tiles covered the floor. The walls were white washed and spotless. I followed her up an enormous spiral staircase stopping on the third floor. She took a key from her pocket, opened a door and motioned for me to enter the room.
A large double bed, with two huge down pillows, stood against the wall. This was covered by a thick goose down comforter. The white sheet underneath the comforter was turned down forming an eight-inch border. There was a large wooden wardrobe and a thickly cushioned chair; both looked like antiques, but in excellent condition. On one wall there was a sink with a mirror above it. On another wall was a crucifix. To the left of the sink was a window niche about three feet wide and two feet deep. Lace curtains covered the window itself. On the window ledge there was a small potted plant. The room was immaculate. It was just what one would expect from an Austrian Hausfrau. It even smelled clean. Not like disinfectant, but like sun and a meadow. In short, it was perfect.
The old woman asked if the room was acceptable and I energetically responded, “It is fine.” I then asked, “How much is it per day?” She replied, “One hundred and ten schillings, including breakfast.” (This was about US$6-7.00, as I recall.) She gave me the key and told me breakfast was served from 7 till 10 am.
With that she left, closing the door behind her. I put my shoulder bag on the chair and unpacked it. Besides some clothes and shaving kit, I had packed a German novella, which I was required to read for one of my literature courses. It was too early for supper so down I sat and started reading. After a little more than an hour, I laid the book on the table next to the chair, got up, washed my face, combed my hair and went out for a bite to eat.
After dinner, I found a small pub went in and had a couple of glasses of wine. There I spoke with some Austrian students about various subjects and by the time I left, at around 11:00 pm, we had solved the world’s problems. I was in bed by 11:45 pm.
The next morning, I woke up slightly before 8:00 am. After brushing my teeth I went down the hall to have a shower. I entered the dining room at 8:30 am and was given a table by the window. The waitress, a woman in her forties, asked for my room number? She then asked what I wished to drink and if I would like a soft-boiled egg? I told her, “coffee and yes.” It wasn’t everyday that one could get a soft boiled egg.
When she returned, the waitress brought me a small feast. Along with a pot of freshly brewed coffee and soft boiled egg she brought a basket full of several types of sliced bread and rolls as well as a platter covered with all sorts of cold cuts and cheeses. Being young and constantly hungry, I made short work of what was laid in front of me. The waitress, who turned out to be the old lady’s daughter, seemed pleased. Like most Central European women she liked to see someone with a good appetite.
Having finished my breakfast, I took my leave from the waitress and went back up to my room to pack up. This took only a couple of minutes. Leaving the room, I locked the door behind me.
As I was walking down the spiral staircase to pay my bill, I encountered the old lady coming up. We stopped and greeted each other. I mentioned that I wished to settle my bill, which she said I could do right there. I pulled several bills from my pocket and counted out 110 schillings. But before I had a chance to pay her, she took my hand in hers, gave me a grandmotherly look and said, more than asked, “You’re a student aren’t you”? I confirmed I was. She patted my hand, smiled and said “For students it’s only 70 schillings”.
Surprised, I repeated “70?” and she nodded. I gave her the money, thanking her for her kindness. We walked down the staircase together and as I departed she wished me, “All the best.”
I had come to Salzburg to take in the sights and absorb a little culture. What I’d found was far more valuable and would mean more to me than either.
God bless little girls and old ladies. • (2590 views)