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November 12, 2006

Visiting the Festung Hohensalzburg

Last weekend my parents came to stay with us in Salzburg for a few days, and so we were in tourist-attraction-a-go-go mode. On the Saturday morning our first destination was Salzburg's Fortress, or the Festung Hohensalzburg to give it the proper name.

To get up to the castle, which overlooks the city and which naturally appeared in the background of The Sound of Music, you have to use the funicular railway. When it was first built on the side of the mountain crop, it used water as its means of propulsion. The carriage at the top of the railway would be filled with water as ballast, which would then see it descend whilst pulling the opposing carraige in the other direction. Sadly this marvellous sounding contraption has been replaced by an all-singing all-dancing electrified version. This simply whizzed us up to the top in no time at all, and can't have been nearly as much fun.

The views from the fortress were as you'd expect, spectacular. With it having snowed a couple of days previously the landscape was a brilliant white, and the Alps in the distance were snow-covered, their peaks shrouded in cloud. The view across Salzburg itself was also beautiful.


We did briefly get very excited when we spotted a deer in a nearby field staring up at us, but our interest died as soon as we realised that it was actually a statue rather than the real thing.


It was quite an ascent up the stairs to get to the main attraction, the fortress itself, and the first major display was the "Welt der Marionetten". A mix between a store-house and a three-roomed advert for Salzburg's marionette theatre, it managed to combine the creepy with the absurd. My mum laughed when she spotted a marionette that bore an uncanny resemblence to Prince Charles, and her and Claire posed as puppets for a novelty photograph, which after Claire's exploits in the Grottenbahn is getting to be a habit with her. There was one particularly disturbing display where the marionettes were being controlled by human-sized faceless mannequin puppeteers, which I naturally expected to turn out to be Autons who would come alive and start chasing after me.


The other displays in the museum were mostly miliatary, with a large space devoted to the history of the regiment who had manned the fortress, and fought in the First World War. I was particularly interested in a World War I telecomms set-up. It was quite incredible to think of the changes in less than a hundred years - at the moment the U.S.A., U.K. and German military have the problem that too much information is coming from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan in the form of digital content like blogs, video clips and still images. In the First World War the extent of communication was down to an operator manually making the connections between different sets of wires in a telephone exchange, and the written word on paper. It looked like a lovely old piece of engineering though.


The other big area in the fortress were the state rooms, testimony to religious opulance in the 16th and 17th century. They are now used in the evening to host intimate concerts for tourists showcasing the music of...you guessed it...that Mozart fellow.

Before you entered the State Rooms there was a very strange and impressive display of armour through the ages. My friend Frankie described it as "very bedknobs and broomsticks" when I posted this photo on Flickr, but the picture only tells half the story. The armoured suits are all posed on abstract humanoid figures, and their weapons have all been thrown and are suspended in the air. Behind me when I took this photograph, and where the weapons were aiming for, was a video projection on the wall of a series of clips of people talking on their mobile phones, or Handys, as they are called here and other 21st century activites. It was as if the old armour was attack images of the modern world, all accompanied by a loud soundtrack of menacing music. We weren't quite sure what it all meant, but it was the best display in the Festung Hohensalzburg.


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