Friday, 13 July 2012


The castle hovers majestically over the town as I get a glimpse of the city when the train rattles across the river. Time to stand up and collect my bags. I've been reminded just how scenic Salzburg is. As if I needed to be.

I'm staying in Schallmoos, which is literally the wrong wide of the tracks. To avoid a long road detour, I clamber over a rickety temporary wooden bridge. The station is a complete mess, halfway through being rebuilt. I'm sure it'll be very nice when completed. But it's a real pain in the bum at the moment.

There's one advantage to staying in Schallmoos. Die Weisse is a short stroll away. Just as well because it's mega humid as well as mega-hot. The steel band around my chest tightens during the walk. Thankfully there's a spot in the shade in the beer garden with my name on it.

Once the pounding in my temples has receded to a steady techno beat, I notice something. There have been big changes since my last visit. The structure in the garden, for a start. It used to be, well, a shed. Much posher than that now. Trendy even. The stylish menu betrays the hand a graphic design team. My god. They've gone all modern. That's a change. Used to be comfortably old-fashioned.

It's not just the style of the menu. What's on it is different, too. Lots of new beers. They used to only really do one, a Hefeweizen. With a Weizenbock in the winter. Now there's a whole range. They aren't even all wheat beers. Max, and unfiltered Märzen catches my attention. When a waiter appears, I order one. It's so cloudy, it looks like a Witbier.

I'm not going to give you a long, detailed description of its flavour. I'm justy going to drink the thing because it's bloody boiling and I'm sweating cobs. Come back when I don't feel I'm about to collapse in a thrombied heap.

Oh, oh, look what they've got on the menu. Bread dumplings. The Czech style ones with cubes of fried bread in them. Knedliky. I've got to get me some of those. A small gulash should provide plenty of gravy to soak them in. Not exactly hot-weather food. But what I want to eat. I'm on holiday. I'll do what the hell I want.

My fellow customers all look local. There's a young couple stuffing themselves with porky delights. A family with small kids cooling themselves with cola and ice cream. A group of fifty-something blokes playing cards, while absent-mindedly sipping beer.

Did I mention how humid it is? It's unbearbly humid. It reminds me of two years ago in Philadelphia. When the weather was so unpleasant we spent a day huddled in front of the air-conditioning unit in our hotel room. It's almost as horrible as that.

But there's more walking to do. Because there's one thing you 100% certain have to do when in Salzburg: go to Augustiner. It's one of my top ten favourite places in the world. For a whole bundle of reasons.

The walk there is as little fun as I'd expected. I try to dodge the laser beams of the sun as much as possible. But there's no escaping them on the bridge. The river is even scarier than the Danube in Regensburg. It swirls furiously around the pillars, a watery twister, churning constantly. Chunky chunks of tree speed along, tugged by the invisible hand of the current. I wouldn't want to drop in that bastard. I unconsciously edge back from the bridge's edge.

The hill up from the river almost takes me from feeling like I'm dying to wanting to. I maintain the will to live, by focusing on those I love. Those cute little grey steins full of Märzen. The thought of seeing them again gets me up that hill.

Inside it's deserted, save for those manning the food stalls. Everyone's outside in the garden. Despite only being open 15 minutes, a good percentage of the tables are taken. I have to sit towards the back.

You've two options at Augustiner. You can order from a waiter and pay 3.60 euros for a half litre. Or you can fetch yourself for three. I don't believe in throwing my dosh away for nothing. I fetch my own beer. Which also involves a lovely bit of theatre. You pay at a cash desk for a chit, choose your own stein then give it to the chav serving. He fills it up from a wooden barrel then glides it, cowboy bar style, across the counter to you. Magic. I'd pay an extra 60 cents for that experience.

The whole garden is a form of open-air performance art. I'll return to that in a moment.

The beer. I bet you want to hear about that. It's cool, perfumed and suicidal. Just what I was after. It slips down as quickly as my trousers when I forget to fasten my belt.

Back to the performance art. A middle-aged man sits at the next table surrounded by tupaware boxes. He begins methodically preparing long, red radishes. Trimming, cutting and salting. He works steadily away for 20 minutes. Only when he's finished does he get himself a beer and start eating his radishes. His mates straggle up, similarly supplied with boxes and bags of nosh. Looks like they're settled in for the duration.

On the table next to Mr. Radish, a couple just under retirement age sits. She's wearing a dirndly type dress, which is cool. Once seated, she begins emptying the whicker basket of food she's brought along. While her husband fetches beer. Two litres. I'm impressed. I love to see women drinking litres. Especially when wearing a dirndl. That's why the Oktoberfest is so great.

The woman, too, prepares radishes. She has bigger ones than Mr. Radish, using something like a giant pencil sharperner to create strings of radish shavings. Despite eating, the couple maintains a blistering drinking pace. They demolish three litres each in the time it takes me to struggle through three halves. I'm really impressed.

Slightly further away is a young couple. They're much more modern. Each speaks into or fiddles with their phone, as if the other weren't there. They only break off from their ticky-tacking to drink their beer. At least they both have litres. More sips are taken than words exchanged.

I could sit here all day and observe. With all ages, classes and nationalities mixed up, there's plenty to entertain. On another table are two middle-aged English couples. they all start on half litres. But after the first round the men upgrade to litres. How typically English. Unlike the locals, they haven't brought their own food, and buy an endless stream of sausagey snacks.

Despite the regularity with which the barrels are changed, there's not a sign of drunkenness. Nor even intoxication. Though I've seen a few people down several litres.
Mature trees form a thick green shield, deflecting the sun's stinging arrows. The beer and the breeze work their cooling magic. After the third beer all the throbbing in my head is gone and the band around my chest has snapped. It's wonderful to breathe freely again. Eventually I can even face the long walk back.

Back in my hotel, watching the footie in the company of a posh Schlehengeist I bought in Regensburg, it pisses it down. Really pisses it down. The nearby hills disappear in the murk. Rain is still dancing on the balcony when I fall asleep, lulled by the white noise melody of the downpour.

Mike's take on Salzburg

Salzburg, I expected, would be one of the high points of the trip after hearing many times how wonderful the Augustinerkeller was. And, in a word, it was.

I've been to quite a few bierkellers, but Augustiner really is in a class by itself. First of all, it is part of a monastery. There is a building, called the Bräustübl, that houses no less than seven beer halls open during inclement weather and leads into the garden that is open during acceptable weather. The building, upon entering, could easily be mistaken for a church.

As the weather was lovely, we sat in the garden. Covered with trees, chairs and tables, it's up a slight grade so the view includes much of the city below.  The building offers a vast number of small, built-in food counters. There is little duplication in the offerings. In a number of ways, it feels like a catered picnic.

The beer is quite delicious and drinking several liters of it should not be a problem for anyone - such as the grandma who sat with her family at a table next to ours.

The beer, btw, is served bayerischer anstich  (by gravity from a large wooden barrel) - the way God intended.

There are other places in Salzburg to drink good beer, but with competition like Augustiner, God help them.

Die Weisse
Rupertgasse 10,
5020 Salzburg.
Tel. 0662-8722 460
Fax 0662-8722 464

Augustinergasse 4,
5020 Salzburg..
Tel. 0662-31246


Tandleman said...

Great stuff Ron. Last time I was there it pissed down. Rain follows me about in Germany / Austria.

Jeff Renner said...

Ron, you've outdone yourself today!