Away from home

Salzburg---Maria-in-the-hills© Carole Edrich

In the first of a series of articles charting the experiences of a Wanstead-based travel writer, Carole Edrich takes us on a trip to Austria in search of something original to write about The Sound of Music 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a freelance journo looking for something original to write about The Sound Of Music and Salzburg must be in need of a good drink.

It was the summer of 2015. I had been up packing ‘till the early hours (natural corollary of starting at 8pm) and was on the Tube at OMG in the morning. I then spent my time in the airport trying not to fall asleep, and my time on the plane wishing I could. Loads of journalists were there for the 50th-anniversary celebrations of The Sound of Music. I had to stay awake for ages while the hotel bus slowly filled with them.

Salzburgerland is beautiful. It begs for the taking of photos, the eating of strudel and the drinking-in of atmosphere and – naturally – beer. We wanted to stop for different reasons; that beer, for the view, to visit a schloss… I didn’t care, so long as there was coffee. Johann-the-driver’s mission – to deliver us unto the hotel, and let us do no evil – prevented that. But what he said while driving inspired my first Salzburger-ish story: “We go to the coffee house for everything. To read or to be alone, to concentrate or learn something, for the news or to watch people. A good coffee house is like a club; you can do everything there.” I asked: “How do you know if people want to talk?” With a glint in his eye, Johann replied: “We are not stupid. That’s why we have different-sized tables! There are tables for one, two, or three, or more. Tables for every situation and every emotion. That’s why every coffee house has at least two rooms. Also, the ceilings are very high, so you don’t have to smell each other.”

Johann’s banter – pure schmäh – is classic coffee-house culture. Interactions between people with schmäh are a charming, anarchic and friendly battle of wits. Salzburger coffee house habitués Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father; Max Reinhardt; Marlene Dietrich; Thomas Mann and Arthur Miller would have all played with schmäh. It grew from how below-stairs servants made fun of their masters and has been an aspect of coffee-house society for hundreds of years.

Mega press trips are once-in-a-lifetime experiences, so it was amazing that this mere freelancer had been invited. More amazing that I got a commission to write about the anniversary of a film I don’t particularly like, and yet more amazing that another article idea popped into my head before I got to the hotel.

Could I write stories combining coffee-house culture with the film’s 50th anniversary? My answer – a mash-up of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Jane Eyre – was fantastically, wildly improbable. Like most fantastically, wildly improbable ideas, it was at least as worthy of consideration as a mundane one with the facts bent to fit. Reader, I’ve written it.

To contact Carole or to read more of her work, visit caroleinnit.com