Twenty-fifty years ago, in 1989, the Berlin wall fell. For us it meant one thing – that, finally, we had the possibility of visiting freely all those place in Europe that had been out-of-bounds unless one was in an organized group. Here was truly touring freedom. It’s hard to realise today, when practically all these countries are now part of the European Union, just how hard travel restrictions were to some European destinations when the infamous wall was still standing.
Our route took us first through Germany to Prague and for the next couple of weeks we travelled in what was once the dual crown of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire. The cities of Prague, Budapest and the forests of Transylvania were all on our itinerary and, of course, Vienna.
Our car, which is still with us, was a maroon Morris traveller – just the right car to use because of its relatively simple engine mechanics. Here it is in front of the Esterhazy summer palace at Fertod in Hungary in 1991, the place where among many other works Haydn wrote his “farewell” symphony – a subtle hint that, at the end of summer, the musicians wanted to get away from this isolated spot and back to their homes and families near the winter palace.
Visits to famous composers’ homes abounded on that trip and, especially in Vienna, we made it a point to visit as many of their dwellings as possible. Here is a picture taken outside Mozart’s place near St Stephen’s cathedral in 1991, which also happened to be the two hundredth anniversary of his death.
Here is the same spot 23 years later when we accompanied Andrea Colombini and the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra to the hallowed Musicverein:
On this occasion we didn’t re-visit Mozart’s only remaining Viennese residence, where he lived from 1784 to 1787 and where he composed, among many other works, the Marriage of Figaro (indeed it was then called the Figarohaus – now it’s just plain Mozarthaus). It was after closing hours anyway. Back in 1991 we remember that it was just one apartment among several others grouped around a rather dilapidated courtyard with neighbours’ washing unembarassingly hung down from the windows.
We have since learnt that under a refurbishment in 2004 the courtyard has been completely altered with the installation of a lift. Of course, this allows less able people to visit the house but I am sure that we would miss the much more “authentic” atmosphere of that old courtyard. Today the house from the outside looked much refurbished and rather clinical.
When young I never wanted to visit Vienna because I felt the city had actually contributed towards Mozart’s death by not properly realising his god-like talent. I have since discarded this simplistic view. There was, in fact, an epidemic at the time of Mozart’s last month and unfortunately, he caught the bug as well. As for Mozart’s near-destitution in his last year we can all reach that state if we spend more than we earn!
Anyway, Mozart died on 5th December 1791 at the age of thirty five and, because of the fear of the epidemic spreading, he was given a quick burial in St Marx’s cemetery (which we remember as being near a motorway flyover). Again, digging through our archives of what was clearly the key trip in our lives, here is a picture of Mozart’s (presumed) grave in that cemetery.
We live, anyway, through our works and Mozart will live as long as people are around with ears to hear and appreciate this musical God.