The world’s best music festivals. The world’s biggest and most famous music festival is the Salzburg Festival. Other important Austrian melomaniac delights include the Haydn Festival in Vienna and the International Chamber Music Festival. Tickets to the festivals are cheapest if you buy them in Austria. „Tickets for Events in Austria“ is an information sheet which is available from Austrian National Tourist Office, tel. (212)944-6880; website: http://www.austria-tourism.at.
The world’s best horsemanship. The 400-year-old Spanish Riding School, located in the Hofburg, trains the noble white stallions that descend from the Spanish horses imported to Austria by Emperor Maximilian II in the 16th century. The horses dance to Viennese music, guided by expert riders wearing the traditional gold-buttoned brown uniform and gold-braided black hat. Performances are held at the school most Sunday mornings at 10:45 a.m. and occasional Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. from March to June and September to December. It’s difficult to get tickets; write six months in advance to the Spanische Reitschule, Hofburg, A-1010 Vienna, Austria; tel. (43)1-533-9031.
The most romantic hotel. Less than an hour from Vienna, the Schloss Durnstein, tel. (43)2-711-212, presides over a wide curve of the Danube River. Located deep in the wine district of Wachsu, this magnificent castle is surrounded by distinctive vine-clad hills, age-old ruins and timeless picturesque villages with one-lane streets. According to the legend, it was here that the imprisoned King Richard the Lionhearted was reunited with his faithful minstrel, who had sung his way across Europe searching for his master. Also intriguing is the wine cellar (which can accommodate 8,000 „buckets“ of wine), the arch-crossed cobbled courtyard and the 33 rooms all with chandeliers fronting the Danube.
Heidelberg, the most romantic town. Heidelberg is the hub of German Romanticism. Schumann began his career as a Romantic composer in this pretty town and Goethe fell in love here. Heidelberg is also the oldest university town in Germany and the site of scenes from the movie and opera The Student Prince. The best place to ramble in Heidelberg is the Haupstrasse, which is lined with coffeehouses and little shops. Have a drink in one of the cafes beneath the rathaus. Or meander along Philosopher’s Walk, where Goethe and Hegel wandered. From the path you’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the city and Heidelberg Castle. Don’t leave town without visiting the Electoral Palatinate Museum, where the 500,000-year-old jawbone of Heidelberg Man is kept.
Germany’s best fish market. The best fish market in Germany is held on Sunday mornings in Hamburg. This raucous but fun affair is located by the docks in Altona and begins at 5 a.m.
Worms: the strangest history. The city of Worms has a strange name and an even stranger history. It was named for a legendary giant worm with fangs and webbed feet that lived in the Rhine and demanded human sacrifices. Worms was the fifth-century capital of the legendary Nibelungs. The tribe left the area, according to legend, after the wicked Hagen slew their hero, Siegfried and threw their treasure into the river. A huge statue of Hagen commemorates the story. The town was destroyed in A.D. 436 by Attila the Hun. In the center of the town’s old section is the tall, spired Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, built in the 11th and 12th centuries. Worms has a huge statue of Martin Luther; the oldest synagogue in Germany, built in the 11th century and restored in 1961; and the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in Europe. Tombstones date from the 11th century.
Hitler’s favorite hideout. The Kehlsteinhouse (also known as Eagle’s Nest), perched on a rocky crag above the town of Berchtesgaden, was Hitler’s favorite hideout. No wonder-the view from the hideaway-turned-restaurant is exhilarating. Anyone could develop delusions of grandeur here. Alpine peaks rise above cottony clouds at this level. The snow at their summits glistens in the sun. Below, a thick carpet of dark green pines stretches toward the valley. The road to Eagle’s Nest is so steep and dangerous that cars are not allowed to use it; you must take a special bus from the Obersalzberg-Hintereck parking lot. You can dine in the restaurant from mid-May through mid-October.
The world’s best passion play. Every 10 years, the world’s most moving passion play is performed in the shadows of the Alps in the little artisan town of Oberammergau. From May through September in years ending in zero, local amateur actors put aside their daily professions and devote themselves entirely to the play. Written in the 17th century, it enacts Christ’s suffering between the Last Supper and his death. Villagers have performed the play every 10 years since the 17th century, when they vowed they would perform the passion if the black plague ceased. It did and they have. The picturesque Passionsspielhaus (Passion play Theater) can be visited any time of the year. The immense open-air stage holds 700 actors and the theater’s wooden benches hold 5,200 people. You can see the elaborate costumes used during the passion play when you visit. Performances begin at 8:30 a.m. and finish at 6 p.m., with a two-hour break for lunch. The best hotel Oberammergau is the Alois Lang. This quiet place has rooms with private bathrooms and three good dining rooms.
The world’s best asparagus. Every spring, Germans go stalk-raving mad, gorging themselves on the country’s Weisser Spargel, or white asparagus. The German asparagus, introduced 2,000 years ago by the Romans, is plump and ivory white with delicate purple tips. It is prized among epicures, who come from around the world every April, May and June to the world’s asparagus mecca. Asparagus is especially big business in Finthen, near Mainz, where all 5,000 inhabitants are engaged in the cultivation of the white vegetable; in Lampertheim, between Worms and Mannheim, where every housewife grows the prized vegetable in her back yard; in Schrobenhausen, the center of the only area in southern Bavaria where asparagus is grown; and in Tettnang and Schwetzingen, known together as the asparagus capital of Germany.
by Michael Russell