With a thrill of excitement and a touch of disbelief, we took our passports when we walked across the bridge, town to town.
Walking into another country amazes and delights me. Growing up in the south-west of Western Australia meant that travelling to another state was a huge event – one requiring more than a cut lunch and a waterbag. Going to another country was a feat. Transport affordability and border restrictions have changed since then but the novelty hasn’t worn off – memory stalks and history breathes.
Because of their speed, we expect landscape, cultural and time zone changes when we travel in vehicles. Walking is such a simple act, homely and unassuming, so it is all the more surprising to find massive, rapid change attached to it.
We are in the little German (Bavaria) town of Laufen, which is about 21km north of Salzburg. It was once one town spreading on either side of the Salzach River. The river was its lifeblood, as precious salt from the Salzburg mines was transferred here from small boats to larger ones. In 1816, following the Napoleonic Wars, Laufen was separated from its suburbs over the river and became German. The new town was named Oberndorf and given to the Austrians.
The traffic bridge is moody. In the evening sun the plaques and statues glow benignly. In the morning, mist renders it ‘Gothic crime novel’.
On day four of our stay, after rain-filled day three, the river, which normally appears sluggish due to its width and pale grey-green opaqueness, is raised and racing. It is littered with sticks and branches and I almost expect to see a body. Waves surge up the piers but the bridge is stalwart. (It was completed in 1903 to replace its less-reliable wooden predecessor.)
Across the bridge, walking the streets of Oberndorf, one treads almost hallowed ground. It is the birthplace of the carol, Silent Night, first performed in 1818. The town priest wrote the lyrics and asked a nearby organist and schoolmaster to compose the music. The latter accompanied the inaugural singing on his guitar. The church in which it was sung was demolished in 1913 due to flood damage. A memorial chapel was erected on the site in 1937. It is here that people from all over the world gather on Christmas Eve to sing, in many languages, this beloved carol.
Crossing cultures and times can be as easy as walking or singing.