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The Arts Scene

Fading into the horizon

Kathryn Franke
MSM Class of 2013

MBA Class of 2015

(7/2014) Greetings from Salzburg, Austria!

Two summers ago, I was in this exact same city, staying in this exact same school. Yet this summer has been like no other.

I am currently helping to lead a Mount St. Mary’s University summer study abroad trip to this city that I have grown to love so much. When I went on this trip as an undergraduate student two years ago, I had the time of my life and loved being exposed to an entirely different country and culture. I checked off all the boxes of the things I "should" do while I’m in the city: go on historic tours, visit museums, frequent the local tourist attractions, take photos in front of the numerous Sound of Music filming locations throughout Salzburg, etc. All of these things were incredible to see and really reflect the story behind this historic city.

But this time around, I have a slightly different perspective. Whereas everything was new to me two years ago, I now know my way around (for the most part!). I know the best "hole-in-the-wall" places to eat that aren’t necessarily the ones advertised on all the tours and brochures. I can share my knowledge with the students on the trip and show them the charm of this city that has brought me back for another visit, and hopefully many more in the future.

It’s amazing how a place can start to feel like a second home once you immerse yourself in it. Its people, culture, food, language, stunning scenery, and overall appeal become a part of you. I wanted my experiences during this trip to be ones that would truly help me appreciate the city of Salzburg.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love taking photographs, especially when it comes to nature and beautiful scenery. My carry-on item for the plane was a backpack that was securely packed with my D-SLR camera, new fancy zoom lens, sketchbook, and drawing supplies. My souvenirs for this trip are not the Salzburg-themed trinkets that I brought home last time; they are my photographs and my drawings. Capturing the beauty of everyday life is what draws me so much to the arts. What I love so much about photography is the fact that I am able to showcase a moment in time, just as I see it. I control the composition, the angle, the subject matter, the cropping of the image—my photographs are a look at the world through my eyes. My drawings are further interpretations of what I see—I can share what draws me to a particular building or landscape I encounter on my trip. What could be better souvenirs than images of what I love most about Salzburg? I can look back at my photographs and drawings and remember those exact moments in time—and I can travel back to Salzburg in the blink of an eye.

To fuel my love of photography, and also to enjoy the gorgeous scenery that is around every turn, my friends Nicole, Matt, Teresa and I have been taking long walks around the city. It has been so therapeutic to take time and actually see the world around us. To appreciate it. To escape from the rush of daily life that is constantly hovering over us. To stop and smell the roses, as they say.

We go on walks for hours on end, taking nothing but our cameras and our thoughts. I notice all of the simple, but lovely beauty in this city and in the world around us. Last trip, I was of course still in awe of the beauty around me: Untersberg, the towering mountain down the street from our school, the beautiful architecture that lines every street, the city skyline viewed from the bridge that crosses the river.

This time, I’m seeing Salzburg through different eyes. Somehow, coming back a second time has given me an entirely new perspective, and I truly feel as if I am living here rather than just visiting. Those sights I loved from the first trip will never lose their stunning beauty, but now I see all the little things that make Salzburg so charming: the care the Austrians take in their gardens outside of homes and storefronts, the welcoming nature they have toward visitors of any nationality or religion, their pride in their own culture that they display by wearing traditional dirndls and lederhosen, the way Salzburg’s architects have taken care over time to preserve the view of the iconic Hohensalzburg Fortress from virtually every spot in the city, and the city’s passion and embrace of the arts.

While in Salzburg, I am completing an independent study that focuses on international advertising, marketing, and promotion techniques. Throughout my studies, I have been (pleasantly) overwhelmed by the amount of support Salzburg has for the arts. As the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg has strong roots in the arts culture and has embraced that foundation as it has grown and developed. There are posters scattered throughout the city advertising countless concerts, gallery exhibits, and theater or opera productions. The newly renovated University Church at Salzburg displays artwork by Susan Swartz, an artist based in London. The juxtaposition of modern art with religion is not something that is often seen in the United States, so I was struck by the uniqueness of that combination.

The arts are not just a part of the Salzburg culture—they are deeply embedded in the roots of it. Around every street corner, there are musicians performing beautiful arrangements using instruments from all around the world, or artists painting watercolor masterpieces of various parts of the city. In a world where most programs are cutting funding for the arts, Salzburg has made the arts a prominent part of daily life, yet another reason why I love this city so much.

Going along with the theme of new experiences, I did something entirely out of my comfort zone during this trip—I climbed Untersberg, a mountain that is about 6,500 feet above sea level! A group of Mount students and I began the trek up Untersberg in the morning, choosing the more challenging route, because…why not? If we’re climbing a mountain then we might as well do it right!

We reached the peak a little over four hours later. That climb was one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but it was by far the most rewarding experience I have ever had. The climb was filled with steep inclines, peaceful waterfalls, a few mountain goat sightings, hang gliders floating across the sky from the peak (which was still very far away!), and seemingly never-ending sets of stairs embedded into the mountain that were quite close to the edge of the cliff.

When I first decided I wanted to climb Untersberg, I was a bit worried that I would be scared to tackle those too-close-to-the-edge-for-comfort spots of the climb, but as I was completing the climb, I wasn’t even scared at all. I had faith in my abilities and in the abilities of my fellow Mountaineers. We could do this, and we could do it together. Our group gave each other so much moral support as we made our way up the challenging climb, the distant point of the peak becoming less daunting as we went on. As we ascended the mountain, one step at a time, we saw the city of Salzburg become smaller and smaller with each passing moment. Each time we stopped to look down at the city below us, I become even more in awe of the progress we had made, but also of how beautiful and expansive the world really is.

Last trip, our group took the cable car up to the peak of Untersberg and I was amazed at the view. This time, I had my mind set on climbing that enormous mountain that I see outside my window every morning. When we finally reached the top after our climb, we all felt as if we had "earned" that view. We had persevered, and admittedly struggled, to make it to the peak, so we all had an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment as we took that last step and finally reached the peak.

I have never felt more at home in Salzburg than I did while sitting at the peak of Untersberg that day. Yet, I have also never felt so small.

The climb was actually quite a humbling experience, as is traveling in general. The experiences I have had throughout this trip to Europe have made me realize how much of the world I have yet to see. I have been fortunate enough to see many different cities and countries because of this program, but the world is much more vast than we can even fathom. On the plane to Iceland, I met a girl from Munich who has lived in the United States for the past two years while she attends Yale University. While in line at a street cart that sells all the local favorites like schnitzel and sausages, I met a boy from Brazil who is backpacking across Europe, his next stops being Switzerland and Italy. People like this, in addition to moments like sitting at the peak of Untersberg, are inspirational to say the least.

At the peak, we were pointing out the local landmarks we could recognize that at first seemed so massive from the ground, but now seemed so small from where we were sitting. Then we were trying to figure out where Salzburg ends and other cities begin, and where Austria ends and Germany begins…and we couldn’t tell.

Different cities and countries appeared to be intertwined from that height—there were no stark distinctions between them. The world faded into the horizon right before our eyes, leaving so much of the world for us to merely wonder.

All I could think of in this moment was how, unlike on a map, there really are no borders that divide us.

Culture is a fascinating thing. What we tend to observe are only the differences, but in reality, what is most interesting to note is our similarities. We may have different traditions, religions, clothes, food, or languages, but we are all connected. We all share a passion for experiencing new things. A thirst for knowledge. A desire to learn more about ourselves and about those around us. It is only by recognizing our similarities and embracing our differences that we can truly appreciate the cultures of others.

That is what this trip has taught me.

Read other articles on the local arts scene by Kathryn Franke