The world's most historic luxury hotel
A concept turned into fashion
Having a cocktail at the bar, the heart of the house, has been an acknowledged classic for 50 years now. One feels ennobled for a short moment, accepted as a member of Salzburg's landed gentry. A few meters away Harriet Walderdorff resides in her apartment in the Getreidegasse. From there she guards 'her' Hirschen, as the hotel is known more affectionately, a splendid concept, often copied, and never reached.
Remember César Ritz, who had his wife pose for weeks to find out which particular lighting effect was most flattering to a woman's complexion; remember Franz Sacher, who spent endless hours testing new recipes with his daughter-in-law, Anna; remember Johannes Badrutt, who started the idea of a winter season in St. Moritz by the simple expedient of inviting four English guests to stay on at his hotel. This idea that a hotelier can lead an establishment to international fame by sheer hard work and the force of personality has all but vanished. In this respect we will always remember Harriet, Countess of Walderdorff.
The house that would later become the Goldener Hirsch was first mentioned in 1407. By 1564 it was an inn called the Zum Güldenen Hirschen. Soon Salzburg became the blossoming residence of archbishops, where the leading
European architects saw their dreams come true. When salt, the 'white gold', lost its importance and the real gold mines in the mountain region of the Hohen Tauern dried up, Salzburg lost much of its importance.
Architecturally the heart of the old city has changed little since that time. The cathedral was already there, so were the wonderful baroque buildings around it. But central Europe at the end of the 18th century revolved around Vienna.
Even Salzburg-born composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart decided to move there in order to entertain the Imperial court.
The founding of the Salzburg Festival in 1920 brought potential customers back to the city. And their money. Salzburg flourished again. It was in 1939, as the second world war began, that Harriet of Walderdorff, together with her husband 'Manny', Count of Walderdorff, bought the Goldener Hirsch. The old inn was fairly dilapidated: where the restaurant is now located there was a coal store and shops. The most popular attraction was a wine tavern.
Harriet Walderdorff spent the war collecting old and, at the time, relatively cheap farmer's furniture, drawing up plans to restore the house and dreaming of how she would run her hotel. In 1945 she started to put her plans into practice.
Times were hard and to restore the house to its old grandeur was certainly not an easy task. But, instead of simply replacing the old structure with modern accommodation, Walderdorff took the hard route of restoration, earning herself a reputation along the way as one of the first people to preserve Salzburg's original architecture.
The building's facade, for a start, had to be in this distinctive pink she had seen at a house near Salzburg. At night she secretly scratched some of the paint from this house and showed it to her painter. On another occasion the poor man had to create 50 different shades of green for the shutters that grace the windows. Walderdorff started from scratch. Her house was furnished in a tasteful but inexpensive rustic manner. She wanted her hotel to look the same. It is not known whether she ever dreamt that her style of decoration would later become popular as the "farmhouse style".
On 28 April 1948 she opened her hotel, Zum Goldenen Hirschen. She never intended to run it herself, but a lack of staff forced her to do it. She started with waiter Hallemann (who had actually applied for a job as porter), one chef, one kitchen helper and a maid. And a dogsbody called Leo. Artists who appeared at the nearby festival house were her most faithful visitors. The energetic conductor Herbert von Karajan brought a crowd with him to the restaurant. And where else should one stay than at the rustically furnished Goldener Hirschen? US- travel guide author Temple Fielding, who travelled the continent in the fifties with his wife, brought it to the point: "He who stays at the Hôtel Goldener Hirsch, lives in the true Salzburg!"
Chaplin's ex-wife, Paulette Goddard, dined there with All Quiet on the Western Front author Erich Maria Remarque. Pianist Artur Rubinstein enjoyed the fine food as much as singer Leontyn Price, to name but a few from an endless list.
There was always a clear preference for the fine arts. At the Goldener Hirsch, the custom of applauding artists when they entered the restaurant after giving a performance at the most celebrated music festival in the world was introduced. When Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa received just such a friendly welcome, he swiftly disappeared behind the curtains of the wardrobe to reappear seconds later to take another curtain call.
Harriet Walderdorff let him have this accolade before taking him over to maestro Karajan's table. After a premier of Beethoven's Fidelio she approached a table of elegantly dressed festival guests. 'Wasn't it wonderful?' Walderdorff asked, the opera in mind. 'Marvellous,' the guest replied. 'Yes, what a wonderful venison.' 'I am referring to the opera,' Walderdorff replied sharply to the ignorant diner. They never got a table at the restaurant again.
The restaurant soon gained the reputation of providing an elite schooling for young waiters. Its culinary success, however, was earned by a Countess who didn't know a thing about cooking herself. Together with her chef she travelled to Zurich, Paris and Milan to take notes at the best addresses. Many old favourites are on the menu. The Maitre d'hôtel still serves classics like Paupiettes de Saumon Boule d'or, escallops of salmon stuffed with lobster mousse or the sweet desert Rigo Jancsi.
Till now, the Hotel Goldener Hirsch is an urbane oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of Mozart's town. Managed in a very personal style, the hotel still conjures up the romantic charm of the fifteenth century enriched by the utmost luxury of today. High Tech goes hand in hand with tradition here. A modern conference room with all imaginable electronic gadgets surprises the discerning traveler, while rooms with modem connections and fax machines add to the comfort of the business-minded traveller who needs to stay in touch with the world.
The ancient entrance door bears testimony of a long tradition which one can feel in many details. The cozy guest rooms are equipped with individual rustic furniture mirroring a superior country-house style.
Text partly excerpt from the book "Hotel Goldener Hirsch" by Andreas Augustin.