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Austrian Wonderland: Hellbrunn Palace

The Hellbrun Pleasure Palace, just a few minutes outside the magical city of Salzburg in Austria, is an intriguing and fun-filled destination that will please children and adults alike, writes Al Auger.

(Above): A networks of small lakes and fountains that sent gallons of waters shooting everywhere at the Hellbrunn Pleasure Palace near Salzburg, Austria.

One of the most daunting decisions faced by Americans visiting Europe with small children is how to find venues both adults and children can enjoy at the same time. With a little homework before leaving home, this can be not difficult at all. The Internet and Google are particularly good partners in this endeavor.

To get you started, here are three of the most enjoyable and historically rich destinations for both parent and child. Two have been featured in Siliconeer magazine and the third is a brand new destination. Madurodam in The Hague, Holland (Siliconeer, October 2006) is a miniature wonderland where the story of the Netherland comes alive before your very eyes.

The Basilica of Montserrat, a few miles outside Barcelona (Siliconeer, October 2007), is the home of the venerable Black virgin and the world famous Montserrat children’s choir. As we suggested in our story don’t miss vespers and the evening choir where the adult monks and children converse in Gregorian Chants.

Our newest site is by far the most intriguing and fun-filled of them all. Just a few minutes outside the magical city of Salzburg is the Hellbrun Pleasure Palace. What makes Hellbrunn even more enticing is it is hardly known outside of Europe. Construction on the palace of Hellbrunn was begun in 1612 by Prince-Archbishop Marcus Sittikus and completed in 1615. Frankly, the exterior is far from the expected audacity one usually looks for in a castle. Designed by the Italian Santino Solari, it looks as if it belongs in some large estate outside Florence. The interior, though, is a theater of glorious color with paintings, tapestry, frescoes, statuary and sumptuous furnishings.

As each ensuing Archbishop took his place at Hellbrunn they added a new dimension to the expansive grounds. There is so much to see and enjoy we will speed by the lesser displays and gardens to fully expand on the truly arcane, yet so elegantly rendered edifices. Leaving the palace you enter the beautifully maintained garden, but beware, from this point on you will find some titillating surprises waiting for you. The children, in particular, will be delighted and will bring stories home to tell their schoolmates for weeks on end.

Looking out to the acres of greenery, statuary, grottoes, and pools we were overwhelmed by the networks of small lakes and fountains that sent gallons of waters shooting everywhere. I feel a bit guilty describing the surprises that await you but, it is only a small part of the wonders here. We sauntered along the side of clear pool in the Bacchus Court where darting trout played as Neptune poured water from a ewer. Watching over all this was a majestic statue of Marcus Aurelius.

Just behind a wall of spouting fountains lay one of Archbishop’s most devious and prankish traps. A long stone table surrounded by stone seats is where, history tells us, and the Archbishop would entertain his guests on warm summer evenings. The guests would cool themselves with chilled wine from a trough in the center of the table.

(Above): As each ensuing Archbishop took his place at Hellbrunn they added a new dimension to the expansive grounds.

Later in the evening, we are told, the Archbishop would signal a servant who would release a shower of water from the middle of each seat — except the host’s, of course. Because no one could rise until the Archbishop did, they had to sit there and be soaked. Fortunately, the gathering and never-empty wine trough had everyone in a merry mood.

Next stop is the Neptune Grotto where my wife told me “Neptune? Something tells me we’re in for some more water pranks.” And, of course, we were. Entering the lovely grotto with its large, round ceiling covered with shells, pebbles and painted water-theme sprits of water all around us, Neptune looked on with what I thought a wry look. As the water surrounded us a bright rainbow appeared adding a surreal touch to the shower. Again, that was only the beginning as next was “Germaul,” cynically known as the Hellbrunn “Big Mouth.” A monstrous face with huge ears, Marcus Sittikus had another wry water joke for us. When the jaw is filled with water, Big Mouth rolls eyes, opens his mouth and sticks his tongue out. She looked at me with a smile and said, “So there, too!”

A more pleasurable water-toy awaited us in the Birdsong Grotto where we found ourselves in a lush, green forest-like enclosure. Turning on the water-machine the trees were all of a sudden awash in bird songs. The Birdsong Grotto is an excellent example of the intricacies of this park of water power, prankish humor and a grandiose example of art and music. For those technically adept, a visit to the mechanism driving the bird calls alongside the palace would be of great interest. A “jungle” of pipes and waterwheels driving a matrix of pin rollers, valves, and other assorted devices seeming beyond anything that could have been created nearly 500 years ago. Originally there were but three bird calls; a later palace fountain master created eight more. When one considers this is but one of the many water powered devices throughout the park began hundreds of years ago, the mind boggles.

(Above): Construction on the palace of Hellbrunn was begun in 1612 by Prince-Archbishop Marcus Sittikus and completed in 1615.

The next water-powered display is guaranteed to bring smiles and laughter to the children as it is populated by what the kids would call action toys. In five small grottoes, a mechanical “peep-show” features a knife-grinder sharpening his knives, Apollo punishing Marsyas, Perseus and a sea-monster, a fully-working flour-mill and a potter’s shop.

More grottoes awaited us with more surprise showers and artfully rendered statues of Venus, Diana, Eurydice, Cupid and so many more from the world of mythology. This brought us to a side venue and a trip down memory lane. Here is the glass gazebo that was the setting of the famed love scenes in the memorable film Sound of Music. How many millions surely remember “Sixteen going on Seventeen” and “Something good.” Although the filming actually took place in the garden of the Leopoldskron Castle, the gazebo was renovated and moved to the park at Hellbrunn.

In 1748 the Archbishop Andreas Jakobus von Dietrichstein commissioned the construction of what is considered Hellbrunn’s theatrical masterpiece. Anyone who has visited the Marienplatz in Munich and the smile-inducing Glockenspiel will thoroughly enjoy the Mechanical Theatre. The Mechanical Theatre goes beyond the description water-toy as this water-powered extravaganza towers above with depictions of 18th century court life. Of the 141 moving figures there are scenes of life during that period accompanied by the sounds of a pipe organ playing the music of Mozart and other Austrian composers.

What could seem like overkill anywhere else, the later addition of a zoo populated by over 800 animals from around the world only seems natural in this kaleidoscope of wonderment. The Hellbrunn Palace is so compelling, we found ourselves there the next day, as well. Doing so meant we found even more to enjoy and laugh over. Suggestion is to take at least two days, if not three, to truly appreciate this water fantasy land.

(Above): The mechanical toy town at Trick Fountains Park at Hellbrunn Palace.

When You Go

Hellbrunn is open April through November 1st: 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
May, June, September: 9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
July, August: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. (Trick Fountain from 6 a.m.)

Admission (inc. 10 percent VAT) — Adults: 8.50 Euro; Students (19-26 years): 6.00 Euro; Children (4-18 yrs): 3.80 Euro ; Family Ticket (2 adults/2 children): 21.50 Euro.
Combination Ticket (Palace + Zoo) — Adults: 16.00 Euro; Children (4-15 yrs.): 7.20 Euro; Family Ticket: 42.50 Euro.

Al Auger is a freelance writer. He lives in Redding, Calif.


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