Salzburg Christmas Museum: Beware of the Krampus!

In our Anglo-Saxon tradition, Father Christmas knows which children have been naughty, and which have been nice; and the consequence for the former is a lump of coal as a present.

Not so in Austria, where a joint partnership has long operated in the festive season. St Nicholas is the wise old gent who rewards the well-behaved, while bad children have to deal with the Krampus.

He's a figure that would definitely make you think twice about pulling your sister's hair. With a red face, horns and a sharp-toothed leer, the Krampus is a memorable part of Christmas in Salzburg and the surrounding region.

I'm getting a close-up look at this sinister figure at Salzburg's dedicated Christmas Museum. In fact, there are several cases of Krampus figures, each varying in design. Some look dapper and dissolute, others are frankly terrifying and demonic.

As the captions inform me, the figure emerged from legend in the 16th century to pair up with Saint Nick. He then became a more respectable figure in 20th-century Austria, and has been a part of Christmas ever since - though in tourist-friendly cities like Salzburg he may take on a more humorous appearance.

The Krampus is just one element of this delightful museum that overlooks the city's central Mozartplatz.

Opened in 2014, it showcases the extensive collection of Ursula Kloiber, a woman who was never short of a bauble. Over four decades she amassed a wide range of Christmas-related items, and the result is a fascinating journey through the festive traditions of this part of Europe.

Divided into themed sections, the collection starts with Advent calendars. Though today they count down the December days via doors which open onto chocolates, in the 1920s they portrayed a village, each door revealing the inside of a house.

The popular central European tradition of Christmas markets is covered by a colourful model of a market in a village square, the stalls lit by tiny fairy lights and laden with miniature gifts.

This commercial side of the season is underlined by early printed sheets on which to send gift requests to baby Jesus, provided by department stores to children (no doubt to the chagrin of their parents).

Further on are ornate gingerbread moulds, and complex multilayered dioramas bearing figures standing on discs. These could be set in motion by burning candles, whose rising heat would power propellers above.

Slightly unnerving is the extensive collection of decorative wooden nutcrackers, resembling brightly uniformed soldiers. Their prominent nut-cracking teeth make them look like candidates for youthful nightmares.

The collection really shines in its collection of Christmas tree decorations, of which Kloiber amassed an immense number.

One of the oddest is a tree bearing decorations made in the German Empire, just before the First World War. Hanging from its branches are miniature tokens of warfare: battleships, field guns, pistols, bombs, and even a tiny Zeppelin. Christmas is supposedly a time of peace and goodwill, but clearly no one had told these artisans.

With the manufacturing advances of the Industrial Revolution, decorations were able to be mass produced and a huge variety of baubles cascaded into living rooms. Within cases I spot some marvellous items representing the technology of the era when they were created, such as locomotives, horse-drawn trams and early cars.

A glittering Christmas tree laden with silver spot-lit ornaments leads to the finale of the exhibition: a fully furnished living room from the 19th century, the decorations much like those we use today.

What I particularly like about this museum is that it's genuinely devoted to the traditions of Christmas, rather than being a commercially minded Christmas shop with a few random exhibits.

It has been a great experience, and I send a mental nod of approval to Frau Kloiber as I exit. Though I'm not at all religious, I like a spot of Christmas cheer - and the exhibition has left me feeling unseasonably festive.

Tim Richards was a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

salzburg.info

GETTING THERE

Emirates flies from Australia to Munich, from where Salzburg is a one hour 45 minute train ride. See emirates.com and bahn.de

STAYING THERE

Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, Leopoldskronstra??e 56, schloss-leopoldskron.com. Accommodation in a grand hotel on a beautiful lakefront just outside the city. Coincidentally, it stood in as the Von Trapps' residence in The Sound of Music. Rooms from ???160 a night.

Yoho Salzburg, Paracelsusstrasse 9, yoho.at. Friendly hostel across the river from the Old Town, with budget accommodation including private rooms. Dorm beds from ???17 a night, rooms from ???65 a night.

VISITING THERE

Salzburg Christmas Museum, Mozartplatz 2, salzburger-weihnachtsmuseum.at. Entry ???6 adults, ???3 children. Open 10am to 6pm Wednesday to Sunday, closed from February 1 to March 14.

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