Pioneering spirit

Interview: Andreas Gfrerer, hotelier and chair of the tourism association of Salzburg’s Old Town

©Arthotel Blaue Gans / Ingo Pertramer

When Andreas Gfrerer is not at his Arthotel Blaue Gans he likes to spend his time at the markets of Salzburg’s Old Town, where the products inspire him, and he meets lots of new and known faces. He’s a networker – a fact from which he profits in his function as chair of the Salzburg Old Town’s tourism association. An interview on his passion for culture and cuisine, his vision for Salzburg, and what Mozartkugel and goose salami have in common. 

L.L. / When you were a child you went to see general rehearsals with the famous director Karajan – arts and culture have been with you all your life. Is that why you’re so active when it comes to arts and culture in Salzburg?

A.G. / Yes, I suppose so. It was my destiny that brought me into this industry – in the form of our hotel, the Blaue Gans, which my parents never ran themselves. But when the former manager had to quit, I decided to come back from the USA, where I studied at the time, and take over the house. Over the years I established a hotel which became an Arthotel in 2002 because I didn’t feel like dwelling in the past. Arts and culture have always been of great importance to my family.

Salzburg’s Museum der Moderne (museum of modern art) was established at the same time as the Arthotel. Back then a spirit of optimism pervaded the city, everything became a bit more modern. Still, adopting the new concept of Arthotel wasn’t so much because we wanted to jump on that particular waggon – I simply found that the idea fit the house, and: I wanted to surround myself with art. 

Andreas Gfrerer ©arthotel Blaue Gans / Ingo Pertramer
Andreas Gfrerer ©arthotel Blaue Gans / Ingo Pertramer

L.L. / And how did art make it to Blaue Gans?

A.G. / At the beginning I worked with artists directly, today I have a reliable network of advisors and “partners in crime”, if you will. And the collection keeps growing! For me it’s about building a personal relationship with the artists, which then maybe results in fascination or liking, and maybe that process leaves something behind – a positive thought, a memory, and in the best case a work of art. It basically is similar to the relationship between a guest and a hotel owner. Many of the works also stand for episodes of my life, my wedding, for example. That particular painting makes me happy every single day, it enriches my everyday life. And sometimes the pictures will find me. All this gives the house a very personal touch. It’s not the goal of our art to provoke, it’s more of an ironic companion. In our house art simply becomes alive, that’s what our goal is. 

L.L. / Blaue Gans is not just an Arthotel, it also was the city’s very first inn – where indulgence is still focused on today. Would you say chefs are artists?

A.G. / For me chefs are craftsmen and that’s something wonderful! I believe that the term culinary art is a bit of a misunderstanding. There is very artificial cuisine, which goes well with the zeitgeist but not our house. Craftsmanship and skill, however, are things we have in our house, because nothing you get here is off the shelf, everything is tailor-made. And that’s reflected in our kitchen, too, we use excellent basic products and then it’s their essence that ends up on the plate. We have the city’s oldest inn and that’s a fact we want to pay respect to. Which is why we don’t want to be an elitist temple, we want to be low-key and open. History and modernism, classic and jazz: with our concept we cover every style the house has to offer. 

©arthotel Blaue Gans / Ingo Pertramer
©arthotel Blaue Gans / Ingo Pertramer

L.L. / The different events in the Old Town are about culinary delights, too. Just now it was the Jazz & The City Festival and in March 2019 the next Eat & Meet culinary festival will take place. How do events like these make the city more attractive?

A.G. / Jazz & The City was created by the businesses, which is what makes it unique. This time it was Jazz-autumn which was complemented with other events. The idea was to entertain the town with music and not to lure stars here. The locations were so varied, and the point was to just let yourself drift. Aside from the music itself that was the most fascinating element and the reason why national and international guests love it so much. Meanwhile many of the artists also stay longer. The festival is an important contribution to urban quality and thanks to the free entrance it’s a gift to the people of Salzburg.

The Eat & Meet culinary festival is supposed to revive the month of March a bit, which is usually quiet, and to focus on conversation. We always invite someone who has something to say. And the dishes that are served make it indulgent – and bring everyone around the table. Meanwhile they have become very popular evenings. The people from Salzburg are difficult to please. But once you’ve made your way into their hearts, they’ll remain true – provided that the quality remains high.

©arthotel Blaue Gans / Ingo Pertramer
©arthotel Blaue Gans / Ingo Pertramer

L.L. / At your Speisenmanufaktur (=food manufacture) guests can buy products made in your house to take home. What product would you say can give the Mozartkugel a run for its money?

A.G. / I value Mozart too much to exploit him like that (laughs). But, of course, we also have a Mozart connection, our house was owned by a good friend of his. Our Speisenmanufaktur is a product of traditional craftsmanship that wonderful chef de cuisine Martin Bauernfein values and nurtures. So, an alternative to the Mozartkugel would have been the Zotter chocolate shop we had in our house, it’s a company we share our values with. Today the space is where the team of Speisenmanufaktur is at work and they even let you peek over their shoulders while they make our delicious goose salami, the Ganserlsalami, which – just like the Mozartkugel – has pistachio in it (laughs).

L.L. / Salzburg’s Old Town is constantly changing. How would you say the region has transformed in the past years? And what’s your vision for the destination?

A.G. / It has become more modern, urban, and open. And there is a different dynamic from an economic standpoint, too, which can sometimes be a bit much even. Salzburg has definitely become more liveable but there is still room for improvement. We have great quality but sometimes we lack the self-confidence and courage to build on these strengths without compromise. Showing some edge while staying flexible and reacting quickly, a talent for improvisation – those are the tools of a modern community. 

©arthotel Blaue Gans / Ingo Pertramer
©arthotel Blaue Gans / Ingo Pertramer

Andreas Gfrerer

When Andreas Gfrerer took over the Hotel Blaue Gans his wish was to change something – and in 2002 he reopened it as an Arthotel. Today the house is not just a meeting place for art lovers, it also makes a name for itself with its excellent cuisine. As chairman of the tourism association of Salzburg’s Old Town, Gfrerer strives to foster the city’s cultural diversity. 

Andreas Gfrerer's Wordrap

Three personal hotspots in the Old town:

James Turrell’s Skyspace on Mönchsberg, the Tomaselli balcony at 9am in summers – for a morning coffee and newspapers, the weekly grocery shopping on Grünmarkt with the obligatory quarry-beer afterwards.

Artichoke ravioli or game tartar?

During the week ravioli, on the weekend the tartar.

Good taste means…

style, attitude, mindfulness.

In front of or behind the stage?

In front of it, even if I have to possibility to go backstage.

What’s urban about Salzburg…

the Old Town during Jazz&theCity.

More idyllic and rural by comparison is ...

Munich (laughs).