Fotoeins Fotografie

faces of home & place-story
Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Museum, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Austria’s Silent Night: 200 years, 300 languages

One of my early childhood memories surrounding Christmas is learning and singing “Silent Night”. This humble melodic carol is known around the world and sung in over 300 languages and dialects. 2018 is the 200th anniversary of the hymn’s first public performance, and that’s why I’m on a train traveling north from Salzburg to the Austrian town of Oberndorf.

With over 5000 residents, Oberndorf lies opposite the German town of Laufen along the winding flow of the Salzach river. Laufen-Oberndorf was once a single community whose people derived their greatest business and wealth with salt carried on barges from upstream in Hallein and transferred onto larger ships for transport downstream to the Inn river and Passau. After the arrival (and departure) of Napoleon’s French troops, the river became a border, and the town was split in two after over 1000 years as a single community#. Although Oberndorf and Laufen remain in separate countries, the European Schengen treaty has helped reforge their common bonds with the abolishment of border controls.

Short History

Between 1817 and 1819, Joseph Mohr lived and worked in Oberndorf as curate, minister, and schoolteacher for the salt-barger community. The organist for Oberndorf’s St. Nicolas Church was Franz Gruber, a fellow schoolteacher and sexton at a parish in nearby Arnsdorf. Mohr and Gruber tended to spiritual and education needs for their towns, and with their common zeal for music, they quickly became friends. On Christmas Eve 1818, Mohr brought his song to Gruber who added the melody. That very evening after evening mass at Oberndorf’s St. Nicholas Church, Mohr’s completed song, “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” was performed for the first time with Gruber on his guitar as the only accompaniment.

Over years and decades, the song had generally been considered to be Tirolian in origin, but handwritten letters show Joseph Mohr composed the song by 1816 when he lived in Mariapfarr, a town 120 kilometres southeast from Salzburg. The original German-language version of the song has six verses; the English version has three which are translations of verses 1, 6, and 2.

At Oberndorf’s Stille-Nacht-Platz (Silent Night Square), the two key elements are the Stille-Nacht-Kapelle (Silent Night memorial chapel) and the Stille Nacht Museum. The original St. Nicholas church was in bad shape and torn down in 1906. To maintain the memory of the first performance of the Christmas song, construction began in 1928 for a chapel at the same location, and the townspeople celebrated the chapel’s inauguration in 1937. With the museum’s opening in November 2016, exhibits describe the history of how the song came to be, highlight the lives of Mohr and Gruber, explain the context of culture and place of the times in the late-18th to early-19th century, illuminate the importance of the salt trade on the neighbouring Salzach river, and celebrate the song’s longevity and popularity around the world.

Every year, evening mass on Christmas Eve from the Silent Night memorial chapel is broadcast to the world on webcam.

# The 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna enforced the Salzach river as the border and separation between the nation-state of Bavaria (Laufen) on one side and the Austrian Empire (Oberndorf) on the other side.


Oberndorf bei Salzburg

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Street sign on Salzburger Strasse.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Facing south from Salzburger Strasse, Silent Night square with the memorial chapel at right.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Stone wall remnants (Mauerreste) from the original St. Nicholas church.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Memorial plaque to Joseph Mohr (lyrics, 1815) and Franz Gruber (melody, 1818).

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Silent Night memorial chapel, inaugurated 1937.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Chapel interior and central altar.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Stained glass window to Mohr, inside the chapel.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Stained glass window to Gruber, inside the chapel.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Copy of handwritten song; original manuscript in Salzburg Museum.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Kapelle, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Stille Nacht Platz, facing north: museum at left, chapel at centre.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Museum, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Stille Nacht Museum, opened 2016.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Museum, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Transporting salt on river barges.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Museum, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

The song wanders through Europe.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Museum, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

The song makes its way to America.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Museum, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

All around the world in multiple languages and dialects.

Silent Night, Stille Nacht, Stille Nacht Museum, Stille Nacht Platz, Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Oesterreich, Austria, fotoeins.com

Karaoke sing-along, to the glorious punk cover below by Die Roten Rosen (The Red Roses), also known as Die Toten Hosen (The Dead Pants).

Strophe 1.
(Verse 1) →
Strophe 6.
(Verse 6) →
Strophe 2.
(Verse 2)
Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar
Schlaf’ in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf’ in himmlischer Ruh! →
Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Hirten erst kund gemacht
Durch den Engel Alleluja
Tönt es laut von fern und nah
Jesu’ der Retter ist da!
Jesu’ der Retter ist da! →
Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Gottes Sohn! O wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’
Jesu’ in deiner Geburt!
Jesu’ in deiner Geburt!
Silent night! Holy night!
All are sleeping, alone and awake
Only the intimate holy pair
Lovely boy with curly hair
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace! →
Silent night! Holy night!
To shepherds it was first made known
By the angel, Alleluia
Sounding forth loudly far and near
Jesus the Savior is here!
Jesus the Savior is here! →
Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, O how he laughs
Love from your divine mouth
Then it hits us – the hour of salvation.
Jesus at your birth!
Jesus at your birth!

Hours and Directions

The memorial chapel is open daily including holidays from 8am to 8pm; there is no admission charge. The museum is open Thursday to Sunday and holidays from 10am to 6pm; in July, August, and December (Advent season), the museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Admission for adults is €4.50, but it’s free if you have one of Salzburg Card, Salzburg Seenland Card, or the Silent Night Country Card.

From Salzburg Hauptbahnhof, an S-Bahn S1 train to Oberndorf bei Salzburg runs every 30 minutes with the journey itself lasting 26 minutes. After disembarking at the train station called “Oberndorf b. Salzburg Bahnhof”, it’s a 10- to 15-minute walk to the northwest to Stille-Nacht-Platz. Alternatively, there’s intermittent service with local bus 880, 883, or 885 from Oberndorf Bahnhof to stop “Oberndorf b. Salzburg Altoberndorf”.

More in English

•   Tourismusverband Oberndorf
•   Stille Nacht Gesellschaft
•   Stille Nacht (SalzburgerLand Tourismus)
•   Austria Tourism

I made all photos above on 24 May 2018 with a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime; alle Fotoaufnahmen sind mit Wasserzeichen versehen worden. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins.com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-c8L.

17 Responses to “Austria’s Silent Night: 200 years, 300 languages”

  1. We Travel Happy

    Such a helpful post. My family will be in Salzburg this December and we are planning to book a Silent Night tour. I am even more excited now after reading your post, and so thank you for sharing. – Amor

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • fotoeins

      Hi and you’re very welcome, Amor. Please note there’s a Silent Night Museum in Hallein (south of Salzburg) and a small museum in Arnsdorf (a little north from Oberndorf), and you should plan the correct places you intend to visit.

      Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      Thank you for your kind comment! If you and your family decide to visit Oberndorf, I think a highlight of your visit would be to sing “Silent Night” karaoke inside the Silent Night Museum: you’ll have a choice of languages for the song. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      Hi and you’re welcome, Cornelia. When I found about Oberndorf’s place in history a few months ago, I knew I had to make the visit from Salzburg. I didn’t have time, but there’s more to see and learn about the song’s history in Hallein and Arnsdorf. Finally, I’m always interested in knowing more about a place, that Salzburg is more than Mozart’s birthplace, and much more than the Sound of Music. Thanks again for reading!

      Like

    • fotoeins

      Hi, Ursula. I knew about Hallein, but based solely on “salt’, I decided to go to Hallstatt over Hallein, even though the latter is much closer to Salzburg. Thanks for highlighting your post!

      Like

  2. Ryan Biddulph

    Nice history lesson and what a beautiful song. The second I read your blog post title, the song played in my head. Beautiful tune. Makes me instantly think of Christmas, church and a cheery time of year. Lovely post.

    Ryan

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • fotoeins

      Hi and thanks for your comment, Ryan. Did you check out the punk version in German on YouTube (at the end of the post)? 😊🎸Thanks again for stopping by!

      Like

    • fotoeins

      When I discovered the song’s origins and anniversary, I made plans to come up from Salzburg to Oberndorf to spend a part of a day. I think what’s also interesting is the history between Oberndorf, Austria and Laufen, Germany, both which used to be a single community. Thanks for your comment and stopping by, Nancie!

      Like

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