“The Magic of the Schloss”

When I told my peers at Davidson that I was going to be working for Salzburg Global Seminar with my Davidson Impact Fellowship, a common response was, “Oh, that’s the one that goes to Austria, isn’t it?”

Though I do a whole lot more in the DC office, I did have the chance to visit Salzburg, where the Salzburg Global magic happens.


For about two weeks in October, I had the opportunity to work from the main office of Salzburg Global Seminar in Salzburg, Austria. And “office” is incredibly misleading – the organization is based in Schloss Leopoldskron, an 18th-century Archbishop-Prince’s family-residence-turned-home-of-Max-Reinhardt-turned-hotel. And, no, I never got used to the fact that we staff ate lunch in a room off the kitchen that would have suited 1740s church-state royalty.

I wasn’t sent to Salzburg just to admire the architecture, though. In DC, I’m on the development team, working to fundraise from individuals and institutions for what happens in Salzburg.

So what does happen at Salzburg? Quick history lesson: Salzburg Global Seminar was founded in 1947 (we’re celebrating 70 this year!) by three young men from Harvard who envisioned a “Marshall Plan for the mind” to help Europe recover from WWII. For six weeks during the summer, men and women from all over Europe – people who had been enemies just months before – gathered at Schloss Leopoldskron for a session on American Studies. The topic was chosen for its relative neutrality, but over the course of the session, participants – some of whom had been members of the Nazi Party and others who had been active in resistance movements across Europe – became comfortable enough to discuss their own countries and issues.

Today, Salzburg Global Seminar is a nonprofit that includes many other sessions in addition to American Studies, ranging from healthcare to environmental care, genocide prevention to corporate governance. Both current and rising leaders from all over the world come together for about a week at the Schloss for each session to exchange different perspectives on global problems, and come up with solutions.

All this I had read and written about many times in DC, but I’ll admit I didn’t have a complete grasp on what Salzburg Global really did. Until I got to Salzburg, that is.


The thing that struck me was the “magic of the Schloss.” I had seen that phrase back in DC, and was admittedly a bit skeptical. But as it turns out, there is a magic to this place. From the stunningly beautiful library (with a secret staircase!) to the rococo-style rooms to the grounds with the stone seahorses, Leo and Mo (who make an appearance in the lake scenes in The Sound of Music), there was a definite tranquility all around.

The other part of the “magic of the Schloss” was the thought-provoking conversations that happened between the Fellows. I helped out with the sixth annual Young Cultural Innovators session, during which about 60 twenty-five to thirty-five-year-old artist-activists and social innovators from around the world convened at the Schloss. To say that these people were fascinating, inspiring, and just really cool would be an understatement. (There was also an unexpected Davidson reunion – one of the participants was Calley Anderson, ’14!)

In addition to the scheduled lectures, workshops, and panels, these Fellows organized their own discussions to get further into the issues – including a “Shop Talk” conversation based on barbershop culture – complete with uncomfortable questions and an actual haircut! I really believe there’s something about the atmosphere created by the sessions at Salzburg Global that allows people to ask hard, awkward, and prickly questions and discuss them in a totally open manner – not unlike some of the experiences I had in classrooms at Davidson. That’s the real magic of the Schloss, and the core of what Salzburg Global does.

One night, some of the Fellows organized a program – “The Schloss is Alive” – to exhibit some of their work that they had done in the past, and some they had collaborated on together in the past few days. I wish I could do it justice. The work they showed – documentaries related to their own First Nation community, photography as art and activism, an animated video to a jazz-traditional-Albanian song – and the passion that was obvious in their presentations was honestly moving. And seeing a Japanese musician, Nigerian rapper, South African poet, Canadian pianist, and Japanese dancer – people that had met just days before – perform a beautiful piece all together was something that embodies what can happen at Salzburg Global.


Back in May, when I was explaining my new job and organization to various people, I occasionally got the very skeptical reply, “Okay… so they basically get people together to talk for a few days?”

Okay, basically, maybe. But this is truly transformative talking that happens, with connections and collaborations and projects that last well beyond the week at the Schloss. I’ll admit there are moments of frustration in writing fundraising appeals for an organization that doesn’t have tangible and easily-quantifiable results. But how many of us have had our perspective shifted from a conversation with someone totally different than us, but with similar interests and passions? How many of us have driven ourselves in circles with an impossible problem, only to have someone come in and flip the puzzle around, suddenly revealing a whole new set of possibilities? That’s what I saw happen at Salzburg Global.

So, given all that, I must have been super bummed to get back to the daily grind of DC, right?

Well, not so much. While I miss my co-workers across the Atlantic and the verified magic of the Schloss, I was really excited to get back to DC and contribute what I can to this organization, now that I’ve seen it in action.

Plus, there is something to be said for home sweet home… even if it’s not an Austrian palace.

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