Salzburg: These hills are alive...finally

The Sound of Music comes home to the city in which it was filmed.


Throughout my youth and childhood, I must have watched countless repeats of the Sound of Music. I never tired of hearing those Rodgers and Hammerstein sing-a-long songs, watching Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer recreate the tear-jerking love story of an all-singing, all-dancing family who flee Nazi oppression or seeing the sensational alpine backdrop and Baroque archtecture of Salzburg.

So, it was a treat to capture a real life view of Austria's frost-topped Untersberg mountain and to walk across the Mozart bridge over the snaking Salzuch river that the family danced across and taste the famous Sacher Torte chocolate cake served at the Sacher Hotel where Julie Andrews stayed.

The film, an adaptation of the Broadway play based on the memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, won five Academy Awards including Best Picture when it premiered in 1965. It grossed $163 million ($1.046 billion by today's standards). In 2001 the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry as it was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". It is one of the most popular musicals ever produced.

Yet the Austrians had never heard of it. Until recently they were unaware of the tourism it brought and had no inkling that the song, Edelwiess, (a flower related to romance, that grows anonymously on their hill tops) is so well-known that many believe it is the Austrian national anthem.

But why did the Austrians reject the film ouright?

Getting there

Kirker Holidays offers 3-night breaks to Salzburg from £619 pp inclusive of return flights, accommodation at the Hotel Stein and a sound of music tour. The price is based on 2 sharing a room on a B&B basis. Call 020 7593 2283 or visit
More information: Salzburgerland Salzburg City
Tickets for The Sound of Music (English subtitles) at the Salzburg Landestheater start from €16.50pp (£15), +43 662871512222

Andrea Heitzer, from Salzburg's tourism board said: "People here couldn't really get on with it. It was just too kitschy."

But there is also another reason - their sensibilities - after all, what countryman would not balk at the imagery of their Nazi past.

Bert Fink, a Jewish New Yorker of Austrian decent who is the Senior Vice President of Communications for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organisation, has been working on bringing the musical to its spiritual home for the past 12 years.

"The Jews had no choice about leaving Austria," he says. "But Captain von Trapp did and he chose to leave. The younger generation are less burdened with a past they are not part of. They recognise it as an uplifting story that should be told here."

Last month the musical was staged at Salzburg's finest theatre, Landestheater, and it brought the house down to a tearful audience.

Sam Von Trapp, Maria's grandson was present at the inaugural showing. "It's great that The Sound of Music is going back to its home city. I hope the people of Salzburg will forgive us a few factual discrepancies."

And being Hollywood, there is more than a touch of poetic licence about the musical.

For instance, the family is shown walking over the Untersberg mountain into Switzerland - a blatant Hollywood fiction.

Had the family done so they would have found themselves in Germany and worse at the door of Hitler's HQ. In reality, the family took a train to Italy and ended up in Vermont where they now run a thriving hotel business.

In the opening scene Maria is frolicking on Untersburg mountain. She hears the bells of Nonnberg Abbey, and realising she has stayed too long, she runs back to the convent.

In reality the red-domed abbey is several miles away and getting back in the time depicted would have been akin to a miracle for most mere mortals - no wonder she was late.

Using the film as a travel guide is fun, and as the Old Town is a UNESCO heritage site it has not changed a bit since the film was made, everything is recognisable.

When the tardy Maria is sent to become a governess for the Vonn trapp kids on her way she stops by the mountain on Residentz Square where she splashes the horses face with water while singing I have confidence.

Finally, she appears at the Von Trapp residence and taps on a door that in reality belongs to the 17th century Fronsburg Palace. Incidentally, the back of the house is depicted by the Leopoldskron Palace two miles away. It nestles by a small, idyllic lake with a majestic view of the Untersberg mountain.

Yet when later the kids are seen seamlessly running from the lake to the front of the house though impossible, it is thanks to the the expert cutting of American film editor of Robert Earl Wise.

When the the eldest daughter Leisel sings 16 going on 17 in the garden pavillion it is actually located Hellbrun Palace. It seemed smaller than that in the film and it turns out the interior was recreated in the Hollywood studio to provide more room to dance around.

Finding that the door was locked, I was told that too many tourists ended up with broken ankles trying to emulate the dance routine.

The sensational Mirabell Gardens provide the backdrop for the song Do-Re-Mi. These 18th century Baroque gardens are beautifully manicured and arranged along a nort-south axis so the view at the end of is of the Hohensalzburg Fortres. This is where the family dance around the fountains,through the gardens, a hedge covered archway and finally jump up the steps. It was hilarious to watch Japanese and American tourists throwing caution to the wind and doing the same.

As the night falls in Salzburg its fairytale architecture lights up in spellbinding hues and being there I could fully understand how Maria thought that she must have done something good.

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