Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 28, 2022
One of "My Favorite Things"
Panorama Tours is a major operator in Salzburg, Austria. The company hosts trips to Adolf Hitler's "Eagle's Nest," points of
interest around the city, and excursions into various parts of the nearby Alps. But husband Art noticed something odd when he
booked "The Sound of Music" tour for us and friends Deb and Lou. It was the only tour offered exclusively in English.
While 1.7 million tourists visit the city of Mozart's birth every year, 300,000 of those come principally because it was the setting for the 1965 film "The Sound of Music." That equates to two fans for every Salzburger! Almost all of those come from the United States, Canada or Australia.
Part of the reason for this disparity in interest in the film version of the von Trapp family is because the real story was well-known locally from the 1949 book written by Maria, the family's matriarch, portrayed by Julie Andrews in the film.
Maria Kutschera, a postulant at the city's Nonnberg Abbey, became governess in 1925 for the seven children of Georg von Trapp, a World War I hero, whose wife Agathe Whitehead had died of scarlet fever in 1922. Maria's and Georg's marriage in 1927 was more an economic necessity than a great love affair.
In 1960, movie maker 20th Century Fox was facing its own problems. The box-office-flop "Cleopatra" left it on the edge of bankruptcy. The company needed a winner, and love stories sell tickets, so "The Sound of Music" film version was written as a romance.
I loved the movie when I first saw it at age 12. The twice-a-day multiple-bus tours in Austria during even the autumn off-season show I'm not alone.
We decided to first tour some of the sites on our own, including the plaza near the cathedral where Maria and the von Trapp children rode through the streets in a carriage. Then it was on to St. Peter's Cemetery at the foot of the Hohensalzburg Fortress. The cemetery was the model for the scene where the family hides from the Nazis behind the tombstones - something impossible in the real cemetery as the tombstones are carved into the rock wall. We also spent time in the Mirabell Gardens, where the children and Maria sang "Do-Re-Mi" as they frolicked through the "dwarf garden," around fountains, and up and down steps.
The bus tour gave us new insights. Birgit, a native Austrian, was our guide and Serbian Dragan was our patient driver. Birgit interspersed information about the movie with facts about the real-life von Trapps.
Both tours stopped at Leopoldskron Palace, which has a small lake with ducks and swans. The scene where Maria and the children fall into the lake while boating was shot there. We also visited the gazebo twice, where von Trapp daughter Liesl sang "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" with boyfriend Rolfe, and Maria and Georg sang "Something Good." Andrews and Plummer said they couldn't stop giggling during their romantic scene, causing director Robert Wise to film them in silhouette so the audience couldn't see their faces.
Our car trip around the Mondsee, a clear mountain lake east of Salzburg, passed the movie site where the children hung upside down from trees lining the road.
Another twice-visited site was the Basilica Minor St. Michael, where the wedding scene was filmed. Although impressive, the basilica seemed small compared to the movie version, the result of the cameraman using wide-angle lenses.
Throughout the bus ride, Birgit sang some of the movie's songs, including "The Sound of Music," "The Lonely Goatherd," and "Edelweiss."
The bus excursion ended near the Mirabell Gardens, but we still hadn't had enough. We spent several more days visiting additional movie sites. My favorite was "The Sound of Music Trail" near Werfen, where Maria and the children began "Do-Re-Mi" on a beautiful green meadow, with the Hohenwerfen Castle in the distance. The day we were there, the sky was blue, and wispy clouds hung over the craggy Alps, while cows with their clanking bells grazed nearby. We chatted with a young family with four children from Arizona, who were enjoying a picnic in the idyllic setting.
The real von Trapp family lost nearly everything during the Depression, forcing them to rent rooms in their villa to earn money. One of their renters - a priest - helped teach the children to sing. In 1935, the family won first prize in the Salzburg Music Festival, prompting an invitation to perform at Hitler's 50th birthday. Declining that invitation, combined with Georg's order to serve with the German Navy, caused the couple to hastily plan an escape from Austria.
But the family didn't leave by walking over the mountains as depicted in the movie. That route would have taken them into Germany. In reality, they traveled by train to Italy and then London before sailing for the U.S.
In the early 1940s, the family toured the U.S. as the Trapp Family Singers before settling in Stowe, Vermont on a farm with mountain views that reminded them of their beloved Austria. In the summer of 1950, they began welcoming guests to their lodge. Today, it offers cross-country skiing, mountain biking trails, sleigh rides, and more.
Johannes von Trapp, 83, the last surviving child, now runs the resort with his son Sam. We were fortunate to meet Johannes during a trip to Vermont. Georg died in 1947 and Maria died in 1987. They are buried on the property.
The disparity between actual events and a Hollywood version frequently leads to some disappointment. But the flesh-and-blood von Trapp family enjoyed the life they lived while embracing the screen version. We enjoyed our visits to the film locations and somehow they made us love the movie, the songs, the scenery, and the true-life story of the von Trapps even more.
All of the photos refer to places in the film version of the von Trapp family's life. Top row (l-r): Art and I in front of the gazebo; Deb practices her Julie-Andrews twirl where the family fled Austria; Leopoldskron Palace where the garden scenes and the boating accident were filmed; the meadow by Werfen where Julie Andrews begins singing "Do-Re-Mi." Bottom-row (l-r): Lou standing next to the dwarf statue; at one point, the carriage with the children and Julie Andrews passes these paintings of horses near the city's horse-washing location; basilica where Maria is married; Mirabell Gardens where the children dance about the fountain while singing "Do-Re-Mi." The spires of Salzburg's Dom - cathedral - are visible just below the hilltop fortress. The insets are of our tour guide Birgit and driver Dragan.