The arrival of a small film crew in the 1960s to a small Austrian city would forever impact Salzburg. The Sound of Music was released in 1965 and is still today one of the most popular films of all time. But, does the movie reflect what was really going on in Austria? On this Sound of Music Tour, we will visit a number of sites that appear in this Oscar-winning film, but will also take some time to dig behind the history of the movie. Our small group allows for a personal experience, in which we may consider the film on the historic stage through the lens of a local. As we take in the impressive views of Mirabell Gardens or Mondsee and the lakes, we’ll address a variety of topics, from the Hapsburg Empire to the political backdrop of WW2 and the role of the Nazis and the Anschluss. We’ll also discuss the reasons why this film took off in certain parts of the world and not others (unbeknown to many, the majority of Austrians have never seen the film). This tour focuses on the real Von Trapp family as a snapshot into the history of this period, examining the impact of the movie for a little city like Salzburg. It is offers a wonderful way to explore the beautiful Austrian countryside in a small group and personal vehicle.
Sound of Music Tour
We’ll begin our Sound of Music Tour in the historical center of Salzburg. Here, we’ll visit a few important sites recognizable from the film, which will offer a natural point to talk about the life of the real Von Trapp family. In the company of a local historian, we will visit the Mirabell Gardens, perhaps today most well-known for the “Do-Re-Mi” song but originally designed in the period of the prince archbishops. We’ll move onto such other areas in Salzburg the Festival Hall (where the song Edelweiss was filmed), where we might discuss the misconceptions of assigning this as an “Austrian folk song” or the dubbing of Christopher Plummer that went on behind the scenes. We may visit the grave of an American general nicknamed “Hollywood Harry”, notable for his involvement in the liberation of the former concentration camp, Dachau. Tying in the theme of WW2 and its presence (or lack thereof) in the movie, we’ll pass Salzburg Cathedral which was badly bombed. As we finish our time in the city, we will pass Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria Augusta Kutschera was a novice. This convent was founded between 713 and 715 by St. Rupert, the patron saint of the city. Again, our small group allows us to talk about the importance of this notable local site in the real Von Trapp family as well as its presence in the film.
Von Trapp Villas and Baroque Palaces
As we move on, we’ll drive in our personal vehicle outside of Salzburg to continue our Sound of Music Tour. Our route may take a number of different directions depending on the interest of the group. We may stop at the impressive Leopoldskron Palace, which served as the Trapp Villa in the movie; however, the real Von Trapp villa is in the suburb of Aigen (which we may drive by later). Our docent might discuss the real situation of the Von Trapps and their financial difficulties linked to the Great Depression in the 1930s. We may continue on to the grounds of Hellbrunn where the original gazebo used in Liesl and Rolf’s song is located while our docent uses the site to explain the greater context of this pleasure palace built in the Baroque style. We’ll learn more about the palace’s creator, Markus Sittikus, a prince archbishop and ruler of the region from Carinthia in the south to Regensburg in the north.
Lovely Lake District
Next, we’ll move further away from Salzburg on our Sound of Music Tour, driving into some of the world’s most beautiful countryside. As we ride in our personal vehicle, we’ll be able to chat closely with our docent about the Lake District, its history and the variety of characteristics attached to such landscapes. We’ll talk about the salt trade and the role of the Hapsburg family as we journey through the countryside previously frequented by the former Austrian emperor Franz Josef and his wife Sissi in summer months. We’ll have some time to admire Lake Wolfgang, which was featured in the opening aerial shots of the film and offers an interesting perspective in considering the presence of these smaller towns and villages surrounding the lake. We’ll continue our stunning drive to the ancient town of Mondsee, known for both its Neolithic artifacts and the cathedral where (spoiler alert) Maria and the Baron marry in the film. However, the town has a much more interesting history than most day-trip visitors realize. Perhaps most notably, it contains the oldest monastery in Austria, constructed by the Bavarian populations who lived there in the 6th and 7th centuries. Our docent will delve into the history of this alpine location as we enjoy a break with a local drink or snack, discussing anything from the Hapsburgs to baroque architecture to Mondsee life today.
At the end of our time together we will emerge with a clearer picture of the few accuracies in the Hollywood movie, and, more importantly, the real picture of what was going on in the period during which the Sound of Music is set. In our small group, we will enjoy discussions on such topics as the true Von Trapp family, the role of WW2 in Austria, and the salt mining history of Salzburg. We will also have spent time exploring the glorious countryside and gaining a different perspective on city life.