In tune with the Von Trapps

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on March 09, 2018

The music lives on: The Mirabell Gardens in Salzburg — where parts of the anthemic ‘Do re mi’ were filmed   -  iStock.com

The Sound of Music, which released in March, 1965, has been one of the highest grossing films of all time

House of worship: Nonnberg Abbey is where the real-life Maria (played by Julie Andrews in the iconic film) lived before she appointed governess of the Von Trapp children   -  iStock.com

When in Salzburg, you follow The Sound of Music

When we planned a trip to East Europe visiting Salzburg was a given. There was so much one thought one would be able to see there — scenic beauty, Mozart’s birthplace and of course, the locations of the 1960s iconic film, The Sound of Music. Top of the list was the official Sound of Music tour, which the company Panorama has been running for 35 years.

The Sound of Music, which released in March, 1965, has been one of the highest grossing films of all time


So strongly is the film associated with Salzburg in our mind — with guides only adding to the hype — that we expected a Von Trapp extravaganza out of the four-hour tour. Part of the enthusiasm was perhaps justified — The Sound of Music is one of the highest grossers of all times. It is also the winner of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director and two Golden Globe Awards.

However, the tour at best was a mixed bag. The first thing we learnt was that very little of the film was shot in Salzburg. The rest was filmed in the studios with a judicious bit of “cheating” (as our guide told us) thrown in. We did see whatever was shot in Salzburg — the exterior of the palace where the Von Trapp family lived only to be told that the scene on the lake with Julie Andrews and the seven children (the youngest of whom falls off the boat into the lake, followed by the rest of the group) and Christopher Plummer was shot at two different locations. Maria and the Captain Andrews and Plummer respectively — were actually miles apart in the scene where they are seen talking face to face.

We are taken to the lake too. And informed that the child actor in the role of the youngest Von Trapp almost drowned shooting the scene. The guide added that Andrews failed to catch hold of the the child actor as she slipped into the waters. The little one was given time off to recover, and pampered to an extent that she put on many pounds.

On seeing the recovered but plump child back on the sets, Plummer fumed, “I am not carrying that fat child on my shoulder.” And this is where the Hollywood “cheating” came in. The film ends with the lead actor climbing a mountain with a child on his back. Now we know why the camera hid this girl’s face.

We also saw the gazebo in Hellbrunn Palace where Rolf and Liesl romanced over ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’, and Andrews and Plummer sang ‘Something Good’. The palace, with sprawling gardens and majestic structures, is beautiful and worth a trip on its own. The 10 minutes that the tour slotted for Hellbrunn were hopelessly inadequate. The gazebo was built by the Salzburg authorities as a tribute to the musical drama of 1965.

What we lacked in terms of minutes, was compensated by some song and dance. Tour guide David, from England, insisted that everyone in the bus — mostly Japanese and Koreans, and a local resident — dance to ‘I have confidence and confidence in me’. It’s the song that works as a tonic for a skittish Maria as she leaves the abbey for the job of a governess at Captain Von Trapp’s household.


As reward for our enthusiastic participation, David plied us with more anecdotes about the film and the family on which it is based. Maria Augusta von Trapp was the stepmother and matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers. Hired to look after a baron’s children after the mother passed away. On seeing how good Maria was with the children, the Baron proposed marriage. But unlike the film, Maria and the Baron had three children of their own. The family left Salzburg to escape the Germans during World War II and eventually moved to the US. However, their escape was not as dramatic as in the film. They didn’t sneak off in the middle of the night but took a train during the day to reach Stowe, Vermont from where Maria and her stepchildren eventually found their way to another continent.

Maria’s The Story of the Trapp Family Singers was published in 1949. The book served as inspiration for the 1956 West German film The Trapp Family, which, in turn, inspired the Broadway musical The Sound of Music (1959) and the 1965 film.


It is ironic that what works for the tour is not so much the film as the glimpses of Salzburg and its many attractions. Take, for example, the beautiful Nonnberg Abbey, built in 714. This is the abbey where the real-life Maria lived before she was appointed governess. The convent at Nonnberg is said to be the oldest in the German-speaking world. But the abbey we see in the film is not the one we drove past. That’s because the church refused to let the crew in. Nonnberg still has about 20 nuns in residence. Located on a mountain next to the Hohensalzburg Fortress, it is a majestic old structure with little peepholes that serve as windows. We came across a nun who was, literally, breathless from the steep climb to the abbey. On seeing that we were trying to photograph the snow-capped mountains, she spent 10 minutes with us learning about the camera and capturing two beautiful frames before she trudged on.

House of worship: Nonnberg Abbey is where the real-life Maria (played by Julie Andrews in the iconic film) lived before she appointed governess of the Von Trapp children   -  iStock.com


The tour ended at Mirabell Gardens where parts of the anthemic ‘Do re mi’ were shot. The gardens are beautiful and well-maintained with synchronised flower beds and neatly laid-out paths. In between was the best part of of it all — a beautiful drive in the Salzkammergut, Lakes and Mountains area. The route moves through high mountains — most of them covered in snow — and meanders through green fields till it touches the lakes.

The film has little to do with this part of Salzburg and has perhaps been included to give visitors value for money (at €42 a pop, the tour is not exactly cheap). It includes a drive through St Gilgen/Lake Wolfgang, where the first few scenes were shot (remember the part before Andrews breaks into that other unforgettable number ‘The hills are alive’?). The lake is one of the largest in the area with crystal-clear water. It is a popular day trip from Salzburg and you can see people boating and others using the cable car to go from one side to another.


Mondsee is the other element in the tour — the village with the church where both the reel-life and real-life couple tied the know. David pricked the bubble a wee bit by saying that the church, which looks stately on screen, is actually small. Some clever thinking behind wide-angle cameras did the trick. Maybe that discouraged some in the group from entering the structure. Maybe it was good ol’ exhaustion creeping in.

Life in Mondsee revolves around this tour. So the apple strudel at a particular restaurant comes highly recommended. The village has shops selling cheese and other curios and there is also a Sound of Music souvenir shop, which sells the usual mugs, a version of the original Maria Von Trapp story, and, believe it or not, The Sound of Music perfumes. The return journey to Salzburg is a drive on the main road, which takes a little over 15 minutes before the tour ends at Mirabel Gardens.

Bidding goodbye to David — as well as the film, honestly — was quite a relief. Though funny to begin with, David’s jokes had become predictable after a while. And the ‘enthusiasm’ with which songs from the film were played in a loop, and the dancing et al, was beginning to tell on us. What helped was the mini bar in the bus — it fortified us, and kept some of that sound of music away.

Published on March 09, 2018

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