It is hard to believe that fifty years have passed since “The Sound of Music” premiered. This movie culminated in elements of suspense, showcased the talents of Julie Andrews, and dazzled us with the beauty of Salzburg. It was based on a Rogers and Hammerstein musical, included their music, and continues to capture people’s hearts.
Most of us know that the book on which the story is based, “The Story of The Trapp Family,” written by the real Maria von Trapp, depicts a far less romantic, glamorous and dramatic life than depicted in the film. Salzburg, however, is everything the movie showed it to be — and more.
As we followed a map to spot familiar filming sites within the historic part of the city during our recent visit to Salzburg we quickly discovered that this baroque city and UNESCO World Heritage Site is much more than the spectacular storybook scenery and architecture that made it an ideal setting for the movie. Aside from the “Sound of Music” 50th birthday celebration, references to the film are barely noticeable compared to all the city itself has to offer. Salzburg has a deeply rooted history and celebrated culture that is part of everyday life .
Salzburg, or “salt castle,” grew prosperous in the Middle Ages from the gold and salt, a “white gold”, mined here for more than 3,000 years. A wooden barrel of salt was once worth as much as a house.
Prince-bishops ruled from the time the Pope granted the title in 798 right up to 1803. With their income from trading, taxes and tithes, prince-bishops commissioned the finest of everything, including art, architecture, and music, creating an extraordinary city. They built lavish palaces, like the Salzburg Residenz, that were inspired by the grandeur of the Papal States of Rome. These palaces grew grander with time.
Their seat of power, DomQuartier, is now a cluster of four museums that opened to the public May 17, 2014. A visit includes the lavish State Rooms and the opulent North Oratory of the Salzburg Cathedral. There are art treasures and curiosities of both the cathedral and St. Peter’s, the oldest monastery in the German-speaking world. DomQuartier also has magnificent views of the city and mountains which should not be missed.
Its square, Residenzplatz, was built on the site of an old Roman forum and has an elegant baroque fountain with snorting horses. In “The Sound of Music,” Maria sang “I Have Confidence” while passing through this central square to get the bus to the Von Trapp villa. Later in the movie a Nazi flag was draped here.
Salzburg’s Altstadt (Old Town), with its churches, gardens, castles, and palaces, all surrounded by green mountains, is so charming that it seems at times to be its own movie set. Little shops line lanes like Getreidegasse, one of the oldest streets within the Salzburg City Gate. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthplace is at #9. He was baptized in the cathedral. Though other places make the claim, this is, indeed, the City of Mozart.
We arrived in the midst of the globally renowned Salzburg Festival, a highly respected cultural extravaganza that originated as a peaceful gathering of international cultures after World War I. Part of the fun was seeing the many people who attended wearing traditional dirndls, lederhosen, or other finely crafted traditional clothing. It was at the 1936 Salzburg Festival that the actual von Trapp family won a competition.
Despite the crowds, we were able to get a reservation where “The Sound of Music’s” children stayed, the Hotel am Mirabellplatz, one of the Historic Hotels of Europe. Built in 1653, it was the palace of Archbishop Paris Lodron. At the time of the filming, hotel guests traditionally left their shoes outside their guest room at night to be polished. The children are still remembered for creating pandemonium by switching all the shoes on the third floor with those on the fourth.
Julie Andrews and her young daughter stayed in the luxurious Hotel Sacher Salzburg, renowned for its Sacher Torte. Christopher Plummer was nearby in the Hotel Bristol. It is across the street from Mozart’s family house on Makartplatz. Physicist Christian Doppler was born next door.
Mirabell Gardens, with its Pegasus Fountain and hedge tunnel, was the site of most of the Do-Re-Mi song. We spotted a Gray Line Original Sound of Music Tour coach with Julie Andrews as Maria painted brightly on its side tucked away in a parking lot behind the gardens.
We reserved a place for the next day to see the movie’s sites beyond the Old Town. Although we would have preferred another day of sunshine, enjoying the music, lush green mountain scenery, and tales of the filming was a great way to spend what turned out to be a rainy day.
Our tour guide played a “Sound of Music” CD and everyone in the international group seemed to know all the words to every song. Between songs, he talked about the myths and facts surrounding the movie. We stopped across the lake from 18th century rococo Leopoldskron Palace, built for a prince-archbishop and depicted as the von Trapp home in several lake scenes. The ballroom was not large enough for filming so it was reproduced in a grand scale in Hollywood. Maria and the children did actually fall from the boat here. The water was frigid and the children had to be bribed with hot chocolate and cake to do a retake. The actress who played Gretel could not swim and has avoided being in water since then.
The glass gazebo shown in the movie was moved from this property, which is now affiliated with Harvard University. It is just inside the gate on the grounds of the popular Hellbrunn Palace, which was built in 1615 with trick fountains for the archbishop’s amusement . Scenes and songs set inside the gazebo — Liesl’s “Sixteen Go-ing on Seventeen” and Maria’s “Something Good” — were actually filmed in a larger gazebo in Hollywood.
We were also told that Liesl’s shoes got wet in the rain during that scene. She slid on the floor, broke a glass pane, cut and sprained her ankle, but finished the scene to a standing ovation from the cast. The actress who played Liesl was 21, not 16, and the oldest child in the actual von Trapp family was a boy, Rupert.
The children grew throughout the filming. Liesl wore flat shoes in the beginning and later had to stand on a box to be taller than the older son, who grew 6 inches in 12 weeks. Some of the children lost teeth. Others gained weight from all the chocolate and cake. Christopher Plummer did not like working with children and refused to carry Gretl during their mountain escape. Instead he carried a lightweight dummy on his back.
Our guide pointed out the trees lining the road to the front of the von Trapp’s actual house, which is now a hotel. It was here that the “Sound of Music” children climbed these trees dressed in clothing made from the old draperies.
Our tour continued to Lake Wolfgang for a view of Schafburg, the mountain where Julie Andrews sang “The Sound of Music” in the opening scene. The downdraft from the film crew’s helicopter made this scene challenging for all.
Then we were off to Mondsee region to see St. Michael’s Basilica, site of the movie wedding. To create the illusion of a longer aisle, a platform was built high in the back of the church, just below the organ. The film crew shot the scene while lying on their stomachs.
The ride back to Salzburg reveals even more, like the fabricated ending, an escape through the mountains. That path from Salzburg would have taken them to Germany, not Switzerland. The actual family simply boarded a train.