How do you solve a problem like an insatiable obsession with The Sound of Music? The solution is to visit Salzburg during the film’s 50th anniversary celebrations and indulge in a day of unapologetic singing, dirndl-wearing and fangirling. Earlier this year, I worked as a teaching assistant in a small town in Austria. I wish I could say that this decision was not at all motivated by my love for a certain childhood classic. Alas! I spent the months leading up to my arrival in the Alps perfecting my Maria von Trapp impression on the hills of North Wales. Upon arriving in the Tyrol, my adopted home for the following four months, it took every ounce of my strength not to burst into an impromptu chorus of Edelweiss.
Knowing my passion for everything Sound of Music related, my friend and fellow teacher Angela told me about an event being organised by the Austrian-American society to celebrate the passing of half a century since the film’s release. A month later, I found myself on the slow train to Salzburg armed with a brand new dirndl and a playlist full of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. I arrived in Salzburg late on Friday afternoon, dumping my bags at the hotel where Angela, Katie – a fellow Welshie and Sound of Music devotee – and I were staying for the weekend. Over a traditional Austrian feast of roast pork and dumplings, we debated what surprises the next day would bring. It transpired that we were all secretly hoping for an appearance by Dame Julie herself. Sadly but obviously, this was a wish left unfulfilled! We rose early on Saturday morning and wandered the back streets of Salzburg for a taxi to take us to our first stop of the day. All participants were to gather at a quaint cinema, the Mozartkino, in the Old Town, to rewatch our favourite film. I say rewatch, but incredibly some guests were seeing the movie for the first time! Hilarity ensued as these virgin viewers found every joke uproariously funny, causing the rest of us to laugh along at quips we’d heard many times before. It felt strange to exit the dark, cavernous cinema to be greeted by sunlight, but it was just before midday and time for food. Our lunchtime haunt was a Salzburg favourite, the Stieglkeller, which sits on the rocks below the castle and offers an unbeatable view of the cityscape.
The start of our guided tour was located just a five minute walk away from the restaurant. Nonnberg Abbey was used for exterior shots in the film and I half expected the Mother Abbess to emerge warbling Climb Every Mountain. We took our seats on the pews inside and were fortunate to hear from a real-life nun from the abbey, who described the film’s unprecedented impact on church life. We also listened to the experiences of the nephew of Dr Franz Wasner, who was the director of the real Trapp Family Singers and was represented by Max Detweiler in the film. The group then divided into three and we explored some of the other filming locations. We return back down the cobbled street and first visited the Residence Square, where Nazi flags were controversially hung from the buildings for the film. Residence Square is also home to the horse fountain that Maria has fun splashing in. Meandering through the Old Town and passing the Rock Riding School, where the Salzburg Festival scenes were filmed, our tour culminates at the Mirabell Gardens. The highlight of the Do-Re-Mi segment, Maria and the children can be seen dancing round fountains and leaping up stairs at the very end of the song.
Taxis were waiting at the Mirabell Gardens to swoop us off to our next location: the real Von Trapp home. Located on the outskirts of the city, it was also home to Heinrich Himmler during the war. Now a hotel, visitors can fully immerse themselves in the huge family’s environment with photos, posters and even a replica of the infamous whistle. We three girls dashed home to change into our dirndls before the evening reception. You don’t know stress until you try and lace a dirndl and your handiwork constantly falls apart. Nonetheless, I headed with my poorly-fitting dress to the castle with a huge beam, excited for the evening ahead.
Schloss Leopoldskron was used for garden and lake shots in the film. Our reception, held on the terrace, consisted of copious amounts of pink lemonades and constant requests for photos. We may have looked a bit strange, two Brits and an American in Austrian costume, but people seemed to like it! Drinks sipped, we sat inside for a short panel discussion with members from the local tourist board, an assistant director on the film and – wait for it – an actual von Trapp. Elisabeth von Trapp is the grandaughter of Captain von Trapp and his first wife, Agatha. Her father, Werner, was represented by Kurt in the film. Elisabeth is a singer by trade and regaled us with tales of her grandmother as well as playing a few songs.
We left full of strudel and stories that I will always remember during the annual family tradition of watching The Sound of Music on New Year’s Day!