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17, Aug 2015

The hills are alive in Salzburg for The Sound of Music

by Corey Cohen

The Sound of Music has pleased viewers of its many stage revivals and of the film version. It also has spawned a series of specialized tours in the city of Salzburg, Austria.

This is the town where the von Trapp family lived and where most of the 1965 movie was shot. The lure of these locations is so appealing that several different companies run bus tours of related sites. The fact that Mozart was born here is an afterthought for many visitors! Rodgers & Hammerstein are the heroes, inspiring these folks to find out how alive these hills really are.

On my recent visit to Austria, I did not plan to take these excursions. My stance was obnoxiously elitist. I, after all, have seen the show many times and felt that I knew all I needed to about The Sound of Music. But the publicity for the tours is so ubiquitous that I succumbed. Then I was pleasantly surprised.

Panorama Tours presents a high-quality excursion. The company, owned by Stefan Herzel, picks you up at your hotel for a journey that takes more than four hours. It covers actual settings, movie locations and an array of general-interest Austrian sites. The film’s shooting locations make a reference point but the tour takes a comprehensive look at the entire Salzburg area.

The bus winds through the landscape where the opening scenes were filmed as the tourists listen to the film soundtrack. We stopped at castles, gardens and churches. To get to the cathedral whose interiors were used for the wedding of Maria and the baron, we drove 45 minutes into the countryside. We motored through mountain passes and saw beautiful views of Austria’s lake district. We paused for lunch on the shore of Lake Wolfgang. Another stop allowed the adventurous among us to slide down a mountainside luge.

Remember the helicopter shot that opens the movie, as the camera swoops across a mountain until it spots Julie Andrews? This location isn’t in Salzburg, but, instead, is across the nearby German border. It is near the Eagle’s Lair fortress that Adolph Hitler built at Bertchesgarten, in Bavaria, with a commanding view down into the valley where Salzburg is situated.

There’s also plenty to see in the town itself, such as the Mirabelle Gardens with the floral archway and marble statues that the children run among as they sing “Do Re Mi” in the film. Also the gazebo where Rolf and Leisl sang and danced “I Am Sixteen Going On Seventeen.”

Some of the locations are interesting for the trickery of film-making. One privately-owned Salzburg mansion was used for one side of the baron’s home while another, more than a mile away, was filmed as if it were another side of the same home. The interiors were shot in neither, but, rather, in Hollywood.

The Panorama guide points out the abbey where Maria was trained. Then we walk through the old burial ground where the family hid amongst the crypts. This site, as well as some others on the Sound of Music Tour, is also covered by city tour guides. My family and I didn’t mind seeing it twice in one week.

During the SOM trip, the guide conducts trivia quizzes and leads sing-alongs. Our tour was conducted in English but its available in many tongues.

You should spend several days when you come to this charming city, and take a walking tour of the old part of town as well as the SOM jaunt. Among the highlights to see are Mozart’s homes, the cathedral where Mozart was organist, the fortress on top of a hill overlooking the city, and the Festspielhaus that houses the Salzburg Festival which was founded in 1920 by producer Max Reinhardt, playwright Hugo von Hofmannstahl and composer Richard Strauss.

On August 22 of that year, the archetypal Everyman (Jedermann) was called to his judgment in a Reinhardt-directed production in Salzburg’s main square. Later the festival moved into a theater at what had been the royal stables. In the 1950s a larger, modern house (seating 2100) was built next to the original hall, and a small house for other productions.

While we dined at the Triangle Restaurant diagonally across the street from the Festspielhaus, carriages clip-clopped past our outdoor table while taxi cabs pulled up in front of the opera. Many lords and ladies (or so they appeared to be) walked by, bejewelled and fancily dressed. Inside the lobby, fashion photographers flashed their bulbs at attractive couples.

The next night we dined on venison at the superb Alte Salzburg (Old Salzburg) on Bergerspitalgasse just one block down the street from the Festspielhaus. What could be more pleasant than finishing your dessert, taking a final sip of wine, wiping your lips, then walking one block and entering the main hall of the Festspiel?

And what a treat it is to go to the Munchsberg Museum of Modern Art, located on a hill almost directly up from the Festspielhaus. While sipping drinks on the terrace, you can look down at the opera house, diagonally down at the Salzach River or straight across to the Hohensalzburg fortress on the city’s highest hill.

Most of Salzburg can be seen on foot. The main cathedral was built in 774 by the bishop who became St. Virgil. (Not 1774; just plain old 774.) It was reconstructed in 1628 in the Baroque style to plans by Santino Solari. The city was ruled for centuries, since Charlemagne’s time, by Archbishop Princes who emulated Italian decorative design. They even imported craftsmen from south of the Alps. Their achievements inspired the nickname “The Rome of the North” for Salzburg. This independent status ended with the Napoleonic wars, and in 1814 Salzburg became part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire.

The Festung, or Hohensalzburg Fortress, which I mentioned earlier, is the largest fully-preserved fortress in central Europe. It can be reached by a funicular railway from the center of town. Several exhibits are at its summit, including a museum of marionettes.

The narrow streets of Salzburg are a tourist site by themselves. High, narrow houses and shops have fancy wrought-iron signs over their doors. These identify the craft of the owner who occupied the premises — a turner, an apothecary, a clockmaker, cooper or wax-chandler. Many have courtyards with moulded cornices, marble balustrades and colorful flower arrangements.

This city is a great destination. And don’t be so snobbish that you pass up the Sound of Music Tour while you’re here.

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