A few of my favorite things include watching that aerial shot high above the Alpine range panning closer to the ground with a crescendo that transitions to gently twirling Julie Andrews singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music”. Lets press pause on that for a moment and establish the fact that The Sound of Music is a gift I consider as my one absolute potion of joy. Now going back to the hills are alive and the sound of the bells ring causing the protagonist to abruptly stop serenading, climbing trees and scraping her knees rush to the abbey. Well all that is splendid if you have grown up anywhere but in Austria because this Oscar award winner of a movie was a massive flop in Austria and Germany when it opened in 1965. Why do you ask? Does it speak volumes of their taste in movies? The answer is a resounding NO! It’s just a movie where the events don’t add up, the geography is questionable, the crucial plot of the movie is heavily censored (Nazi parts) and maybe they feel its way too romanticized than what it really was – a stark reality for a family of young children struggling their way in life against odds of economy, emotions and war. Whatever said and done the masterpiece motion picture is not going to be dethroned whatever the sentiment. But of course you’ve seen the movie since you realized you had vision so I am not going to dwell on the story that you’re aware of but focus on the discrepancies in the movie from reality. I had an indelible experience to learn about the real von Trapps and their life during my visit to Salzburg and this is what I learned about their timeless tale….
The Hills Are Alive in Aigen
A lush carpet covers the Gaisberg a scenic mountain standing right behind a village called Aigen- suburb of Salzburg which is just 15 minutes by car from Aldstadt or Old Town of Salzburg. Aigen is a quiet neighborhood for most Salzburg residents who’d like to have a house there without the bustle of the tourists and their selfie sticks. But since a decade it has been known for the most famous house second only to Mozart irrespective of your taste in music or pop culture – The Villa Trapp. Home to the celebrated family from the award-winning movie that cast Julie Andrews career in stone as the affable Frauline Maria it is the original place to relive, revisit and rejoice in the triumph of their lives as a family against all odds. Welcome to the Von Trapp family home with the sound of music.
Let’s start at the very beginning a very good place to start, it was 1923 and the family of Baron Georg Freiherr von Trapp and Baroness Agathe von Trapp with their children had moved to Salzburg from Pula in today’s Croatia. Villa Trapp was built in 1863 and was expanded to a 22 room mansion with a light yellow and cream exterior and mansard gray roof since the Captain of the Austro-Hungarian Marine – Baron Georg Freiherr von Trapp purchased it for his family.
The Villa Trapp saw children being born, growing up from infants to toddlers or toddlers to teens and adulthood with much laughter, joy of a privileged family. It has been a witness to loss of a mother to seven children, bankruptcy, hostile takeover by Nazis and now in its current glory of being the original home of celebrity von Trapps who were immortalised on silver screen in 1965 by Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer with the seven children in the motion picture The Sound of Music. Villa Trapp is quaint as much as its large, cosy as much is sprawling, comforting in luxury and that family home you always visit during the holidays in winter or summer. If you have watched the movie at least a 10 million times before you read this article you have the house rooms etched in your memory but not a single one of the rooms are like that in the movie. So lets erase that right away, there is no lake behind the house, the house doesn’t have that round fountain and a large courtyard in front where Julie Andrews’ Maria trips before ringing the bell. Oh and the front door isn’t that large either its bigger than most of the doors but nothing like that in the movie. Also the scale inside drops from that of 70mm frame when Maria enters the house and feels dwarfed by the scale and luxury. Villa Trapp is welcoming, comforting like a blanket you need after walking your way home drenched in pouring rain. As soon as you enter through the doors you reach a foyer with a large staircase running over the doorway and an ideal living room with a wood fireplace calling you to come inside. The three storey house has rooms where the family lived as guest rooms complete with private and shared bathrooms. There are suites that are luxuriously appointed with tall windows looking over at the sprawling green lawn behind the house. Wherever you look outside your window it is a view you’d fall in love thanks to the tall trees on the property. Villa Trapp has tours now that will take you through the life of the von Trapps and how they really lived and their struggles. In most cases Villa Trapp will pique your curiosity with a constant mental comparison with the movie scenes as I experienced it. There are so many things in the movie that just don’t add up in reality and perhaps that’s why The Sound of Music isn’t a movie appreciated in Salzburg.
For room bookings please visit Villa Trapp, Salzburg.
The Captain With Seven Children
“What’s so fearsome about that?” questioned young and inexperienced Maria while serenading ‘I have confidence’ en route to her assignment. However little did the real Maria know that it would become her entire identity for the world to admire her reel character. Circling back to the real story from that we have all loved on the screen, the eldest of the children was not a girl but a boy who was studying medicine around the time when the actual events of their famous story were taking place. Because he was away studying medicine he couldn’t spend time too often with the family as opposed to what’s depicted in the movie – The Sound Of Music. I happen to read this particular factoid on one of the frames outside his room in the house during my stay at Villa Trapp. The character of Liesl in the movie who is shown bursting with hormones and the urge to receive telegrams like today’s 16-year-old would have about Snapchat with their boyfriend was in reality the eldest daughter and second child among the seven children between the Baroness and Captain Georg von Trapp. Liesl’s real life persona was named Agathe after her mother Agathe von Trapp and she was well over 16 to be singing a clandestine duet with her 17-year-old boyfriend during the time the Nazi army was planning to march into Austria. The first four children were born by the beginning of the first world war. The last of the seven children was 5 when Maria stepped into their household and that part of the story in the movie is accurate. The seven children however were not disciplined by a tyrant for a father but rather a compassionate man who lived his life in the navy until the end of WWI.
During my stay in Agathe’s bedroom, I had the pleasure and opportunity to relive a part of their everyday life in the original house – Villa Trapp. When you stay at the house you can immediately visualise the giggles, laughter and humming of songs with seven children running down the stairs, corridors and on to the ‘as far as your eyes can see’ stretch of lawn. There are numerous pictures of the children as a merry band and individually throughout their original home just outside Salzburg. It has been 80 years since the family escaped from Austria but today after much time and water has passed under the bridge the house feels just as welcoming as it would have with the children running about in it.
How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?
It is true that the real life Maria was an orphan from Vienna and had joined as a novice at the Nonnberg Abbey – a Benedictine Monastery and barely a year into her induction she was tasked with an assignment to be a private tutor for seven children who had lost their mother five years ago with a heartbroken and reeling father at home. Though in real life Maria was much stern than her screen adaptation by Julie Andrews and the Captain was kinder again opposite to his screen image. Maria was taken aback by The Captain’s proposal to marry him was reluctant in accepting it. Maria married the Baron Georg Freiherr von Trapp, Captain of the Austrian-Hungarian marine in 1927 (11 years before WWII surfaced Europe) at Nonnberg Abbey. The third child and second eldest daughter also named Maria was resentful about her father remarrying let alone stealing her friend Maria from her as now her stepmother. Maria and the Captain gave birth to two children who are neither mentioned nor acknowledged by the movie thanks to pressing fast forward on all the events before 1938 and swallowing the 11 years between their wedding and The Anschluss altogether. Discrepancies aplenty! Maria was a problem solver not a problem herself as is the constant complain of nuns at the Abbey. After the Great Depression in 1929 in the early 30s the family lost all its money and had to now come up with a plan to earn their living. Maria took upon herself to form the Von Trapp Family Choir.
The von Trapp Family Choir
The choir consisted of seven children (at least two of the seven were adults by then) and Maria von Trapp initially, while the Captain refrained from singing in public owing to his esteemed place in Austrian high society. It was a priest name Franz Wassner not uncle Max (as shown in the movie) who discovered the family choir during an Easter Sunday mass at Villa Trapp. His able arrangements helped the family sing at Salzburg Music Festival, Cathedral and events in Austria and across Europe. They had reached fame and were earning a decent living to stay floating till of course the anschluss came knocking.
The Anschluss Is Coming
Not just Austria but the von Trapp family was constantly aware of the imminent Anschluss or union with Germany leading up to the WWII. The von Trapps were proud Austrians and any association with Nazis was utterly unthinkable for them to the point of abandoning their home where their children grew up. That sentiment was perfectly captured in the movie by Christopher Plummer’s character of Captain von Trapp. The von Trapp Family Choir was asked to perform for Hitler’s birthday celebration in Munich which they refused and managed to flee the country before the borders closed.
Escaping The Nazis
Now that’s where The Sound of Music doesn’t hit home with Salzburg residents the geographic faux pas the movie makes does get you to think from their perspective. If you recall in the movie the Von Trapp family is shown to hike their way from Salzburg to Switzerland through the Alps with a 5-year-old. Really? Get a map Hollywood! First of all Salzburg does not share a border with Switzerland instead the Bavarian region of Germany is literally a hopping distance away. Secondly you will know when you stay at Villa Trapp that the backyard ends where the Aigen train station is located so all the Von Trapps did was walk through their backyard get on a train and go to Italy. They fled the country in the summer of 1938 and sailed off to USA in October that year to perform at a concert in New York and never returned to the annexed Austria. Villa Trapp was managed by the Missionaries of Precious Blood for some months after the family left but later it fell in the hands of the Nazis as the summer home for Heinrich Himmler – Head of the SS (also a heinous holocaust slaughterer). The Villa Trapp I stayed in is too gorgeous a property to imagine it with barbed wire, barracks and armed men under Nazi regime. The house was under the Nazis until the end of war.
From Salzburg To Stowe
Salzburg has received a gift that keeps on giving through the Von Trapp’s life story filmed in a movie. When they finally had to settle in the USA it was a village called Stowe in the state of Vermont, where they built a home and toured the country serenading songs. The Captain passed away shortly after the WWII in 1947. Maria passed away years later in her very old age. In 2014 the last surviving member of the first seven children and the third child passed away. With the ebb and flo of life family grew and lived happily in Stowe, Vermont as they were in Salzburg.