Sadly, the film is most likely where Americans get most of their information about Austrian history, culture and traditions. It also helps reinforce some unfortunate stereotypes that many Austrians would rather distance themselves from – lederhosen-clad men and dirndl-wearing women for example.
Records show that the real Maria Von Trapp wasn’t the butter-wouldn’t-melt Mary Poppins figure that she is made out to be in the film, but an ice maiden who was cruel towards her musical troupe. It has been documented that Maria was frequently violent with the children, using corporal punishment to keep them in check. As a result of this, the city of Salzburg recently rejected a request to have a trail named after her. A spokesperson stated that, ‘on one hand, there’s no doubts on the merits of Maria von Trapp, especially for Salzburg, but on the other hand if you look into her biography, into her autobiography, you can read how she educated the Trapp children and there was too much violence against children and we can’t accept this today. So we decided not to name the street for Maria von Trapp’. Ouch.
Aside for the aforementioned shocker, there are many elements of the film that bend the truth of the real story of the Von Trapp family. For example, Maria was never a nun and Georg didn’t in fact hire her to be a governess, but to be a teacher for his daughter.
The bombardment of sites related to The Sound of Music may mean that you miss out on getting to know the ‘real’ Salzburg, which is in fact filled with cultural hot-spots and countless sites that the Von Trapps didn’t grace with their presence. The Museum of Modern Art is well worth a visit, as are some of the city’s secret sites.
Mistake this song for the Austrian national anthem, as many have previously done, and you may find yourself in trouble. Contrary to popular belief, this infectiously catchy tune is neither a folk song nor the Austrian national anthem, but was composed for the Broadway musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Just so you know, the real national anthem is in actual fact ‘Land der Berge, Land am Strome’, meaning ‘land of mountains, land of rivers’.
Although it may be hard to believe, the film was a complete flop in Germany and Austria when it premiered in 1965, and neither country has succumbed to its charms since. The Austrians resented the historical inaccuracies depicting their heritage, while the Germans found the Nazi theme troubling so soon after WWII. Vastly preferable in both countries is the 1956 German language film Die Trapp-Familie, which was the original inspiration for the Broadway musical.
Perhaps the hills remain still with the sound of silence from now on.