How Austrians learned to stop worrying and love The Sound of Music

The Sound of Music is into its sixth season in Salzburg, but it took Austrians a long time to embrace the smash-hit musical, as lecturer Laura MacDonald explains.

How Austrians learned to stop worrying and love The Sound of Music
Actress Milica Jovanovic and the children. Photo: Salzburg Tourismus

Ever since the film of The Sound of Music was released 50 years ago, fans from around the world have flocked to Salzburg. The palace Schloss Leopoldskron is inundated with musical fans. Though the real von Trapp family never resided there, a gazebo on the grounds was indeed used as a filming location. Replicas of the palace’s terrace and Venetian Room further established the connection between the lakeside palace and the musical adaptation of the von Trapp family’s story. The Conversation

The palace is just one of a number of tourist sites in the area – fans also go to visit the Mirabell Gardens, where the seven von Trapp children sing Do Re Mi in the film, and Nonnberg Abbey, where the actual Maria Kutschera married Baron von Trapp in 1927.

So Austrian history and American musicals meld in Salzburg. This is no better illustrated than by an Austrian Christmas egg ornament featuring a hand-painted Julie Andrews in all her Maria splendour, ready to twirl through an alpine meadow.

Die Trapp Familie

The real-life aspiring nun/teacher Maria was an enterprising woman. Following her marriage to the former naval captain von Trapp (and the birth of three more von Trapps), she worked hard to create a public image for the Trapp Family Singers. The family, struggling financially, had begun touring through Europe as a singing group in 1935. They eventually emigrated to the United States and settled in Vermont.

Maria went on to publish five books chronicling her life and the family’s music tours. She sold the rights to her autobiography, which first inspired a West German film, Die Trapp Familie, and its sequel, Die Trapp Familie in Amerika. The Broadway team of songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, with librettists Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, then adapted Maria’s memoirs as a vehicle for Broadway’s sweetheart Mary Martin, who starred as Maria opposite Austrian-American folk singer Theodore Bikel as Georg von Trapp.




The Original Sound of Music tour bus. jenniferpoole, CC BY-SA



Critics in 1959 found the musical to be a somewhat old-fashioned operetta, but it was the Broadway production that introduced the now-beloved songs such as My Favourite Things, So Long Farewell, and Climb Ev'ry Mountain. It enjoyed a run of 1443 performances.

As the Broadway run ended, the film adaptation was well under way. On the basis of her work in the as yet unreleased Mary Poppins, Julie Andrews was cast as Maria, opposite Christopher Plummer as Captain von Trapp. Though the cast and crew spent a relatively short period of time filming in Salzburg, their work ensured that the town would forever after be filled with the sound of tourists – especially from Asia and the US – though to very mixed reactions from locals.

Dismissed in Austria

Residents of Salzburg were far less familiar with the musical. It was widely dismissed as kitschy. Carl Philip von Maldeghem, the current artistic director of the Salzburg State Theatre, spent a year abroad in the United States in the 1980s and was surprised to see The Sound of Music on television there. He recently made it his mission to finally stage the musical in Salzburg.

As an American projection of Austrian history, the idea of a stage production in Salzburg was not popular with local politicians and the theatre’s subscribers. But von Maldeghem persevered. Hundreds of local children in dirndls and lederhosen turned up to audition for the roles of the von Trapp children. “They are a new generation of Austrians who felt it was part of their history,” von Maldeghem explained.




Salzburg in silhouette. Salzburger Landestheater


Casting these Austrian children was a major step in bringing the musical home to Salzburg. And Von Maldeghem had stressed the importance of carefully engaging with the local setting immediately outside the theatre:

Here the audience comes from skiing, from the lakes, with beauty in their mind. Depicting the same thing on stage would have been boring, and would have confirmed the American projection.

To avoid replicating Salzburg, set designer Court Watson created the Salzburg skyline but only in silhouette, framed by the forest.

The show was expected to last for a very limited run. But the Salzburg production has instead been regularly performed in German since its 2011 opening, with English surtitles provided for foreign spectators. Given the worldwide popularity of sing-a-long Sound of Music cinema screenings, the Salzburg production has even added a sing-a-long at the end of the stage musical. The musical had a mountain to climb in winning over locals, but the hills surrounding Salzburg now remain filled with the sound of this universally loved musical.

Laura MacDonald, Lecturer in Musical Theatre, University of Portsmouth

This article was originally published on The Conversation in 2015. Read the original article.

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EXPLAINED: Why is finding housing in Salzburg so difficult?

Rent prices in Salzburg are increasing more than anywhere else in Austria. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: Why is finding housing in Salzburg so difficult?

The city of Salzburg is experiencing a housing crisis, fuelled by property investors, limited building space and increasingly tourism-focused infrastructure.

“In the last five years, prices have risen enormously. Much more than income levels,” says Inge Strassl, project leader for housing research at the Salzburg Institute for Housing and Regional Planning (SIR).

In the city of Salzburg, locals and newcomers alike are running up against sky-high prices and limited options when it comes to finding an apartment or home. The city’s housing crisis is the result of a slew of factors driving up demand, even when it seems there is no shortage of living space in the city and surrounding region.

“It’s not a question of whether we have enough apartments—but they aren’t always in the right place,” Strassl told The Local. “The main problem is that it’s becoming too expensive for the average person.”

Since at least 2005, the state of Salzburg has topped the charts for rent prices compared to other Austrian states, according to SIR’s latest report. In that time, Austria has seen an average rent increase of 57 percent, bringing a typical Salzburger’s rent from 6.50 euros per square meter up to 9.90 euros by 2020.

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For those looking to buy, the leap in property value was even more stark. From 2009 to 2019, the sales price for new homes inside the city jumped by 70 percent, while the price tag on existing homes nearly doubled.

Today, a 150 square meter apartment or house on the city outskirts can sell for one million euros or more.

New tenants face elevated costs

Compared to the rest of the world, Austria’s rent-to-income ratio is fairly middling—about 20 percent of the average Austrian’s income went to rent in 2019, according to a recent OECD study.

That’s higher than Germany and the EU as a whole, but lower than France, Italy, Switzerland and the United States.

What the numbers don’t show though, is which groups have access to more affordable housing, and how much more money new tenants are paying compared to the old. On this issue, Salzburg is the perfect case study.

Bernhard Gugg, a housing researcher with SIR, told The Local that new tenants can expect shorter rent contracts and more frequent price hikes than in previous years.

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“Around two-thirds of new rent contracts are set for three years,” Gugg says. “After it expires, landlords can actually raise the price again.”

According to Gugg, the current rent price on the market is around 17 euros per square meter, including upkeep. In Austria, it’s typical for a landlord to charge three month’s rent as a security fee, while real estate brokers often charge another two month’s rent for their services. 

That means the upfront fee to move into a two-room apartment in Salzburg could total up to 5,400 euros for the first month.

Inaccessible subsidised housing

Gugg also says that newcomers, especially non-Austrians, have trouble accessing Salzburg’s more affordable subsidised housing, which makes up approximately one quarter of the city’s housing stock.

“That’s not available for internationals, or for people who move here for studies or work,” Gugg says. Only five-year residents of the city are eligible to apply.

But even locals face a long waiting list. According to Strassl, low turnover in the city’s subsidised housing stock is further exacerbating Salzburg’s housing crisis.

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“The problem is that people don’t move out of these apartments again,” Strassl says. “They stay, and want to live there forever. So there is no exchange.”

As a result, groups that normally rely on lower-priced housing for their first apartment or home have to look elsewhere—and that often means settling for cramped or lower-quality housing on the private market.

“It’s the younger population and the young families,” Strassl says, that are feeling the brunt of the impact—especially immigrants. She has come across many immigrant families with several children, often having to live in small, two-room apartments.

“The private rent is so high that it’s not possible to save a lot of money,” she says. “It’s creating a split—the gap is widening,” she says, between renters and owners.

A focus on tourism is a major reason why the cost of living is so high in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Photo by zhang xiaoyu on Unsplash

A focus on tourism is a major reason why the cost of living is so high in the Austrian city of Salzburg. Photo by zhang xiaoyu on Unsplash

Empty buildings and restricted space drive up demand

Salzburg’s housing availability is also being diminished by a recent boom in the purchase of property for investment—houses and apartment buildings that investors often leave empty because they generate income all by themselves, without the need for tenants.

The city’s real estate sites are full of advertisements geared toward investors, complete with annual profit estimates. One listing on the housing board run by Salzburger Nachrichten is titled: “Apartment package: 4 top-rented investment apartments with a yield of 2.9%.”

In order to capitalise on the profits, Gugg says, private building companies are snapping up land in a city with restricted space.

“What’s quite difficult in Salzburg is that you really don’t get a lot of new land for any kind of development—not just housing,” he says. That steep competition makes it hard for affordable-housing associations to recoup their costs and keep prices low for residents.

According to Strassl, many properties in the city, old and new, are bought up by small investors looking for a place to park their money instead of the bank.

“In the city of Salzburg, you can be sure that [a property] will not lose it’s worth,” Strassl says. “Of the people who buy them, not all rent them again, so there are a lot of apartments now that are sold and not used.”

A 2015 SIR study found that about 3,500 viable living spaces in the city remain vacant year-round, inaccessible to the public. While that’s only about 4 percent of the available supply, it’s indicative of a growing market, that—combined with Salzburg’s restricted building space—is pushing some residents out.

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A blessing and a curse

There’s one final factor putting pressure on Salzburg’s housing market, wrapped up with all the rest: Salzburg’s allure for tourists, vacationers and second-home buyers.

The city’s “attractiveness is not only a blessing for Salzburg, but also a curse,” reports a 2019 study out of the Salzburg University Geography Department.

Salzburg’s charming surroundings, comfortable amenities and cultural tourism draw millions of visitors over the course of a normal year. In 2019, Salzburg hosted three million overnight stays—approximately 8,200 additional residents each day of the year in a city of 155,000. 

According to the study, tourism in Salzburg has captured a large swath of housing, including vacation homes and short-term rentals posted through portals like Airbnb, which often remain partially empty during the year. At least 17 percent of living spaces in the city are secondary residences, while the number of short-term rentals is hard to quantify.

What’s clear is that Salzburg’s city centre is remarkably vacant of local residents. The resident population there fell 15 percent in the ten years leading up to 2019, says the study, as the city’s changing infrastructure increasingly accommodates tourists.

Strassl says the price jumps and high demand haven’t stopped there. “It’s extreme in the city, but it’s also coming around in the surrounding area. In the whole region of Salzburg, you will not find a really cheap place.”