We packed in a lot of magic on our family winter vacation to Germany and Austria. Highlights included the festive Christmas markets, castles, palaces, medieval walled villages, fortresses, and museums. An unexpected highlight was a tour of the filming locations in Salzburg for the movie, The Sound of Music.
The Sound of Music is a fictionalized version of the life of Maria von Trapp, who fled with her family to the US from Austria during World War II. Although the movie has been enormously popular in the US for almost 50 years, neither the movie nor the songs are widely known in Austria. As a 20 year old studying abroad and backpacking through Europe, I was not interested in such a "touristy" activity, but as an adult the story resonates with me as a much beloved part of my childhood. As the spouse of an immigrant, I am also drawn to the stories behind the decision to start a new life in a new country.
Much of the tour was spent on educating us on what in the movie was fact versus fiction. Nonetheless, I found myself surprisingly engaged as we visited the convent where Maria was a postulant (fact), and stood on the cobblestone lane outside the convent gates where the wily nuns sabotaged the Nazis' car (fiction). We also visited the small Abbey church where the von Trapps were married in real life, and the ornate baroque church used in the film. We drove in awe through the snow-capped peaks and glacial lakes surrounding Salzburg and imitated Maria's guitar swinging skip down a tree laned avenue (fiction).
Retracing Maria's steps in Salzburg reminded me of how much I loved the movie growing up. In those pre-video days, once a year we were delighted to watch the movie on TV. Even on a black and white 12" screen, the movie was mesmerizing with mischievous kids, romance, danger, and excitement. We listened to the record endlessly. I still know every verse to every song with Do Re Mi being the first song I ever picked out on the piano. The kids in our neighborhood would regularly act out the musical for our parents, using the slight rise in front of our house to re-enact the climactic scene of the family hiking over the mountains to Switzerland to escape the Nazis.
On the tour we were reminded that the mountains around Salzburg border Germany, not Switzerland. The von Trapp family actually traveled by train to Italy, and the Nazis were not in hot pursuit. And yet, despite the geographical impossibility and the Hollywood created drama of their escape, I was very moved by the von Trapp family's story and their departure from Salzburg. They left behind their home in a beautiful and historic city carrying only a knapsack each, not knowing if they would ever return. It made me think about my husband leaving his home during a war with a suitcase, a little money, and the opportunity of a scholarship for graduate studies. As good as life turned out in the US for both the von Trapps and my husband, it is a huge sacrifice to leave a culture, family and mother tongue behind, despite the gratitude one has for the life one makes here.
As a country of immigrants, most of us have someone in our past who made that difficult decision and sacrifice. Their story might lack the Hollywood drama of escaping the Nazis, but each of them undoubtedly climbed a mountain in making their way here.