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Their Hills are Alive

What happened to the von Trapps,


the Austrian family that
inspired The Sound of Music?
By Robert Kiener

2 reader's digest 06.2020


I’
m on my way to have lunch a von Trapp Dunkel lager in the von
with Johannes von Trapp, Trapp Brewery and Bierhall.
the youngest sibling of the Johannes says that some of the mov-
famous singing von Trapps, ie’s more zealous fans come to the Al-
the Austrian family on whom pine-style family hotel expecting to be
the blockbuster musical, The greeted by seven children singing “Do-
Sound of Music, was based. Twelve von Re-Mi.” As he explains, “The musical is
Trapps settled in the picture-postcard 60 years old but we still get visitors com-
town of Stowe, Vermont, after the fam- ing into the lobby and asking, ‘Where
ily left its home in Salzburg more than are the singing von Trapp children?’”
80 years ago. “Sure, I’d love to show you He laughs and adds, “It’s as if they be-
around,” Johannes had told me when lieve we never grew up or were frozen
we spoke on the phone. in time.”
Now 81 and nearing retirement, Jo- As if on cue, a visitor comes to our
hannes still helps oversee the Trapp table and gushes to Johannes, “The
Family Lodge, the resort the family Sound of Music is my favorite movie of
built up in Vermont after arriving in all time,” and asks for an autograph and
the United States. a selfie.
I’ve come prepared. As I drive “See what I mean,” Johannes tells me been revealed about the fatal … and joining them
through the thickly forested moun- as he smiles broadly. “At least he didn’t real-life Austrian family The von Trapps would be unthinkable.”
tains of northern Vermont, I slip The ask me to sing.” on which the movie was gathered for a reunion But in the movie’s fa-

photo, previous spread: © Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock


Sound of Music into my car’s CD player. based. In the film, Cap- at the original mous final scene, nine

T
Within seconds, I am singing—off key, he Sound of Music has been tain Georg von Trapp, a Trapp Family Lodge von Trapps* are shown
in 1965. Johannes
as usual—along with Julie Andrews: called “the world’s favorite musi- highly decorated Austrian can be seen second
hiking through the Alps
“The hills are alive with the sound of cal.” On the release of the movie naval hero, is reluctant from left in the on their way to Switzer-
music. With songs they have sung for a in 1965, the Hollywood Reporter de- to let the children sing back row. land. “The family mem-
thousand years …”
I spot a sign for the Trapp Family
scribed it as “one of the all-time great
pictures [that] restores your faith in
in public, but in reality,
he and his second wife, , bers did indeed escape
from Hitler and the Nazis

photo: ©ted russel/time life collection


Lodge, which sits on a steep hillside. movies.” The film won five Oscars, its Maria, formed a singing in 1938, the year before I
Minutes later I meet Johannes, a lean, soundtrack has sold 20 million copies group, the Trapp Family Choir, that was born,” says Johannes, “but they
blue-eyed six-footer. It’s easy to imag- worldwide, and it has been seen by a toured Europe in 1937 and 1938. merely boarded a train in Salzburg and
ine him when he was younger, decked mind-boggling one billion-plus peo- In both the film and real life, the made their way to Italy and eventually
out in Austrian garb, singing along with ple. Today, it is the most viewed movie anti-Nazi von Trapps left Austria after America.”
his brothers and sisters. musical and third most successful film the Anschluss, when Germany annexed I ask, “So the climactic scene didn’t
He smiles graciously when I con- of all time, after Gone With the Wind Austria. Georg had been instructed to really happen?”
fess how I’ve been mangling the lyrics and Star Wars. accept a German naval commission,
of the musical that made his family While countless books, articles and and the family decided to leave their *The movie version featured only the seven
world-famous. “We get a lot of that up documentaries have been produced homeland. As Georg tells Maria in children that the captain had with his first
here,” he tells me as we each sip on about The Sound of Music, less has the movie, “To refuse them would be wife; he had three more with Maria.

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“Let’s just say that was the Hol- Werner, joined the U.S. Army and
lywood version,” Johannes says with served in the 10th Mountain Division
his blue eyes sparkling. “If our family as ski troopers. Other family members
had walked over the mountains from married and moved away; one worked
Salzburg they’d have ended up in Ber- as a teacher, another became a mis-
chtesgaden, Germany, close to Hitler’s sionary, another a doctor.
Eagle’s Nest mountaintop retreat!” Georg died in 1947 and the Trapp
He pauses for a beat, smiles warmly, Family Singers finally disbanded in
and adds, “But it makes for a more 1956 after performing in more than
dramatic story, doesn’t it?” 2,000 concerts throughout 30 coun-
tries. The family members who re-

D
ramatic indeed. But so is the mained in Stowe helped Maria run
family’s real-life, post-Europe the 27-room family home and lodge.
story. After leaving Austria To help support the family after her
while Maria was pregnant with Jo- husband died, Maria wrote a family
hannes, the von Trapps arrived in biography and sold the rights for less
the United States in 1939 with less than $10,000 to a German publisher,
than four dollars. Georg had lost his who made two movies about the fam-
fortune in a bank failure, but the fam- ily. That publisher in turn sold the Martin, who played Maria not the stern, demanding
ily prospered on an extended concert rights (for much more) to Richard on Broadway, said of her, The von Trapp Brewery martinet portrayed in the
tour across America. Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein as “The family didn’t just and Bierhall are film. He was much more
Audiences loved the Austrian fam- the basis for their Broadway musical, climb that mountain to part of the family's loving, informal and car-
ily wearing their native costumes and The Sound of Music, which premiered escape. She pushed them, efforts to expand ing. And the music we
the appeal of the
performing their traditional music. in 1959, ran three years and won five all the way up.” Trapp Family Lodge
performed was, well, a
As The New York Times noted, “There Tony Awards. Then in 1965 came the beyond Sound of bit more sophisticated

A
was something unusually lovable Hollywood version of the musical. s I join Johannes Music fans. than ‘Doe, a deer, a fe-
about this little family aggregation.”
In time the entire 12-member fam-
As Johannes remembers, “Ev-
erything, and I mean everything,
for a walk around
the grounds of the , male deer.’”
The lo dg e’s pia n o
ily would become “the most heav- changed!” Thanks to its worldwide suc- lodge, which was rebuilt player knows to keep an
ily booked attraction in US concert cess, the von Trapps, especially Maria, after the original burned in 1980, he eye out for Johannes, who has warned
history.” who was portrayed by Julie Andrews admits that the publicity generated him, “Please no ‘Do-Re-Mi’ or ‘Edel-
In 1942 the family settled in Stowe, in the film, became instant celebrities. by the movie was, and is, “a mixed weiss’ when I’m around.” Guests often
a ski town and summer resort estab- The lodge prospered. photo: ©judd lamphere blessing.” request songs from the musical, and
lished in 1794. They bought a tum- Until she died in 1987, Maria was He explains, “Don’t get me wrong, the pianist will oblige. However, if he
bledown farmhouse and 660 acres of the public face of the family, granting The Sound of Music is a fabulous spots Johannes he will quickly switch
land that boasted drop-dead views of countless interviews and appearing on movie, a tour de force that resonates to playing “Desperado” by the Eagles,
Vermont’s Green and Worcester moun- television specials. “She was the driv- with lots of people, but it doesn’t re- his favorite, or another tune.
tains. It reminded them of Austria. ing force that kept us together through ally accurately represent who my fam- “It’s not that I hate ‘Do-Re-Mi’,” says
Two of the brothers, Rupert and the hard times,” says Johannes. Mary ily was. My father, for example, was Johannes with a wry smile. “I’ve just

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heard it a million times.” to cross-country skiing to hiking. The and thought, ‘Not again! What’s he
All of Johannes’ sib- lodge is jam-packed with memorabilia doing?’”
lings, except his sisters of the family and The Sound of Music, He pauses once more, blinks back
Rosemarie, 91, and El- and the gift shop sells everything from a tear and explains, “I realized he was
eonore, 88, who live lo- Edelweiss jewelry to Trapp Family wearing a service dress white uniform.
cally, have passed away. Farm maple syrup. He was a U.S. Navy officer. He went up
He has run the lodge Tourists invariably ask, does Sam or to my father’s grave, stood there at at-
since 1969. “I never his sister sing? Sam, an accomplished tention and saluted. He held his salute
wanted to turn this into skier and former fashion model, for a moment, slowly lowered his arm
a Sound of Music theme winces a bit and says, “My father and and then did an about-face. Then he
park,” he says. “I’ve tried mother are great singers. Me, not so climbed back over the wall and walked
to make it express my much.” away.
family’s tastes and values.” “I was incredibly moved. In fact, I

S
True to his roots, Jo- itting in the crowded Bierh- was speechless,” remembers Johannes.
hannes built a cross- all, Johannes admits that he has “But I soon realized that if it had not
country ski center at the changed his opinion of The Sound been for The Sound of Music, my fa-
lodge and established of Music over the years. “I’ve mel- ther’s story wouldn’t be as well known
a successful $15 million Johannes von Trapp and his wife Lynne with their lowed,” he explains. “I realize the film as it was then and continues to be. It
brewery that offers classic children and grandchildren. Son Sam and wasn’t meant to be a realistic history of also proved to me that there are people
Austrian, South German daughter Kristina (pictured in the middle of the my family, and I’ve come to appreciate who respect my family for what we are
back row) now run the family lodge.
and Bohemian beers. “I that it expresses universal themes such and what we’ve done. That means the
knew we couldn’t rely for- as love of country, love of a man and world to us.”
ever on the movie to keep bringing us The Sound of Music had influenced a woman, love of family and so much
paying guests,” he explains. him to leave a lucrative job and return more. And it has meant so much to so
home to take care of his ailing mother. many people.

J
ohannes recently handed “He said that the movie had shown “There’s a story I have told about …”
off much of his management re- him how important the love of family He stops mid-sentence, wipes a tear
sponsibilities to his son Sam and was,” says Sam. from his eye and explains, “Every time
daughter Kristina. The siblings decided “We hear sentiments like that all the I tell this story, I tear up a bit. Sorry.”
photo: courtesy of von trapp family
to establish, a history tour that tells the time. It never fails to amaze us that this Johannes was visiting his mother,
story of both the family and the movie. movie, and our family’s story, has had Maria, at the Trapp Family Lodge on an
“I grew up with a ‘too cool for school’ such a hugely positive influence on autumn afternoon in the 1970s. They
attitude about the movie and kept it at people. It showed us that being a von were sitting on her balcony, which
arm’s length,” admits Sam, 47. (He has Trapp is a privilege.” looked out onto the family’s private
seen it only two times.) “But it didn’t While the movie may lure some cemetery some 200 feet away.
take me long to realize how important people to the lodge, the family banks He continues: “We had recently
the movie is to so many people.” on customers returning year after fenced off the family cemetery because
He remembers an airline clerk who year because of the property’s out- visitors had trampled the flowers. Sud-
recognized his name and told him how door offerings, from mountain biking denly, I saw a man climb over the fence

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