The 1965 film ‘Sound of Music’ is one of the world’s favourite musicals. Many people know of the locations in and around Salzburg and visit them in their droves including the city’s squares, parks and abbey. Certainly most of the film has been examined with great scrutiny and its locations discussed in detail. The one aspect that always puzzled me was where the final scenes took place – where the Von Trapps are going over the mountains and descending into Switzerland.
What of the film’s ending? This is one aspect that hardly ever gets a look in. And referring to guides and information on the film doesn’t reveal where the location was. Its information thats difficult to come by. (Although with the passing of time its becoming more acknowledged that the locations are indeed at the beginning and the end of the film.)
The film’s celebrated ending where the Von Trapps are seen heading for ‘Switzerland’ (but in fact are descending to Germany!)
The final scene in the film starts with the clip shown below. It clearly denotes the southwestern most slope of the Ahorn summit above the Berggasthoff Ahornkaser (the cafe.) The building ringed in red is the Purtschellerhaus, with the Hoher Goll massif behind.
This scene, contrary to the rest of the film, is to all purposes and intents, in Germany rather than Austria. Indeed the entire background is Germany – the small bit of ground the Von Trapps are walking on is just within Austria itself.
To reach this one has to enter via Germany along what is known as the Roßfeld Panorama Straße (Rossfeld Panorama highway.) This was built by the Nazis during WWII, being one of their bold, yet unfinished projects, intended to form a link between two distinct parts of Bavaria.
The Von Trapps coming up the mountain. The Purtschellerhausstrasse hostel can just be seen in the distance.
The border between the two countries lies just below the top of the mountain where the film was made. The Rossfeld road briefly enters Austria for several hundred metres by the Ahorn’s summit.
Here’s a link to Google maps showing the site in question. The summit of the Ahornkaser is near where the Ahornbüchsenkopf is marked on Google’s map.
It appears the first scenes for the film’s finale were filmed on the ascent from the Ahornkaser cafe (shown above.) The scenes along the ridge itself were filmed where now seats and a cross stand marking the Ahorn’s summit. The location for this is above the car parks for the Ahornkaser cafe, just off the top end of the Purtschellerstraße (Purtschellerhausstrasse.)
The Ahornkaser cafe can be seen at the extreme left. The summit is clearly visible.
The filming was done with creative camera angles from both the summit itself and from a helicopter to keep evidence of the Rossfeld road (Robsfeldstraße) out of sight, and it appears telephoto lens were used to bring the different elevations closer so as to hide the surrounding evidence (roads, paths, buildings etc) although evidently the road leading to the Eagle’s Nest, the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) and places like Berchtesgaden can be seen.
This scene from the film shows the Berchtesgaden valley and the Eagle’s nest (ringed red.)
The path the Von Trapps are on in this particular scene is only just inside Austria itself, everything else within a few metres north of this path is in Germany.
The Ahorn summit at a height of 1604 metres.
In this view the Von Trapps would have been coming up the ridge at the rear and along the top of this ridge before descending to the right.
The Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest), Purtschellerhaus and Hoher Goll mountain can be seen as indicated by the labels. This modern day scene can be found on the panoramic views page at the Rossfeld Panorama Street website.
In some references and on local postcards the Oberahornalm is also mentioned, this seems to denote the other summit located by the Rossfeld skihut and chairlifts a bit further to the east.
The same exact ridge in the Sound of Music (left) and today (right.)
Google now has street view looking from the summit of the Ahornkaser. The Untersberg is obvious. Compare with the Sound of Music’s scene below.
The two scenes depicted is that from the film and the panorama from the Ahorn, and shows the summit ridge is the same. Below we see the very last scene in the film where the Von Trapps begin their descent to ‘Switzerland.’
The Ahorn summit is ringed red and this is the location the cross is sited as shown in the previous two images.
The Von Trapps descend into Germany in the shadow of the Untersberg mountain.
The large massif seen across the valley is the Untersberg mountain. Just the small portion of this mountain at the extreme right is in Austria. Ironically in the film the Von Trapps are making their way into Switzerland, in reality they could be making their way back to Austria as Salzburg is just off the screen at extreme right!
Old postcards show the location as idyllic. These pics cropped from a 1913 postcard depict the Sound of Music scene over 50 years before the film (25 years before the Nazis’ road was built.) The two Ahornkaser huts are shown, these are still there. As the pics clearly shows, the Eagle’s Nest did not exist.
Below is a clip from a video that shows the Ahornkaser (or Rossfeld mountain) as viewed from the Eagle’s Nest (the Kehlsteinhaus.) The setting for the film’s final scenes is ringed red and this depicts the Ahornkaser’s summit. The entire foreground to this picture is Germany whilst the entire background is Austria.
The Ahornkaser summit looking to Austria. It can be seen the cafe is sited in Germany (see map below.)
The map shown below is modifed slightly from Google’s maps and shows the location of filming (ringed in red) bounded by the Rossfeld highway and the international border, with the Ahorn cafe at left, sited in Germany.
The border is shown as a red line. The Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus) would be well off the map’s left hand (western) side whilst the Untersberg mountain would be almost due north.
Map showing the final Sound of Music scenes took place on the actual border between the two countries. Again, here’s a link to Google’s map.
There are signs (in the picture above) on the Rossfeld Highway that depict the location as that from the Sound of Music. However these do not indicate the actual location and these signs are sited at the other end of the ridge nearer the ski lifts.
The above picture (from the Berchtesgadener-land blog) shows one of these boards. The red circles I have added to the picture indicate (left to right) the Purtschellerhaus, the Ahorn summit ridge (Sound of Music final scene) and the Eagle’s Nest (Das Kehlsteinhaus.)
The beginning and the end of the film too includes glimpses of the ending and beginning scenes!
At the film’s conclusion there’s a glimpse of the distant hill known as Mehlweg where Maria makes her first appearance in the film, singing ‘The hills are alive with the Sound of Music etc.’
Perhaps more interestingly, the Ahornkaser features quite prominently in the opening scenes seen from Mehlweg!
As we can see from the opening scenes at Mehlweg (these clips are from You Tube) the Ahornkaser/Rossfeld Mountain is clearly prominent. The Untersberg is also prominent and at one point the Eagle’s Nest can be briefly seen.
The scenes at Mehlweg are perhaps the only part of the film properly filmed within Germany. This is near Marktschellenberg, a small Bavarian village in the shadow of the Untersberg.
Update: View of Mehlweg on Google Streets:
View of the field at Mehlweg. I have ringed the Ahorn summit. It looks a good distance away but thats probably because its more of a landscape/3D shot. Nevertheless the locations where the Sound of Music was filmed is unmistakable. Source: Google Streets
Looking back from the Ahorn, this is where the field at Mehlweg is located. Source: Google Streets.
This interesting Google aerial view of Mehlweg (taken in October 2017 presumably from a drone) shows the shape of the fields clearly and one can look around to see where the Untersberg and the Ahorn are. Its a lovely misty morning winter scene too!
The following extract is from Shoot the Rehearsal!: Behind the Scenes with Assistant Director Reggie Callow By Rudy Behlmer, page 131 (Pub Scarecrow Press 2010) and describes quite well the problems the film faced at Mehlweg:
I have not been to this part of Europe therefore my knowledge is based entirely on research. I have used other pictures (acknowledging links where possible) and also used clips from You Tube videos.
The final scene clips from the film were from here.
Updated May 2019.