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Uproar over Von Trapp hotel

A plan to turn the 'Sound of Music' family's former home in Salzburg into a hotel draws neighbors' ire.

June 15, 2008|Julia Damianova | Special to The Times

VIENNA — In the alpine Austrian city of Salzburg, immortalized in "The Sound of Music," some residents say tourists are not their favorite things.

Plans to turn the villa that once belonged to the melodious Von Trapp family into a hotel have met with fierce opposition from residents of the house's quiet neighborhood.

The stage play and movie, about the nun Maria who falls for the widower Baron von Trapp and his seven children on the eve of World War II, draws an estimated 300,000 visitors to Salzburg every year, local tourism officials say. They come on "Sound of Music" tours, visiting sites that figured in the 1965 movie starring Julie Andrews or were associated with the family.

But the real home of Baron Georg von Trapp and his brood was not known to most foreign visitors until recently.

Entrepreneur Marianne Dorfer and her husband, Christopher Unterkofler, are turning the villa into a 14-room bed-and-breakfast, which is scheduled to open July 25 with a "Sound of Music" museum, a wedding chapel and an 8.6-acre park where souvenirs will be sold.

Neighbors immediately raised a protest, saying they feared that crowds of tourists on large buses would invade the neighborhood of small houses and narrow streets. Traunstrasse, the street where the pale yellow villa stands, is not even wide enough for two cars to pass each other.

In fact, residents complain, hordes of tourists aware of the hotel plans already have begun to descend on the area, giving the neighborhood a taste of what is to come.

"These are very big buses," said Ines Eberl, a 30-year resident. "On Sunday, the first one was there at 9 a.m. when we were having our breakfast on the terrace."

Manfred Schitter, who lives near the Von Trapp villa and heads a residents association, said he and the neighbors presented Salzburg Mayor Heinz Schaden with a petition signed by more than 600 people hoping to block the hotel.

"The villa was a Sleeping Beauty and should remain a Sleeping Beauty," he said.

Dorfer tried to reassure angry residents, telling them in a recent town meeting that the project would respect the Von Trapp history. She said guests would be encouraged to use public transportation to cut down on traffic.

The Von Trapp family lived in the villa from 1923 until 1938, when they fled, eventually to settle in Vermont. In 1939, the Nazis confiscated the home, and SS chief Heinrich Himmler, an architect of the Holocaust, occupied it until 1945. That dark side of the house's history also is a reason to not turn it into a tourist attraction, some neighbors maintain.

"This house was Himmler's home and I find this a political issue to celebrate parties in it or to organize attractions there," said Eberl, whose father was a political prisoner in an SS camp.

The villa did not figure in the filming of movie, which used a castle on the outskirts of Salzburg for exterior shots meant to portray the Von Trapp manor.

For most Austrians, Salzburg, a baroque gem on the banks of the Salzach river, is best known not for "The Sound of Music," but as the birth- place of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

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