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May 31, 2019

Italy: Trieste and the Sound of Music

Filed under: Europe, Italy, Photography, Travel, Travel, Writing — Tags: , , , , , — anotherheader @ 5:20 pm

A cruise ship moored in Trieste’s port.

Attentive watchers of the “The Sound of Music” will notice that the father of the family, Baron Georg von Trapp, is an Austrian naval captain. The famous play and movie is based on a true story. Georg von Trapp did in fact exist in real life. And though some details of his life story were changed by Hollywood, the movie correctly relays that von Trapp was an Austrian naval commander. Which seems odd, as Austria was at the time of the movie landlocked. So how is that Captain von Trapp, the man who the Nazis coveted as a submarine commander, lived in a country without a port or sea front?

The answer is simple. Up to the end of World War I the Austro-Hungarian Empire included much of the eastern Adriatic Coast. Baron von Trapp was born into the empire in April of 1880 in the coastal commune of Zadar Croatia. At the age of fourteen von Trapp followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Austro-Hungarian navy. After the end of the Great War, von Trapp married into money. With that money bought an estate near Salzburg Austria. It is this estate is where the movie story is based.

Canal Grande di Trieste

Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia

When we visited Trieste in October of 2018 it seemed clear that von Trapp almost certainly had some association with the city. Within the Austro-Hungarian Empire Trieste was the most significant port for the Austrian navy, a fleet of over 100 ships and 20,000 personnel. The Austrians had six submarines including the one that von Trapp commanded. Indeed the Austro-Hungarian fleet was nicknamed the “Trieste Navy”, reflecting the role of Trieste’s port.

With the end of World War I came the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As part of the peace agreement, territories that included Trieste and Zadar were ceded to Italy and the landlocked borders of the country of modern Austria were established. These changes meant that Captain Georg von Trapp now could claim Italian citizenship and was a naval commander for a country without a navy.

“The Sound of Music’s” story occurs after the Anchluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany prior to start of World War II. With the Anchluss things changed for von Trapp. He was now living in the Ostmark region of Nazi Germany, a country with numerous seaports that had need of naval commanders. Georg von Trapp rightly understood that being recruited by the Nazis to join the German Navy was an offer he could not refuse. And thus in real life he took his family and fled, not on foot to Switzerland as romantically shown in the movie, but by train to Italy, a country where he could claim citizenship.


We visited Trieste in October 2018.

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