The Rossfeld Panoramic Road (Roßfeldpanoramastraße) is a mountain pass with a fame that isn’t often mentioned – and no, its not the infamy of those who built the road in the first place…. Wikipedia says of the mountain route: ‘The toll road leads over the Hossfeld, a northern foothill of the Göll. The Rossfeld is located between the Salzach valley in the east and the Schellenberger valley, which runs from Berchtesgaden to Marktschellenberg, in the west. In the south, the Rossfeld is towered over by the Hoher Göll (2522 m), in the north it is joined by the Zinken. The panoramic ring road is about 16 km long, the steepest gradient is 13%. With a maximum of 1570 m above sea level. It represents the highest continuous road in Germany. The crest section runs partly on Austrian territory.’
Section of the Rossfeld Road looking towards the Hoher Göll. Source: Rossfeld Panoramastrasse.
A road was first mooted in 1927 as part of a German Alps Motorway plan but this was not carried out. The Nazis took over the Rossfeld concept as being one of their own and promoted it as thus. It would be a route that climbed one side of the mountain known as the Ahorn, and then down the other side. Work on the road began in 1933 and ironically it would also herald the motorcar as a substantial means of transportation. By the time of WWII the road had been partially built up the mountain on both sides. A battery of anti-aircraft guns were set up along the uncompleted summit stretch to protect the Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest) from possible attack by the Allies.
1938: Track leading up the mountain side as well as what seems to be a contractor’s funicular can also be seen. The Untersberg is prominent in this view. Source: Rossfeld Panoramastrasse.
The 1604 metre high Ahorn is by no means any sort of stupendous mountain in terms of its height. The new road would almost reach the summit of the Ahorn. Its route would take it right past the mountain’s dual prominence but stay a few metres below those summits. From the day the road was opened in 1955 viewpoint areas were provided for those who wished to park and admire the views or walk upon the twin summits of the Ahorn.
Its not often mentioned a railway was used to build the road! It was no proper railway but a roughly laid route that ascended the mountain and thus parts of the route that were difficult to reach. A temporary funicular was also used on the east side approach in order to assist in the construction of hairpin bends. Parts of the route involved building viaducts along which the new road could run because the mountain top location wasn’t really wide enough for this new purpose thus the railway provided the means by which equipment and materials could initially be taken to these locations. The approaches up the mountain sides were much easier to build than the bit over the top and that meant the road was not completed until 1955.
Contractor’s railway near the Ahornkaser. Source: Rossfeld Panoramastrasse.
A somewhat similar view today – given that there has been substantial change in the geology to accommodate the road as the Ahorn’s ridge wasn’t really wide enough for this. Source: Google Streets.
The route is stupendous because it indeed traverses a mountain’s summit. Source: Alpenresidenz Buchenhöhe.
The Rossfeld Panoramic Road is one of the popular destinations in this part of Bavaria because it gives stupendous views over both Germany and Austria. Evidently its why this part of Germany is known as Obersalzberg – or Upper Salzberg – because it indeed overlooks Salzberg some 19km (or 12 miles) to the north. Its a bit confusing when one would generally deem Germany to be in the north and Austria to be in the south because that is how they seem geographically sited. Essentially its a small part of Bavaria that extends in such a way as to be almost what could be considered an island in Austria itself.
Panorama from the road looking north east. Austria can be seen on both sides of the view, with Salzburg left of centre in the distance, however the large mountain – the Untersberg on the left – is in Germany. One of the few times Google’s own street view cars gets their shadow on the road! Source: Google Streets.
The completion of the Rossfeld Panorama route came at the just the right time for a film company who were wanting possible locations for a moive they were planning to make just a few years later…
The Sound of Music
The 1965 film ‘Sound of Music’ from the Rodgers and Hammerstein stable is one of the world’s favourite musicals and it is of course located in Austria. The film starred Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, with Charmian Carr, Nicholas Hammond, Heather Menzies, Duane Chase, Angela Cartwright, Debbie Turner and Kym Karath.
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 film’s ending is one aspect that had rarely got a look. In referring to guides and information on the film, barely any revealed where the location actually was. This post was originally written in 2014 and a lot of people referred to it at the time as it was one of the few sources to confirm where the film’s ending took place. With the passing of time its acknowledged these locations are where the beginning and the end of the film were made and more are now aware of this. No Google Street coverage of the locality existed until about 2019 and the site’s inclusion has helped to raise its awareness.
The film’s ending where the Von Trapps are heading for ‘Switzerland’ but in fact they”re going to Germany! The Untersberg is prominent in these scenes.
The final scene in the film clearly denotes the southwestern most slope of the Ahorn summit above the Berggasthoff Ahornkaser (the cafe) with the Hoher Göll massif behind, the bulk of which is sited in Germany even though the mountain too straddles the border between the two countries.
The Von Trapps coming up the mountain. The Purtschellerhausstrasse hostel can just be seen in the distance. This scene, contrary to the rest of the film, is to all purposes and intents in Germany rather than Austria. Indeed the space the Von Trapps are walking upon is just within Austria itself, whilst the film camera team, are believe it or not, in Germany!
To reach this location, the only way to do so is from Germany via the Rossfeld Panorama highway. 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 is near where the Ahornbüchsenkopf is marked on Google’s map.
The summit of the Ahorn is clearly visible in this view from the Purtschellerhaus. Salzburg, some twelve miles to the north, is arrowed in the valley at left. Source: Mapio
The scenes for the film’s finale were filmed on the ascent from the Ahornkaser cafe (shown above) along the ridge itself. Seats and a cross now mark site, this being the Ahorn’s summit. 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) whilst places like Berchtesgaden and even Salzburg can be seen.
This scene from the film shows the Berchtesgaden valley (centre) and the Eagle’s nest (ringed in red at left.) The path the Von Trapps are on in this particular scene is only just inside Austria itself, everything else within a metre or so north of this path is Germany. In the film the Von Trapps are making their way to Switzerland but in terms of the location they’re entering Germany and could well be making their way back to Salzburg!
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 Purtschellerhaus and Kehlsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest) are marked in red. Source: Google Streets
Google now has a street view looking from the summit of the Ahorn. The Untersberg can be seen in the distance. It looks much further away than it is seen in the film and that is because those scenes were shot from a helicopter in such a way the background was compressed. Salzburg can be seen in the valley in the upper centre of the scene. All the countryside north of here towards Salzburg is in that part of Germany known as Bavaria.
The Kehlsteinhaus sits on the ridge opposite the summit where the film was made. The distance to the Ahorn summit (marked) is 3km or 1¾ miles. Source: Panorama Tours
Map showing the final Sound of Music scenes took place on the actual border between the two countries. The border is shown as a thin white line. The site of the filming took place in the centre of the map. The Von Trapps in the film climbed the ridge just inside Austria. then followed it along the top to where the border turns sharply northwards, and there the actors then climbed down that bit into Germany itself. Here’s a link to Google’s map.
There are signs on the Rossfeld Highway that depict the locality as that featured in the Sound of Music. The Berchtesgadener-land blog shows one of these boards which is some distance from the actual spot where those scenes weer filmed. The red circles indicate the Ahorn summit ridge (Sound of Music final scene) and the Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus.) This part of the setting is in fact in Germany too – just a small bit of Austria exists on the left side.
Both the film’s beginning/end scenes can be seen in its end and beginning scenes too!
The film’s beginning includes a glimpse of it’s finale location and the ending of the film includes a glimpse of its beginning’s location. Confused? Read on!
As the Von Trapps descend from the mountain top there’s a glimpse of the distant hill known as Mehlweg where Maria makes her appearance with ‘The hills are alive with the Sound of Music…’ The field itself is marked red. Not only that, the Ahorn itself features prominently in the opening scenes at Mehlweg!
Modern view from the Ahorn summit showing where Mehlweg is located. Salzburg can just be seen in the valley to the right. Source: Google Streets.
As we can see from the opening scenes at Mehlweg (clip from You Tube) the 1604m high Ahorn (Rossfeld) Mountain is clearly prominent. Both the Untersberg and the Eagle’s Nest can also be briefly seen in the film’s scenes. Mehlweg is near Marktschellenberg, a small Bavarian village in the shadow of the Untersberg, thus these were the only part of the movie to be filmed entirely in Germany.
View of the field at Mehlweg. The Ahorn summit looks a good distance away. In the film however the scenes were shot with lenses which compressed the scenes to make them look more interesting. These sort of techniques are among the various tools a director would use to make their film stand out. Nevertheless the location is unmistakable. Source: Google Streets.
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:
The final scene clips from the film were from here. The Rossfeld Panorama route has been popular with movie makers since the Sound of Music. Here’s a list of other films that were made in the locality.
Updated May 2019, March 2021 and May 2023.