I have had two trips away since the pandemic out of normality, and both have been to Austria. We know that Corona is still about, but restrictions have been lifted - the latest benefiting me on this recent trip - but our lives have been allowed to return to some sort of normality. It was nice for me to be able to return to Austria six months after my last visit, and once again on the trail of Where Eagles Dare filming locations.

An odd thing happened when I was returning to England after my last trip there in October 2021. On the way to the airport, my laptop was offered one (or both) of the Austrian and German versions of Google and, half-heartedly, I tried my luck in finding the blown-up bridge towards the end of the film. I have seen places which might have fitted the bill but there was always something gnawing away at me: something which cast a doubt on whether I really had the right place. And, of course, it is too easy to want to believe that one has the correct place and to find convincing reasons for believing oneself. This is where either google.at or google.de came up trumps.

Putting the film's German title in the search and adding the word bridge i.e. Agenten Sterben Einsam Brucke - sorry, if my keyboard has an umlaut to put over the u in Brucke, I have yet to discover it: maybe I should have put Bruecke - lo and behold, up came an article showing Bad Ischl's mayor opening a bridge (which was part of the scheme for a new cycle path between Bad Ischl and Weissenbach am Attersee) which commemorated the place where the bridge was blown up towards the end of the film and It has been named after Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton: a nice touch. It took a little research and an odd email to a presumably surprised tourist office to ask for the location and off I later went. Damn it, if this isn't the bridge then I shall - well, keep looking... It's named after the two star actors and therefore I must believe that at long last I really have found the correct place.

My short trip started by flying to Vienna from Heathrow on a Wednesday afternoon. It was disappointing that everything went smoothly only to be boarded fifteen minutes before departure. It was a full flight - that's a nice sign - and the boarding took twenty minutes and, for whatever reason was given, we spent the better part of the next hour waiting to leave. Time was made up, and Vienna's airport was very quick.

Austria is - and who would blame them? - very careful about the Coronavirus but their terminology was a tad difficult to understand. Restrictions had been lessened but I remember reading something which suggested that fully-vaccinated people could travel to Austria but were required to fill out a passenger locator form and quarantine. There were exemptions, the main one being that a booster jab overrode the need to quarantine etc. It may have been me being dim but I found the way that it had been written confusing. In any event, armed with a new passport, I was waved cheerily through passport control without as much a request for my vaccination certificate to be shown.

I spent the first night in the Hotel Hadrigan in Vienna's Ottakring district. I even found my way easily to the hotel and had a simple yet comfortable room which was very good value for a hotel fairly close to many of the city's highlights. One thing which struck me was, with the window open, how little traffic noise came from the main roads by the hotel. Many people will have heard of Austria's capital city, but few will have come across my home village yet the extraordinary difference in noise levels was astonishing. Nothing in that part of Vienna yet, at home, we contend with many speeding cars and others presumably proud of their engine and exhaust noise (or both) throughout the day and night. Silly me for once or twice asking why something isn't done about it, especially with everyone so traceable - dear me no, traffic noise complaints are apparently not entertained...So, I wear muffles at night (and am already deaf). No need for muffles in the Hotel Hadrigan.

I was pleased to have just enough time to visit the beautiful Schonbrunn Palace. It is many years since I last saw it and it was an easy U-Bahn ride from Ottakring. It is one of Vienna's many highlights and doubtless Andre Rieu has made it even more popular. There is no entrance fee for walking around the grounds, only to visit the inside and the zoo, to my knowledge. I probably made for an extraordinary sight dragging my suitcase around the grounds but was grateful for the opportunity of seeing the palace again.

The onward train to Ebensee (via Attnang-Puccheim) was very comfortable and a seat reservation was included within the ticket price. What wasn't mentioned was that the adjoining seat was left empty, a legacy, I suppose, of the virus restrictions but a welcome added luxury. No-one without a reservation tried to take the many "empty" seats. Only FFP2 masks were obligatory.

I had booked into the Gasthaus Auerhahn in Ebensee. I usually book hotels through booking.com but the Auerhahn isn't available through them so, somewhat surprisingly for me, I booked it directly through the Gasthaus owners. It is a few seconds walk from Ebensee Railway Station - there is another station in the centre of Ebensee called Landungsplatz, presumably because of its proximity to the Traunsee - and I was given a very large and comfortable room (which too, given the closeness to the trains, was quiet from train noise, if not quite motorbikes and the odd car). The restaurant seems to be hugely popular and all told was very good value.

I revisited the Feuerkogelbahn cable car valley station, an area which features quite prominently in Where Eagles Dare. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of my first visit and subsequent travel on what we believe were the cable cars used in the film. Although I did not go in the cable car, I had a good look around the valley station: the stairs leading up from the inside are still slightly recognisable - look out for the part of the film where Heidi comes down from the castle (and attracts a less-than-surreptitious look from a guard).

I had read in one of the stuntman's autobiographies that there was a suggestion that some filming took place on a road below the cable car route. If it did, nothing jumped out at me (however hard I tried to make it do so) but the road does lead past the huts and dainty chapel to the side of the river Langbathseen. It was rather nice.

Another little treat was later walking past a shop in Ebensee whose exterior showed the history of the town and the Feuerkogelbahn. I would have to say that one of the cable car photos was almost certainly pre-Where Eagles Dare. The latest model is the third I have seen in all of my visits to Ebensee since 1982. I did look for the other cable car believed to have been used in the film which was last time in someone's garden nearby. I was pleased to find it still there. It's likely the No.2 car, No.1 still to my knowledge being outside a hotel on top of the Feuerkogel.

My reason for staying in Ebensee was, however, as a base for visiting the Eastwood-Burton bridge at Mitterweissenbach the following day. It was never, knowing me, likely to be straightforward and the boots came out and a passage found via Google Earth and many other maps, there being no public transport along this road near Bad Ischl to Unterach am Attersee. Well, there is but it doesn't stop any longer. Sadly, what would have been a very convenient stop at Jagdhaus Aufzug seems to have been discontinued recently. Short of hiring a bike or, heaven forfend, car or taking a taxi, it was a case of Shanks's pony. The walk would likely be around ten miles, a distance increased significantly when I alighted the bus too early and added another four miles to my trek. It was, I felt, a perfectly understandable mistake to have made: I knew that I had to get down at a stop with Traunbrucke mentioned and did so. Sadly, there seem to have been two such stops.
Schonbrunn Place, Vienna

The Gloriette, directly opposite Schonbrunn Palace and part of the estate

Gasthaus Auerhahn, Ebensee


Is this someone hoping for a lift on the top on the latest model of the Feuerkogel Seilbahn?

The cable car, believed to have been used in Where Eagles Dare, still sits happily in a residential house near Ebensee

A distant photo giving some indication of the distance between the two cable cars

A history of the Feuerkogel (pre-Where Eagles Dare, it seems) in a shop window in Ebensee

The tiny chapel near the Feuerkogel valley station which can be seen briefly in the film

A cable car arrives at the Feuerkogelbahn valley station

At long last. The latest version of the bridge which was originally spectacularly blown up in the film towards the end of the film.

And just to prove that I did make it. Travelling alone has its handicaps occasionally, this one being relying on somewhere to position the camera...

I might be completely wrong but the blown-up tree in the film during the bus escape to the airport looks familiar from the film, at least to me. Who knows?

A true, yet tragic, real event from World War 2. A memorial to Ebensee Concentration Camp

A further memorial in the Ebensee Concentration Camp cemetery

One of the tunnels used in Ebensee Concentration Camp

Bad Ischl

Having pored over Google Earth to see if there might have been other parts of the film shot in the bridge area on the simple, yet quite possibly erroneous, basis of why film miles away from a location, I felt that there was some reason for encouragement. Using Cinema Retro's superb magazine on the making of Where Eagles Dare, there was a distinct feeling of encouragement that I could have been in a promising area. One good thing about walking is that you can stop where you want and take any number of fascinating shots of rivers, streams, bends in road, rocks, bridges, trees, pylons etc to the possible bewilderment of drivers going past. I had, through prior research, plenty of places to look at and photograph - and now pore over.

It was most satisfying finding the famous bridge. As I have said, I have to trust those who dedicated the new bridge to the film's main stars so that I can now say that I have seen and walked over the bridge which was a rickety affair in 1968 and blown up during the closing stages of the film. I believe that the film company had to build a new steel bridge in its place: this latest one may be the third reincarnation.

Buoyed by my eventual discovery, I pressed on to a place along the main road which looks a possibility for the place where the tree was blown up, halting the advancing German troops. Time has advanced, trees have grown taller or been cut down and it isn't always easy to imagine a scene which was filmed 54 years ago but I did feel, I hope correctly, that I might have been in the right area. Much freezing of the film and photos from the Cinema Retro magazine did make me feel optimistic but, then again, I am one who can get hopelessly lost, and I might be completely wrong. Who knows?

After making it to Weissenbach am Attersee and a somewhat inviting bus back, I spent the latter part of the afternoon visiting a true and tragic remnant of World War II: Ebensee Concentration Camp. There are many more infamous such camps whose names roll off the tongue more easily than perhaps Ebensee's but over 8,400 people lost their lives here. I visited when the area is not open but that does not in the slightest prohibit seeing the remains of the works and tunnel area, the memorial (at the entrance to the living area) and the cemetery with the harrowing and seemingly endless list of names of those incarcerated at the camp. It is a moving place and one which should not be forgotten. Signs to the camp are thorough and regular and there is also a museum in Ebensee with a history of the camp.

I returned from Salzburg and again thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful scenery on the bus journey from Bad Ischl to Salzburg which went through delightful towns of St. Gilgen, Strobl and St. Wolfgang could be seen from a distance.

The return flight was a bit of an epic: boarded and ready to go on time, this great promise was scuppered by the slowness of the baggage being loaded so there was another fairly long wait on the tarmac. When we reached Heathrow, the aircraft's parking slot was in use which led to another delay. When we did finally make it to the baggage reclaim after mind-boggling queues in immigration (which did move quickly), there was a further wait of an hour for the bags. I do wonder if smaller airports might be easier. Far from being back in the light, I was grateful to a church friend who kindly met me and gave me a lift back. The passenger locator form for returning into England had been discontinued the day before which had been welcome news.

Back to the muffles and, oh yes, a condemned bollard on the road by our church which had presumably been decapitated by someone not going at 30 mph...