POPULATION: 7.5 million
LANGUAGE: German; Italian, Slovene, Croatian, Hungarian, and Czech in the border provinces; English
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Protestantism
Located in the center of Europe, Austria has exercised great military and economic power for much of its history. The Celts (Western Europeans) settled in Austria in the middle of the first millennium BC . They called the area Ostarrichi— the empire in the East. The Celts were followed by Romans and Germanic and Slavic tribes. Around AD 1000 the Babenburger dynasty helped establish Christianity throughout the area. In 1278, Austria's most well-known period of history began when the Hapsburg monarchy came into power. With its capital city in Vienna, the Hapsburg Empire ruled over much of Europe for more than six hundred years and expanded both through war and marriage.
The Hapsburgs were defeated in World War I (1914–18) and their empire was taken apart. Once occupying an area as large as Texas, the newly created Republic of Austria had shrunk to approximately the size of Maine. In 1938, Austria was invaded by Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. Following Germany's defeat in World War II (1939–45), Austria was governed by the Allied powers (the nations that fought against Germany in World War II, including the United States) until 1955. It then returned to independence. In 1994 Austria was officially approved for membership in the European Community (EC).
A landlocked country, three-fourths of Austria is mountainous. The Alps, divided into three mountain ranges, are located mostly in western and central Austria. Passes through the mountains make Austria an important crossroads between different parts of Europe. The remainder of Austria has varied terrain consisting of foothills, lowlands, plains, plateaus, and the fertile Danube River Valley.
Austria's population is now seven and one-half million, mostly German-speaking Catholic people. The only significant ethnic minorities are Slovenes, Croats, and small numbers of Czechs and Hungarians. World War II destroyed most of Austria's Jewish population, formerly a significant ethnic group in Austria.
About half of the Austrians live in cities and towns of more than ten thousand people. One-fifth of Austrians live in Vienna. The main population trends in recent times have been a shift from country to city areas and a migration from east to west.
Nearly ninety-nine percent of Austrians speak German, although at least four different dialects are in use. In the border provinces, Italian, Slovene, Croatian, Hungarian, and Czech are also spoken. Many people in large cities and resort areas speak English. Although Austrians speak German, certain Austrian words used in cooking differ from those used in Germany, reflecting Austria's diverse ethnic past. These include Zwetschken (plums) from the Bohemian svestka, Palatschinken (pancakes) from the Hungarian palacsinta, and kafetier, from the French term for a coffee-house owner. Some common terms as they are spoken in Austria appear below:
|Good day||Grüss Gott!||grOOS gott|
The great German epic, Das Niebelungenlied, was written in Austria around AD 1250. It combined mythical warrior gods and goddesses of Teutonic (ancient northern European) times with real stories of court life in the Middle Ages. Vienna's Museum für Volkskunde houses exhibits on Austrian folklore.
Austria's capital city of Vienna was also the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. Roman Catholicism is still the dominant religion in Austria, practiced by 89 percent of Austrians. Catholic churches, shrines, monasteries, and cathedrals can be seen throughout the country. Other signs of religious faith that can be seen are roofed crosses and covered posts decorated with religious scenes. In the countryside, religious festivals, processions, and pageants take place throughout the year. In city areas, religious observance is often more casual and usually limited to holidays and major events such as births, weddings, and funerals. About 6 percent of Austrians are Protestant (Baptist or Methodist) or members of sects unique to Austria.
Austria's holidays are primarily the religious ones on the Christian calendar such as Easter and Christmas. Christmas festivities begin on December 6, when children receive presents from St. Nicholas. Many houses and churches display wooden cribs at this time of year. In rural areas, children celebrate the eve of the Epiphany by singing a song in honor of the Three Kings that asks for blessings in the new year. Epiphany, January 6, is also the beginning of a carnival season that is celebrated until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Labor Day is celebrated May 1. There is also a National Holiday on October 26.
Rural Austrians also observe some traditional celebrations. One is the feast of St. Leonard, the patron saint of livestock, who is honored each November with festive horse-and-cart parades. Many villages still burn the "demon" of winter during Lent. In Vorarlberg, a figure of a witch that is stuffed with explosives is blown up on top of a water tower. It is believed that the weather for the coming year will come from the direction in which the figure's head flies. In the Tyrol, Schemenlaufen (procession of ghosts) is celebrated every four years with a parade in which men wearing masks sound bells to ring out the winter.
Because the Roman Catholic faith is so widespread in Austria, almost all newborns are baptized. Godparents, chosen by the baby's parents, hold the baby during the baptism, and are expected to visit on birthdays, to give presents on important occasions, and to care for him if the parents die. Childhood firsts are celebrated, such as the first tooth and the first school holiday spent away from home. There are no special rites to mark puberty, but graduation from the teenagers' last school is marked with a party and gifts. People tend to marry young, and church weddings are common. Women generally establish their own careers before having a first child. Most relations between parents and adult children are close. Both generations play an active role in raising children. Many times adult children call their parents the same nicknames that the grandchildren use.
In public, Austrians are both courteous and formal. This is a legacy from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when social position was determined by aristocratic or civil service hierarchy. A doctor or other professional is usually addressed as Herr Doktor, Magister, or Professor. Civil servants have titles of honor or respect consisting of various prefixes and the suffix- rat (councilor). Examples include Hofrat (privy councilor) and Gehiemrat (town councilor). Women are commonly addressed as Gnädige Frau (madam). The greeting Grüss Gott (God bless you) is often used instead of Guten Tag (good day). People shake hands when they meet and part. Doors are normally opened for women, and a woman may be kissed on the hand when being formally introduced.
After World War I (1914–18), the population shifted somewhat from the country to larger towns and cities. As a result, housing in rural or country areas remained plentiful and cheap. Most city-dwellers live in oneor two-room flats (apartments) with a separate kitchen. Fewer than one-fourth of these city people live in homes with four or more rooms. Housing costs are relatively low; Austrians spend less on housing than on recreation. Austrians enjoy excellent health care, all of it covered by a national health insurance program. There are also modern and efficient railroad, highway, and express-way ( Autobahn ) systems.
The most important Austrian family unit is the nuclear family ( Familie ). Soon after marriage, a bride and groom customarily establish their own household near one partner's (usually the wife's) family. They may eventually be joined by a widowed grandparent or unmarried aunt or uncle. Regular visits are exchanged with the extended family ( Grossfamilie ), consisting of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and first cousins. A wider network of relations ( Verwandschaft ) comes together for major events such as weddings. Children maintain a special relationship with godparents until adulthood.
Male and female roles in the family are not equal. For much of the twentieth century, Austria has had a high proportion of women in the labor force. Women are eligible for two years of paid maternity leave after the birth of a child, and many times grandparents take care of children so that a woman may return to work. Regardless of women's significant financial contribution to the household, Austrian men continue to look at domestic tasks and child-rearing as essentially women's jobs.
Modern Austrians dress like people in the northeastern United States. Traditional peasant costumes are mostly saved for holidays and festivals. Then women wear embroidered blouses, lace aprons, and full, dirndl skirts. Men wear lederhosen (short leather pants) with wide suspenders, short jackets without collars or lapels, and green-brimmed hats decorated with feathers. A traditional costume worn on more formal occasions is the Stierer Anzug: gray or brown breeches (pants that buckle just below the knee) embroidered in green, a colorful cummerbund, bright vest, a long, flared coat with ornamental buttons, and high top hat.
Austrians are known for their love of food and drink. Perhaps the most characteristic Austrian dish is the Wienerschnitzel, a veal or pork cutlet that is breaded and fried. Soups and stews with dumplings are very popular, and hot sausages are often served
as snacks with beer. Austrian pastry chefs are famous for creating such delicacies as apple strudel , Milchrahmstrudel (a cheese crepe in vanilla custard sauce), Sachertorte (a rich chocolate cake with apricot jam and whipped cream), and Dobostorte (layers of sponge cake and chocolate butter cream glazed with caramel). Wine is an important part of Austrian meals. The area around Vienna produces very good white wines. Many Austrians have a late-afternoon snack called Jause (YOWS-seh), which is pastry and coffee, because they eat dinner very late in the evening. Chocolate pretzels ( Schokoladen-Brezeln) might be served for Jause.
Children attend primary school from age six through age ten. Then they are tested and placed into a continuing elementary school, a basic high school, or a college preparatory school. Formal secondary education continues through age fourteen. It is followed by either vocational school, teacher-training college, an apprenticeship in a trade, or more college-preparatory classes. Some form of secondary training is required through age fifteen. Austria has had free and mandatory education for two hundred years. As a result, nearly everyone is literate (able to read and write).
For centuries, Vienna has been famous as a center for the arts, particularly music. The renowned Vienna Boys' Choir was founded in 1498. The six-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart first played for the Empress Maria Theresa in 1762. Vienna was either the birthplace or adopted home of many of the greatest classical composers, including Franz Josef Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, and, in the twentieth century, Arnold Schönberg. Austria's two great centers for classical music are Vienna—with its world-famous Boys' Choir, Vienna Philharmonic, and Vienna State Opera—and Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and site of a festival that draws thousands from around the world every summer. Vienna is also the home of the waltz.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Austria—and Vienna in particular—was known as a center for innovations in medicine. Sigmund Freud invented psychoanalysis there and his former home is now a museum.
Three major economic groups—labor, management, and farmers—are each represented by their own organization: trade unions, a management association, and the farmers' federation. Roughly 85 percent of Austrians work for hourly wages, 10 percent are self-employed in agriculture, and 5 percent are professionals who are paid fees for their services. White-collar workers, those who work in offices or are professionals, account for more than 50 percent of all wage earners. People usually start working at the age of fifteen and retire at age sixty. Retirees enjoy generous pensions and high social status. Paid vacation time is long, even for the youngest and most inexperienced workers. Workers receive an extra month's salary in December at the start of the Christmas season and in July before the August vacation season begins. This means that workers are paid for fourteen months rather than twelve months every year. Austrians also receive free medical care.
The natural beauty and variety of Austria's scenery are perfect for outdoor activities of all kinds. Skiing is Austria's leading winter sport, followed by ice skating and tobogganing. Popular summer sports include bicycling, mountain climbing, sailing, hiking, canoeing, and swimming. Many Austrians, like other Europeans, are avid fans and players of soccer, which they call football.
Austrians—especially the Viennese—are known for their cheerful spirit and enjoyment of life. According to a famous saying, "In Berlin, the situation is serious but not hopeless; in Vienna, the situation is hopeless, but not serious." Austrians are enthusiastic supporters of the arts and participants in all kinds of outdoor activities. They meet at coffeehouses and Konditoreien (pastry shops) to relax and enjoy fine food and conversation. Austrians spend many hours reading, socializing, or just relaxing and sipping a brauner (coffee with milk), a konsul (black coffee with cream), or a more elaborate coffee drink, such as kaisermelange (black coffee with an egg yolk and brandy).
Crafts produced by Austrian folk artists include wood carvings, ceramics, jewelry, glassware, wax figures, leather products, and embroidery, as well as items made of wrought iron and pewter. A Heimatwerk (local crafts organization) in each province runs shops that sell the products of area craftspeople.
For an industrial nation, Austria has a relatively low rate of violent crime. It has, however, a high rate of property crime and white-collar crime (crime committed by business or professional people while at work), such as embezzlement and fraud. Alcoholism, suicide, and absenteeism from work are also serious problems. Domestic abuse is also a growing problem. People from Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Turkey, the Middle East, and Africa who settle in Austria are sometimes subjected to discrimination in employment and housing, and to open racial hostility, which is expressed verbally and through graffiti. Anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) and anti-Gypsy sentiments are common as well. Austria has an illegal underground right-wing extremist movement that recruits young people (skin-heads) who agitate against foreigners and commit acts of random violence.
Eyewitness Travel Guide (Vienna). London: Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 1994.
Gall, Timothy, and Susan Gall, eds. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. Detroit: U•X•L, 1996.
Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Peoples of the World: Western Europeans. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.