A (Very Brief) History of Austria

  • Austria was part of the Holy Roman Empire, ruled by the Hapsburgs from the thirteenth century.
  • Then the Austrian Empire remained within the German Confederation until the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. This resulted in Prussia expelling Austria from the Confederation.
  • Instead, Austria entered into a dual monarchy with Hungary: the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  • When this empire collapsed, after the end of World War I, in 1918, Austria was reduced to its current frontiers, taking on the name The Republic of German-Austria. However, union with Germany and the chosen country name were vetoed by the Allies at the Treaty of Versailles. The consequence was the First Austrian Republic (1919-1933). Adolf Hitler (who was born in Austria) annexed Austria to Germany, for the duration of World War II.
  • Ten years after the Second World War, Austria again became an independent country, as the Second Austrian Republic.

Is Austria in the EU?

  • Austria became a member of the European Union in 1995 and adopted the Euro as currency in 2002.
  • Austria is not a member of NATO - after the world wars, Austria signed up to a position of permanent neutrality.

Is Austria a Rich Country?

  • This is a developed economy and the country is one of the fourteen richest in the world in terms of GDP. The poverty rate is low, at 4%.

Is Austria a Safe Place to Visit?

  • Austria has a low rate of violent crime, but petty theft is on the increase. As with anywhere - be careful.

Facts and Factoids

  • The name Austria derives from a Germanic word ‘austro’, meaning ‘east’. It's German name is Österreich.
  • Austria is landlocked and bordered by 8 countries, Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Hungary and Slovakia to the east.
  • Austria has a population of nearly 9 million people. Almost one third of the population lives in the capital, Vienna.
  • While German is the country's official language, many Austrians communicate informally in a variety of Bavarian dialects
  • Postcards were invented in Austria.
  • Austria only seems to have one nickname. The country and especially, capital, Vienna, is renowned for its musical composers. From the mid eighteenth century, to 1820, it became ‘The Musical Centre of Europe’. The three great composers of the Viennese school were Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Franz Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Liszt, Schoenberg and the three Strausses, followed on.

What to See and Do in Austria?

  • Austria is known for its mountain railways and trains - 62% of Austria is covered by mountains. It is therefore great for outdoor activities and especially winter sports. Skiing is the national sport. I wrote about a ski trip to St Anton in the Vorarlberg.
  • The River Danube flows for about 350 kilometres from west to east through the northern part of the country, adding to its allure and taking tourists to the capital, the beautiful eastern city of Vienna
  • Salzburg is another lovely city, well worth a visit, with its UNESCO designation and Mozart associations. Not to mention the Sound of Music. The Salzkammergut region has amazing scenery and beautiful Baroque architecture. There is also a history of salt production from prehistoric times, with an underground salt lake and the Dachstein Caves, one of Europe's most impressive cavern networks. In places these are up to 1,174 metres deep.
  • Almost anywhere in Austria is going to appeal, but the other area worth a special mention is Innsbruck. Yet another gorgeous city at the heart of the Tirol and of the winter sports area.

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