Austria is a parliamentary representative democracy comprising nine federal states and is one of six European countries that have declared permanent neutrality and one of the few countries that includes the concept of everlasting neutrality in its constitution. Austria has been a member of the United Nations since 1955 and joined the European Union in 1995.
Austria is a country of startling contrasts, from the Alps in the west to the Danube Basin in the east. One of the world's premier skiing regions, it is also noted for its historical buildings, world-class museums and galleries, and breathtaking mountain scenery.
The country's glorious architectural riches include reminders of the once-powerful Hapsburgs, who dominated central Europe for seven centuries. The capital, Vienna, is magnificent with its ornate Opera House and the imperial Hofburg. Austria's other cities are similarly infused with historical magic, notably Mozart's birthplace, Salzburg, with stunning baroque churches set before a backdrop of snow-covered peaks, and Innsbruck, in the centre of Austria's Alps.
Austria has produced and inspired a catalogue of cultural figures. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Austria - and, in particular, Vienna - became a focal point of the cultural renaissance. Remnants of Mozart's legacy are everywhere. However, Austria has also yielded people such as artists Klimt and Schiele, composers Mahler and Schubert, psychologists Freud and Rank, and philosophers such as Husserl and Wittgenstein.
Prehistory and the Middle Ages
Coats of arms of the Habsburg Emperor
Settled in prehistoric times, the central European and that is now Austria was occupied in pre-Roman times by various Celtic tribes. The Celtic kingdom of Noricum was claimed by the Roman Empire and made a province. After the fall of the Roman Empire, of which most of Austria was part (all parts south of the Danube), the area was invaded by Bavarians, Slavs and Avar. Charlemagne conquered the area in 788 and encouraged colonization and Christianity. As part of Eastern Francia. the core areas that now encompass Austria were bequeathed to the house of Babenberb. The area was known as the marchia Orientalis and was given to Leoplod of Babenberg in 976.
The following centuries were characterized by the settlement of the country. In 1156 the Privilegium Minus elevated Austria to the status of a duchy. In 1192, the Babenbergs also acquired the Duchy of Styria.
With the death of Frederick II in 1246, the line of the Babenbergers went extinct.Otakar II of Bohemia effectively controlled the duchies of Austria, Styria and Carinthia after that.His reign came to an end with his defeat at Dürnkrut at the hand of Rudolf I of Germany in 1278. Thereafter, until World War I, Austria's history was largely that of its ruling dynasty, the Habsburg.
Austria is a hothouse of striking contemporary architecture and is at the forefront of engineering, invention and design. It enjoys an enduring reputation for music, literature and the arts; visitors are just as likely to find Alpine New Wave punk-rock as they are yodelling. Gourmet culture is evident in the cafes where coffee-drinking has been raised to a high art. Nightlife is versatile, offering laid-back taverns, beer gardens and excellent après-ski, trendy clubs and dance venues.
Celebrations marking events such as the recent 250th anniversary of Mozart's death and Haydn's 200th anniversary in 2009 underline Austria's desire to embrace its rich past. Yet it also proudly fosters its contemporary cultural and social scene. Regardless, staring at a classic Austrian landscape is a reminder that some things are timeless.
Austria as a European Power
The long reign of Leopold I (1657–1705) saw the culmination of the Austrian conflict with the Turks. Following the successful defense of Vienna in 1683, a series of campaigns resulted in the return of all of Hungary to Austrian control by the Treaty of Carlowitz in 1699. The later part of the reign of Emperor Charles VI (1711–1740) saw Austria relinquish many of these fairly impressive gains, largely due to Charles's apprehensions at the imminent extinction of the House of Habsburg. Charles was willing to offer concrete advantages in territory and authority in exchange for other powers' worthless recognitions of the Pragmatic Sanction that made his daughter Maria Theresa his heir. With the rise of Prussia-the Austrian Prussian Dualism began in Germany.
Austria became engaged in the war with Revolutionary France, which lasted until 1797 and at the beginning proved unsuccessful for Austria. Defeats by Napoleon meant the end of the old Holy Roman Empire in 1806. Just two years before the abolition of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, in 1804 the Empire of Austria was founded, which was transformed in 1867 into the dual-monarchy Austria - Hungary. However, in 1814 Austria was part of the Allied forces invading France and conquering it. Following the Napoleonic wars Austria emerged from the Congress of Vienna in 1815 as one of four of the continent's dominant powers (together with Russia, Prussia and defeated France). In 1815 the German Confederation, was founded under the presidency of Austria. Austria and Prussia were the leading powers of the German Confederation. Its central institution was the Bundesversammlung in Frankfurt. Because of unsolved social, political and national conflicts some of the German inhabitants took part in the 1848 revolution to create a unified Germany. The Frankfurt Parliament in the St. Paul’s Church elected the arch duke Johann of Habsburg as a Reichsverweser, an administrator of the German Empire. For a new German empire would have been possible three options: a Greater Germany, with the German-speaking territories of the Habsburg Empire; a Greater Austrian solution, the German Confederation with the whole Habsburgian territories; and a smaller German solution, Kleindeutsche, the German Confederation without Austria at all. As Austria was not willing to relinquish its German-speaking territories to what would become the German Empire of 1848 the parliament offered the crown to the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhem IV. Austria grew out of Germany; Prussia grew in. In 1864 Austria and Prussia fought together against Denmark, to free the independent duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. Austria and Prussia could not agree on a solution to the administration of Schleswig and Holstein, which led to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Austria, together with most of the other German states, was defeated by Prussia in Bohemia. Austria had to leave the German Confederation and subsequently no longer took part in German politics. After 1871, it was one of two Empires: the German Empire to the north and Austria-Hungary to the south.
Austrians aren't easy to categorize. In fact, the only reason Austrians stand out from their European neighbors is that they don't stand out from the rest for anything in particular. Austrians are moderate in their outlook and behaviour. Being at Europe's crossroads, their culture is influenced from several sides. The stereotype of the yodeling, thigh slapping, beer-swilling xenophobe may apply to a few individuals but it certainly doesn't apply to the majority of Austrians.
The average Austrian on the street is likely to be friendly yet somewhat reserved and formal, softly spoken and well mannered, law abiding, socially conservative, rooted, family oriented, conformist and somewhat nepotistic, a Catholic at heart, not particularly religious but a follower of tradition, well educated if not as cosmopolitan as his/her European cousins, cynical, and equipped with a dry, sarcastic sense of humor. Many Austrians derive their identity from their Bundesland, or Province. For instance, the typical inhabitant of Carinthia would say he/she is Carinthian first and Austrian second. Hence, patriotism concerning the nation as a whole is seldom shown and foreigners are often disturbed by the lack of enthusiasm that can be observed e.g. on national holiday. The fact, that Austrians dislike demonstrations of national identity, can however also be explained partly by the historical experiences Austria has made during the Third Reich, since due to the horrors of that time some bad taste will always adhere to any manifestation of national pride.
Most Austrians like to enjoy the good life. They spend a lot of time eating, drinking and having a good time with friends in a cozy environment, and are therefore very hospitable. Members of the older generation can be conservative in the sense that they frown upon extremes of any shape and form and, in general, are averse to change. They enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world and want to keep it that way.
Austria doesn't have a well defined class system. However, cultural differences between the urban and rural populations can be huge. Culture also varies from region to region, but to a lesser extent. As a very general rule, the further to the West the location and the more rural the environment, the more socially conservative people become.
Due to the lack of overall patriotism and the commonness of regional identity, Austrians as a big entity like to define themselves merely by what they are not. It's important to stress that Austrians are not Germans, even though 99% of Austrians are ethnically Germans and German is the official and universal language. Arguably, Southern Germany and Bavaria in particular is a close cultural relative of Austria in many ways. You may not even notice any change at all in people's accent and appearance when crossing the border between the two countries. Likewise, South Tyrol in northern Italy, with its Austrian history is culturally very similar. But Northern and Eastern Germany (north of the Main River) are a different world altogether and in some aspects no more similar to Austria than, say, its southerly neighbor Italy! While the common language may appear the same on paper, in spoken word its not and the cultural divide between the northern German speaking world and the alpine region is large. It is perhaps this that makes Austrians think in a collective sense that they are very proud to hold on to regional traditions and boast of what they are not, mainly German! Whatever the similarities and differences between Austria and Germany may be, comparisons will not be appreciated by Austrians, neither will the use of terms like "German", "Teutonic" or "Germanic" for things that are Austrian. Certainly, Austria and Germany are sister nations and enjoy warm relations but case in point, Mozart was Austrian, or a Salzburger for the record, not German!