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Republik Österreich
Republic of Austria
Flag of Austria Coat of arms of Austria
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem:  Land der Berge, Land am Strome  (German)
Land of Mountains, Land by the River

Location of Austria
Location of  Austria  (dark green)

– on the European continent  (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (light green)  —  [Legend]

(and largest city)
Official languages German
locally also Hungarian, Slovenian and Croatian
Demonym Austrian
Government Federal Parliamentary republic
 -  President Heinz Fischer
 -  Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer
 -  Austrian State Treaty in force
July 27, 1955 
 -  Declaration of Neutrality October 26, 1955 (before: Austrian Empire: 1804, First Austrian Republic: 1918) 
EU accession January 1, 1995
 -  Total 83,872 km² ( 115th)
32,383  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.7
 -  2007 estimate 8,316,487 ( 93rd)
 -  2001 census 8,032,926 
 -  Density 99/km² ( 99th)
257/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2006 estimate
 -  Total $279.5 billion ( 34th)
 -  Per capita $36,000 ( 8th)
GDP (nominal) 2005 estimate
 -  Total $307.07 billion ( 23rd)
 -  Per capita $37,117 ( 12th)
Gini (2000) 29.1 (low
HDI (2005) 0.948 (high) ( 15th)
Currency euro ( €) ² ( EUR)
Time zone CET ( UTC+1)
 -  Summer ( DST) CEST ( UTC+2)
Internet TLD .at ³
Calling code +43
1 Slovenian, Croatian, Hungarian are officially recognised regional languages and Austrian Sign Language is a protected minority language throughout the country.
2 Before 1999: Austrian Schilling.
3 The .eu domain is also used, as it is shared with other European Union member states.

Austria (German: Österreich) ( Österreich ), officially the Republic of Austria (German: Republik Österreich) ( Republik Österreich ), is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It borders both Germany and the Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west. The capital is the city of Vienna on the Danube River.

The origins of modern Austria date back to the ninth century, when the territory of Upper and Lower Austria became increasingly populated. The name "Ostarrichi" is first documented in an official document from 996. Since then this word has developed into the Österreich.

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.


The German name Österreich is derived from Old German Ostarrîchi "Eastern Territory". The name was Latinized as " Austria", thus it has no direct etymological connection with the name of Australia, which derives from Latin Australis meaning The South (however, both words ultimately derive from Proto-Indo-European *aust- "dawn"). Reich can also mean "empire," and this connotation is the one that is understood in the context of the Austrian/Austro-Hungarian Empire, Holy Roman Empire, although not in the context of the modern Republic of Österreich. The term probably originates in a vernacular translation of the Medieval Latin name for the region: Marchia orientalis, which translates as "eastern marches" or "eastern borderland", as it was situated at the eastern edge of the Holy Roman Empire, that was also mirrored in the name Ostmark, for a short period applied after the Anschluss to Germany. However, Friedrich Heer, one the most important Austrian historians in the 20th century, stated in his book Der Kampf um die österreichische Identität (The Struggle Over Austrian Identity), that the Germanic form ostarrîchi was not a translation of the Latin word, but both resulted from a much older term originating in the Celtic languages of ancient Austria: More than 2,500 years ago, the major part of the actual country was called Norig by the Celtic population ( Hallstatt culture); No- or Nor- meant East or Eastern, whereas Rig is the related to the modern German Reich; realm (among other things). Accordingly, Norig would essentially mean ostarrîchi and Österreich, thus Austria. The Celtic name was eventually Latinized to noricum, when the Romans conquered and Romanized the country that later became Austria. The name of Noricum was then used to designate the Roman province.

The current official designation is the Republic of Austria (Republik Österreich). It was originally known after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1918 as the Republic of German Austria (Republik Deutschösterreich) , but the state was forced to change its name to "Republic of Austria" in 1919 by the Treaty of Saint-Germain. The name was changed again during the Austro-fascist regime (1934–1938) , into Federal State of Austria (Bundesstaat Österreich) , but restored after regaining independence and the birth of the Second Austrian Republic (1955–present).

During the period of monarchy, Austria was known as the Austrian Empire (Kaisertum Österreich) ; however no official designation existed since the empire was strongly multiethnic. After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the empire became known as Austria-Hungary reflecting the dual monarchy character.


Prehistory and the Middle Ages

Coats of arms of the Habsburg Emperor
Coats of arms of the Habsburg Emperor

Settled in prehistoric times, the central European land 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 Avars. 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 Babenberg. The area was known as the marchia Orientalis and was given to Leopold of Babenberg in 976.

The first record showing the name Austria is from 996 where it is written as Ostarrîchi, referring to the territory of the Babenberg March. The term Ostmark is not historically ascertained and appears to be a translation of marchia orientalis that came up only much later.

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 Habsburgs.

Rise of the Habsburgs

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Habsburgs began to accumulate other provinces in the vicinity of the Duchy of Austria. In 1438, Duke Albert V of Austria was chosen as the successor to his father-in-law, Emperor Sigismund. Although Albert himself only reigned for a year, from then on, every emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was a Habsburg, with only one exception.

The Habsburgs began also to accumulate lands far from the Hereditary Lands. In 1477, Archduke Maximilian, only son of Emperor Frederick III, married the heiress Maria of Burgundy, thus acquiring most of the Low Countries for the family. His son Philip the Fair married the heiress of Castile and Aragon, and thus acquired Spain and its Italian, African, and New World appendages for the Habsburgs.

In 1526, following the Battle of Mohács, Austrian rulers expanded their territories, bringing Bohemia and the part of Hungary not occupied by the Ottomans under their rule. Ottoman expansion into Hungary led to frequent conflicts between the two powers, particularly evident in the so-called Long War of 1593 to 1606.

Austria as a European Power

The Congress of Vienna by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, 1819.
The Congress of Vienna by Jean-Baptiste Isabey, 1819.

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.

Map of Austria-Hungary
Map of Austria-Hungary

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, (German: Deutscher Bund) 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, Großdeutschland, with the German-speaking territories of the Habsburg Empire; a Greater Austrian solution, Großösterreich, 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 Wilhelm 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 the Battle of Königgrätz 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.

The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Ausgleich, provided for a dual sovereignty, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary, under Franz Joseph I, who ruled until his death on 21 November 1916. The Austrian-Hungarian rule of this diverse empire included various Slav groups such as Poles, Ukrainians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenes, Serbs and Croats, as well as large Italian and Romanian communities. As a result, ruling Austria-Hungary became increasingly difficult in an age of emerging nationalist movements. Yet the central government tried its best to be accommodating in some respects; minorities were entitled to schools in their own language, for example.

World War I and its aftermath

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 by Gavrilo Princip (a member of the Serbian nationalist group the Black Hand) was the immediate cause for the outbreak of World War I, leading to the downfall and the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. War left the country in political chaos and economic ruin, the Central Powers (being Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany and Turkey) having been defeated in 1918. The Empire was broken up - Austria, with most of the German-speaking parts became a republic (see Treaty of Saint-Germain) and the remaining subordinate territories became independent states. However, over 3 million German Austrians found themselves living outside of the Allied inspired borders of the Austrian Republic in the nations of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Italy. A particular large German minority was found in the newly-established Czechoslovakia with the entire historic German populations of Bohemia, Moravia and Austrian Silesia cut off from their motherland of Austria. Austria was also deprived of half of Tyrol, which was awarded to Italy as a prize for entering the war on the Allied side. Austria has sustained this loss to the present day and this had been a major source of friction with Italy until the 1980s. Today the situation in Alto Adige/South Tyrol is resolved, serving as a model for inter-ethnic and transnational cooperation in Europe.

Between 1918 and 1919, Austria was officially known as the Republic of German Austria (Republik Deutschösterreich). Many territories it claimed under its control included regions that were later assigned to neighboring nations. Not only did the Entente powers forbid German Austria to unite with Germany, they also forbade the name; it was therefore changed to the Republic of Austria. The monarchy was dissolved in 1919 and a parliamentary democracy was set up under the constitution of 10 November 1920.

In the autumn of 1922, Austria was granted an international loan supervised by the League of Nations. The purpose of the loan was to avert bankruptcy, stabilize the currency, and improve its general economic condition. With the granting of the loan, Austria passed from an independent state to the control exercised by the League of Nations. At the time, the real ruler of Austria became the League, through its commissioner in Vienna. The commissioner was a Dutchman not formally part of the Austrian government. Austria had fallen under an international receivership, which had not been seen openly since Lord Cromer became the financial adviser to the bankrupt Khedivial Government of Egypt a little less than half a century earlier.

Austrofascism and the Third Reich

The First Austrian Republic, lasted until 1933 when Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss dissolved parliament and established an autocratic regime tending towards Italian fascism, ( Austrofascism) in order, partly, to check the power of Nazis who were still advocating union with Germany. The two big parties at this time —the Social Democrats and the Conservatives— had paramilitary armies, which fought each other. The "Heimwehr" (later integrated into the "Vaterländische Front"), the paramilitary arm of the Conservative party supported Dollfuss's Fascist regime; the "Republikanischer Schutzbund", was the military arm of the Social Democrats which was outlawed in 1933 but still existed underground - civil war was to break out.

After the Austrian Civil War in February 1934, several members of the Schutzbund were executed, the Social Democratic party was outlawed and many of its members were imprisoned or emigrated. In May of that year the Fascists introduced a new constitution (" Maiverfassung") which cemented Dollfuss's power but on 25 July he was assassinated in a Nazi coup attempt.

His successor Kurt Schuschnigg, struggled to keep Austria independent (even a restoration of the Habsburgs was contemplated), but on 12 March 1938 German troops occupied the country and established a plebiscite confirming union with Germany. Hitler was himself a native of Austria who had lost Austrian citizenship in 1925. Hitler proclaimed the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria by Germany. Austria was incorporated into the Third Reich and ceased to exist as an independent state. The Nazis called Austria " Ostmark" until 1942 when it was again renamed and called "Alpen-Donau-Reichsgaue." Some Austrians joined the resistance, but many more joined the German armed forces ( Wehrmacht).

Vienna fell on 13 April 1945 during the Soviet Vienna Offensive. This was just before the total collapse of the Third Reich, the defeat of Nazi Germany, the fall of Berlin, and the end of the war in May. Karl Renner astutely set up a Provisional Government in Vienna in April with the tacit approval of the victorious Soviet forces, and declared Austria's secession from the Third Reich.

After the defeat of Germany, Allied Occupation

Much like Germany, Austria, too, was divided into a British, a French, a Soviet and an American Zone and governed by the Allied Commission for Austria. Largely owing to Karl Renner's action on April 27th in setting up a Provisional Government, however, there was a subtle difference in the treatment of Austria by the Allies. The Austrian Government was recognized and tolerated by the Four Powers. Austria, in general, was treated as though it had been originally invaded by Germany and liberated by the Allies.

Although the Eastern part of Austria, including the greater Vienna area, lay in the Soviet Zone, the capital itself was equally divided into four occupational zones. Outside of Vienna, however, travel across zone borders, in particular leaving or entering the Soviet zone, was difficult and time-consuming if possible at all. During the time of the Berlin Air Lift, Soviet military pressure was increased further, but could be successfully overcome by skillful military, political and diplomatic influence on the part of the other Allies.

On 15 May 1955 Austria regained full independence by concluding the Austrian State Treaty with the Four Occupying Powers. On 26 October 1955 Austria was declared "permanently neutral" by act of Parliament, which it remains to this day.

Recent history

The political system of the Second Republic came to be characterized by the system of Proporz, meaning that most posts of some political importance were split evenly between members of the Social Democrats (Labour Party) and the People's Party (Conservatives).

Interest group representations with mandatory membership (e.g. for workers, businesspeople, farmers etc.) grew to considerable importance and were usually consulted in the legislative process, so that hardly any legislation was passed that did not reflect widespread consensus. The Proporz and consensus systems largely held even during the years between 1966 and 1983, when there were non-coalition governments, but this era has now passed.

Austria today has five major political parties: The SPÖ (Labour Party) , the ÖVP (Conservatives) , the "Greens" (Environmental, social-liberal) and FPÖ/BZÖ (both right-wing, nationalist). SPÖ and ÖVP share about 75% of the parliamentary mandates, while the remaining 25% are divided between the other three parties.

Austria became a member of the European Union in 1995 and retained its constitutional neutrality, like some other EU members, such as Sweden. The major parties SPÖ and ÖVP have contrary opinions about the future status of Austria's military neutrality: While the SPÖ supports a neutral role in the EU (together with other neutral EU members like Sweden), the ÖVP argues for stronger integration into the EU's security policy; even a future NATO is not ruled out by some ÖVP politicians. Since the "permanent neutrality" forms part of the Austrian constitution, a two-thirds majority in the Austrian parliament would be needed for such a change in policy.


Austrian Parliament in Vienna
Austrian Parliament in Vienna

Political system

The Parliament of Austria is located in Vienna, the nation's largest city and capital. Austria became a federal, parliamentarian, democratic republic through the Federal Constitution of 1920. It was reintroduced in 1945 to the nine states of the Federal Republic. The head of state is the Federal President, who is directly elected by popular vote. The chairman of the Federal Government is the Federal Chancellor, who is appointed by the president. The government can be removed from office by either a presidential decree or by vote of no confidence in the lower chamber of parliament, the Nationalrat.

The Parliament of Austria consists of two chambers. The composition of the Nationalrat is determined every five years by a general election in which every citizen over 16 years (since 2007) is allowed to vote to fill its 183 seats. A recent extension of that term from four to five years will become effective after the next election. While there is a general threshold of 4 percent for all parties at federal elections (Nationalratswahlen) , there remains the possibility to gain a direct seat, or Direktmandat, in one of the 43 regional election districts. The Nationalrat is the dominant chamber in the formation of legislation in Austria. However, the upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat has a limited right of veto (the Nationalrat can — in almost all cases — ultimately pass the respective bill by voting a second time. This is referred to as 'Beharrungsbeschluss, lit. "vote of persistence"). A convention, called the Österreich -Konvent was convened in June 30, 2003 to decide upon suggestions to reform the constitution, but has failed to produce a proposal that would receive the two thirds of votes in the Nationalrat necessary for constitutional amendments and/or reform. However, some important parts of the final report were generally agreed upon and are still expected to be implemented.

Recent political developments

In February 2000 the conservative People's Party formed a coalition with the controversial nationalistic Freedom Party, headed by Jörg Haider. The (at that time) 14 other member states of the European Union - but not the EU itself - condemned Austria's new coalition and froze diplomatic contacts. These measures were commonly referred to as "sanctions" although they were more or less just motions of diplomatic unfriendliness. Given the controversy, Haider chose not to join the government, but he continued to wield influence from the sidelines. This was not, however, the first time that the Republic of Austria had displeased international opinion. In 1986, the population voted for Kurt Waldheim as president despite his revelation that he had been active in the Wehrmacht as an intelligence officer during World War II.

In September 2002, the coalition between the People's Party and the Freedom Party dissolved after a shake-up in the Freedom Party. In November 2002, the People's Party made large gains in general elections again. After a lot of coalition talks with other parties, the People's Party again formed a government with the Freedom Party in February 2003 with Wolfgang Schüssel as Chancellor.

After general elections held in October 2006, the Social Democrats emerged as the largest party, whereas the People's Party lost about 8% in votes. Political realities prohibited any of the two major parties from forming a coalition with smaller parties. In January 2007 the People's Party and Social Democrats formed a Grand Coalition with the social democrat Alfred Gusenbauer as Chancellor.

Foreign policy

Embassy of Austria in London
Embassy of Austria in London

The 1955 Austrian State Treaty ended the occupation of Austria following World War II and recognized Austria as an independent and sovereign state. In October 1955, the Federal Assembly passed a constitutional law in which "Austria declares of her own free will her perpetual neutrality." The second section of this law stated that "in all future times Austria will not join any military alliances and will not permit the establishment of any foreign military bases on her territory." Since then, Austria has shaped its foreign policy on the basis of neutrality.

Austria began to reassess its definition of neutrality following the fall of the Soviet Union, granting overflight rights for the UN-sanctioned action against Iraq in 1991, and, since 1995, contemplating participation in the EU's evolving security structure. Also in 1995, it joined the Partnership for Peace and subsequently participated in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia.

Austria attaches great importance to participation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and other international economic organizations, and it has played an active role in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Energy politics

In 1972, the country began construction of a nuclear-powered electricity-generation station at Zwentendorf on the River Danube, following a unanimous vote in parliament. However, in 1978, a referendum voted approximately 50.5% against nuclear power, 49.5% for, and parliament subsequently unanimously passed a law forbidding the use of nuclear power to generate electricity.

Austria currently produces more than half of its electricity by hydropower. Together with other renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass powerplants, the electricity supply from renewable energy amounts to nearly 80% of total use in Austria. The rest is produced by gas and oil powerplants.


Austrian Guard Company on parade - July 14th 2007, Champs Elysées, Paris.
Austrian Guard Company on parade - July 14th 2007, Champs Elysées, Paris.

The manpower of the Austrian Armed Forces ("Bundesheer") mainly relies on conscription. All males who have reached the age of eighteen and are found fit get recruited for a six months long military service, which can be postponed under some circumstances. Conscientious objection is legally possible and obliges to serve an institutionalized nine months civilian service instead. Only since 1998, women can volunteer to become professional soldiers.

The main sectors of the Bundesheer are Joint Forces (Streitkräfteführungskommando, SKFüKdo) which consist of Land Forces (Landstreitkräfte) , Air Forces (Luftstreitkräfte) , International Missions (Internationale Einsätze) , and Special Forces (Spezialeinsatzkräfte) ; next to Mission Support (Kommando Einsatzunterstützung; KdoEU) and Command Support (Kommando Führungsunterstützung; KdoFüU). In 2004, Austria expends about 0.9% of its GDP for defense. The Army currently has about 45,000 soldiers, of which about half are conscripts. As head of state, Austrian President (currently Heinz Fischer) is nominally the Commander-in-Chief of the Bundesheer. In practical reality, however, command of the Austrian Armed Forces is almost exclusively exercised by the Minister of Defense, currently Norbert Darabos.

With the end of the Cold War, and more importantly the removal of the former heavily guarded "Iron Curtain" separating Austria and Hungary, the Austrian military have been assisting Austrian border guards in trying to prevent border crossings by illegal immigrants. This assistance came to an end when Hungary joined the EU Schengen area in 2008, for all intents and purposes abolishing "internal" border controls between treaty states. Some politicians have called for a prolongation of this mission, but the legality of this is heavily disputed. In accordance with the Austrian constitution, armed forces may only be deployed in a limited number of cases, mainly to defend the country and aid in cases of national emergencies, such as in the wake of natural disasters etc. They may generally not be used as auxiliary police forces.

Despite, or perhaps because of, its self-declared status of permanent neutrality, Austria has a long and proud tradition of engaging in UN-led peacekeeping and other humanitarian missions. The Austrian Forces Disaster Relief Unit (AFDRU) , in particular, an all-volunteer unit with close ties to civilian specialists (rescue dog handlers, etc) enjoys a reputation as a quick (standard deployment time is 10 hours) and efficient SAR unit. Currently, larger contingents of Austrian forces are deployed in Bosnia, Kosovo and, since 1974, on the Golan Heights.


As a federal republic, Austria is divided into nine states (German: 'Bundesländer'). These states are then divided into districts ( Bezirke) and cities ( Statutarstädte). Districts are subdivided into municipalities (Gemeinden). Cities have the competencies otherwise granted to both districts and municipalities. The states are not mere administrative divisions but have some distinct legislative authority separate from the federal government.

State (Bundesland) Capital Area Population Rank
The States of Austria
1 Burgenland Eisenstadt 3,966 km² 280,350 9
2 Carinthia (Kärnten) Klagenfurt 9,536 km² 560,753 6
3 Lower Austria (Niederösterreich) St. Pölten 19,174 km² 1,588,545 2
4 Upper Austria (Oberösterreich) Linz 11,980 km² 1,405,986 3
5 Salzburg Salzburg 7,154 km² 529,085 7
6 Styria (Steiermark) Graz 16,392 km² 1,203,986 4
7 Tyrol (Tirol) Innsbruck 12,648 km² 698,472 5
8 Vorarlberg Bregenz 2,601 km² 364,611 8
9 Vienna (Wien) Vienna (Wien) 414.90 km² 1,660,534 1


Topography of Austria
Topography of Austria

Austria is a largely mountainous country due to its location in the Alps. The Central Eastern Alps, Northern Limestone Alps and Southern Limestone Alps are all partly in Austria. Of the total area of Austria (84 000 km² or 32,000  sq. mi) , only about a quarter can be considered low lying, and only 32% of the country is below 500 meters (1,640 ft). The high mountainous Alps in the west of Austria flatten somewhat into low lands and plains in the east of the country.

Map of Austria
Map of Austria

Austria can be divided into five areas. The biggest area are the Austrian Alps, which constitute 62% of Austria's total area. The Austrian foothills at the base of the Alps and the Carpathians account for around 12% of its area. The foothills in the east and areas surrounding the periphery of the Pannoni low country amount to about 12% of the total landmass. The second greater mountain area (much lower than the Alps) is situated in the north. Known as the Austrian granite plateau, it is located in the central area of the Bohemian Mass, and accounts for 10% of Austria. The Austrian portion of the Vienna basin comprises the remaining 4%.

Phytogeographically, Austria belongs to the Central European province of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, the territory of Austria can be subdivided into four ecoregions: the Central European mixed forests, Pannonian mixed forests, Alps conifer and mixed forests and Western European broadleaf forests.


The greater part of Austria lies in the cool/temperate climate zone in which humid westerly winds predominate. With over half of the country dominated by the Alps the alpine climate is the predominant one. In the East, in the Pannonian Plain and along the Danube valley, the climate shows continental features with less rain than the alpine areas. Although Austria is cold in the winter, in the summer temperatures can be relatively warm reaching 20-35 degrees Celsius.

The six highest mountains in Austria are:

Name Height ( m) Height (ft) Range
Großglockner &0000000000003797.0000003,797 &0000000000012457.00000012,457 Hohe Tauern
Wildspitze &0000000000003768.0000003,768 &0000000000012362.00000012,362 Ötztal Alps
Weißkugel &0000000000003739.0000003,739 &0000000000012267.00000012,267 Ötztal Alps
Großvenediger &0000000000003674.0000003,674 &0000000000012054.00000012,054 Hohe Tauern
Similaun &0000000000003606.0000003,606 &0000000000011831.00000011,831 Ötztal Alps
Großes Wiesbachhorn &0000000000003571.0000003,571 &0000000000011715.00000011,715 Hohe Tauern


Modern Vienna
Modern Vienna

Austria is one of the 10 richest countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita, has a well-developed social market economy, and a very high standard of living. Until the 1980s, many of Austria's largest industry firms were nationalised; in recent years, however, privatisation has reduced state holdings to a level comparable to other European economies. Labour movements are particularly strong in Austria and have large influence on labour politics. Next to a highly-developed industry, international tourism is the most important part of the national economy.

Germany has historically been the main trading partner of Austria, making it vulnerable to rapid changes in the German economy. But since Austria became a member state of the European Union it has gained closer ties to other European Union economies, reducing its economic dependence on Germany. In addition, membership in the EU has drawn an influx of foreign investors attracted by Austria's access to the single European market and proximity to EU aspiring economies. Growth in GDP accelerated in recent years and reached 3.3% in 2006.


Responsibility for educational oversight in Austria lies partly at the Austrian states (Bundesländer), and partly with the federal government. Optional kindergarten education is provided for all children between the ages of three and six years. School attendance is compulsory for nine years, i.e. usually to the age of fifteen. The Programme for International Student Assessment, coordinated by the OECD, currently ranks Austria's education as the 18th best in the world, being significantly higher than the OECD average.

Primary education lasts for four years. Alongside Germany, secondary education includes two main types of schools based on a pupil's ability as determined by grades from the primary school: the Gymnasium for the more gifted children which normally leads to the Matura which is a requirement for access to universities and the Hauptschule which prepares pupils for vocational education but also for further education ( HTL = institution of higher technical education; HAK = commercial academy; HBLA = institution of higher education for economic business; etc.), where you also get the Matura.

The Austrian university system had been open to any student who passed the Matura examination until recently. A 2006 bill allowed the introduction of entrance exams for studies such as Medicine. Currently all EU students are charged a fee of about €370 per semester for all university studies. A recent OECD report criticized the Austrian education system for the low number of students attending universities and the overall low number of academics compared to other OECD countries.


A painting by Canaletto of Vienna during the first half of the eighteenth century.
A painting by Canaletto of Vienna during the first half of the eighteenth century.

Austria's population estimate in October 2006 was 8,292,322. The population of the capital, Vienna, exceeds 1.6 million (2.2 million with suburbs) , representing about a quarter of the country's population and is known for its vast cultural offerings and high standard of living.

In contrast to the capital, other cities do not exceed 1 million inhabitants: the second largest city Graz is home to 250,099 inhabitants, followed by Linz (188,968), Salzburg (150,000), and Innsbruck (117,346). All other cities have fewer than 100,000 inhabitants.

German-speaking Austrians, by far the country's largest group, form roughly 90% of Austria's population. The Austrian federal states of Carinthia and Styria are home to a significant indigenous Slovenian speaking minority with around 14,000 members (Austrian census; unofficial numbers of Slovene groups speak of up to 50,000). In the east-most Bundesland, Burgenland (formerly part of the Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary) about 20,000 Austrian citizens speak Hungarian and 30,000 speak Croatian. The remaining number of Austria's people are of non-Austrian descent, many from surrounding countries, especially from the former East Bloc nations. So-called guest workers (Gastarbeiter) and their descendants, as well as refugees from Yugoslav wars and other conflicts, also form an important minority group in Austria. Since 1994 the Roma- Sinti (gypsies) are an officially recognized ethnic minority in Austria.

According to census information published by Statistik Austria for the year 2001 there were a total of 710,926 foreign nationals living in Austria. Of these, 124,392 speak German as their mother tongue (presumably immigrants from Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the Slovenes and also the South Tyrolian part of northern Italy.) The next largest populations of linguistic and ethnic groups are 240,863 foreign nationals from the former Yugoslavia (Serbian being the largest number of these at 135,376, followed by Croatian at 105,487); 123,417 Turkish nationals; 25,155 whose native tongue is English; 24,446 Albanian; 17,899 Polish; 14,699 Hungarian; 12,216 Romanian; 7,982 Arabs; 6,902 Slovenes (not including the autochthonous minority); 6,891 Slovaks; 6,707 Czech; 5,916 Persian; 5,677 Italian; 5,466 Russian; 5,213 French; 4,938 Chinese; 4,264 Spanish; 3,503 Bulgarian. The populations of the rest fall off sharply below 3,000.

The mother tongue of the population by prevalence, is German (88.6%) followed by Turkish (2.3%) , Serbian (2.2%) , Croatian (1.6%) , Hungarian (0.5%) and Bosnian (0.4%).

The official language, German, is spoken by almost all residents of the country. Austria's mountainous terrain led to the development of many distinct German dialects. All of the dialects in the country, however, belong to Austro-Bavarian groups of German dialects, with the exception of the dialect spoken in its western-most Bundesland, Vorarlberg, which belongs to the group of Alemannic dialects. There is also a distinct grammatical standard for Austrian German with a few differences to the German spoken in Germany.

As of 2006, some of the Austrian states introduced standardised tests for new citizens, to assure their language ability, cultural knowledge and accordingly their ability to integrate into the Austrian society.

Politics concerning ethnic groups (Volksgruppenpolitik)

An estimated 13,000 to 40,000 Slovenes in the Austrian state of Carinthia (the Carinthian Slovenes) as well as Croats (around 30,000) and Hungarians in Burgenland were recognized as a minority and have enjoyed special rights following the Austrian State Treaty (Staatsvertrag) of 1955. The Slovenes in the Austrian state of Styria (estimated at a number between 1,600 and 5,000) are not recognized as a minority and do not enjoy special rights, although the State Treaty of July 27, 1955 states otherwise.

The right for bilingual topographic signs for the regions where Slovene- and Croat-Austrians live alongside the Germanic population (as required by the 1955 State Treaty) is still to be fully implemented. Many Carinthians are afraid of Slovenian territorial claims, pointing to the fact that Yugoslav troops entered the state after each of the two World Wars and considering that some official Slovenian atlases show parts of Carinthia as Slovenian cultural territory. The current governor, Jörg Haider, has made this fact a matter of public argument in autumn 2005 by refusing to increase the number of bilingual topographic signs in Carinthia. A poll by the Kärntner Humaninstitut conducted in January 2006 states that 65% of Carinthians are not in favour of an increase of bilingual topographic signs, since the original requirements set by the State Treaty of 1955 have already been fulfilled according to their point of view. Another interesting phenomenon is the so called "Windischen-Theorie" stating that the Slovenes can be split in two groups: actual Slovenes and Windische (a traditional German name for Slavs) , based on differences in language between Austrian Slovenes, who were taught Slovenian standard language in school and those Slovenes who spoke their local Slovenian dialect but went to German schools. The term Windische was applied to the latter group as a means of distinction. This theory was never generally accepted and fell out of use some decades ago.


Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, also Charles I of Spain, Austrian Habsburg  ruler and one of the major figures of the Counter-Reformation.
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, also Charles I of Spain, Austrian Habsburg
ruler and one of the major figures of the Counter-Reformation.

At the end of the twentieth century, about 74% of Austria's population were registered as Roman Catholic, while about 5% considered themselves Protestants. Both these numbers have been in decline for decades, especially Roman Catholicism, which has suffered an increasing number of seceders from the church. Austrian Catholics are obliged to pay a mandatory tax (calculated by income —about 1%) to the Austrian Roman Catholic Church, which might (have) act(ed) as an incentive to leave the church.

About 12% of the population declare that they have no religion. Of the remaining people, about 180,000 are members of Eastern Orthodox Churches and about 8,100 are Jewish. The Austrian Jewish Community of 1938 – Vienna alone counted more than 200,000 - was reduced to solely 4,000 to 5,000 after the Second World War, with approximately 65,000 Austrian Jews killed in the Holocaust and 130,000 emigrating. A significant proportions of the current Jewish population are post-war immigrants, particularly from eastern Europe and central Asia (including Bukharian Jews). The influx of Eastern Europeans, especially from the former Yugoslav nations, Albania and particularly from Turkey largely contributed to a substantial Muslim minority in Austria — around 340,000 are registered as members of various Muslim communities. Buddhism, which was legally recognized as a religion in Austria in 1983 has a following of 20,000 (10,402 at the 2001 census).

According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005,

  • 54% of Austrian citizens responded that "they believe there is a God".
  • 34% answered that "they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force".
  • 8% answered that "they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force".

While northern and central Germany was the origin of the Reformation, Austria (and Bavaria) was the heart of the Counter-Reformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the absolute monarchy of Habsburg imposed a strict regime to maintain Catholicism's power and influence among Austrians. The Habsburgs viewed themselves as the vanguard of Roman Catholicism and all other confessions and religions were oppressed. In 1781, Emperor Joseph II issued a Patent of Tolerance that allowed other Christian confessions a limited freedom of worship. Religious freedom was declared a constitutional right in the Austro-Hungarian Ausgleich in 1867 thus paying tribute to the fact that the monarchy was home of numerous religions beside Roman Catholicism such as Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian Orthodox Christians (Austria neighboured the Ottoman empire for centuries) , and both Calvinist and Lutheran Protestants.

Austria continued to remain largely influenced by Catholicism. After 1918, First Republic Catholic leaders such as Theodor Innitzer and Ignaz Seipel took leading positions within or close to Austria's government and increased their influence during the time of the Austrofascism —Catholicism was treated much like a state religion by Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg. Although Catholic leaders welcomed the Germans in 1938 during the Anschluss of Austria into Germany, Austrian Catholicism stopped its support of Nazism later on and many former religious public figures became involved with the resistance during the Third Reich. After 1945, a stricter secularism was imposed in Austria, and religious influence on politics declined.


These are articles of the
List of Austrians series
Artists and architects


Austria's past as a European power and its cultural environment have generated a broad contribution to various forms of art, most notably among them music. Austria has been the birthplace of many famous composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner, Johann Strauss, Sr., Johann Strauss, Jr. and Gustav Mahler as well as members of the Second Viennese School such as Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg.

Vienna has long been especially an important center of musical innovation. Eighteenth and nineteenth century composers were drawn to the city due to the patronage of the Habsburgs, and made Vienna the European capital of classical music. During the Baroque period, Slavic and Hungarian folk forms influenced Austrian music. Vienna's status began its rise as a cultural centre in the early 1500s, and was focused around instruments including the lute. Ludwig van Beethoven spent the better part of his life in Vienna.

Austria's current national anthem was chosen after World War II to replace the traditional Austrian anthem by Joseph Haydn. The composition, which was initially attributed to Mozart, was most likely not composed by Mozart himself.

Austria has also produced one notable jazz musician, keyboardist Josef Zawinul who helped pioneer electronic influences in jazz as well as being a notable composer in his own right. Falco was an internationally acclaimed pop and rock musician.

Art and architecture

The Belvedere Palace, an example of Baroque architecture.
The Belvedere Palace, an example of Baroque architecture.

Among Austrian Artists and architects one can find painters Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele and Friedensreich Hundertwasser, photographer Inge Morath or architect Otto Wagner.

Science, philosophy and economics

Sigmund Freud in 1938
Sigmund Freud in 1938

Austria was the cradle of numerous scientists with international reputations. Among them are Ludwig Boltzmann, Ernst Mach, Victor Franz Hess and Christian Doppler, prominent scientists in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, contributions by Lise Meitner, Erwin Schrödinger and Wolfgang Pauli to nuclear research and quantum mechanics were key to these areas' development during the 1920s and 1930s. A present-day quantum physicist is Anton Zeilinger, noted as the first scientist to demonstrate quantum teleportation.

In addition to physicists, Austria was the birthplace of two of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper. In addition to them biologists Gregor Mendel and Konrad Lorenz as well as mathematician Kurt Gödel and engineers such as Ferdinand Porsche and Siegfried Marcus were Austrians.

A focus of Austrian science has always been medicine and psychology, starting in medieval times with Paracelsus. Eminent physicians like Theodore Billroth, Clemens von Pirquet, and Anton von Eiselsberg have built upon the achievements of the 19th century Vienna School of Medicine. Austria was home to psychologists Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Paul Watzlawick and Hans Asperger and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

The Austrian School of Economics, which is prominent as one of the main competitive directions for economic theory, is related to Austrian economists Joseph Schumpeter, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, and Friedrich Hayek.

Other noteworthy Austrian-born émigrés include the management thinker Peter Drucker and the 38th Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Complementing its status as a land of artists and scientists, Austria has always been a country of poets, writers, and novelists. It was the home of novelists Arthur Schnitzler, Stefan Zweig, Thomas Bernhard, Franz Kafka, and Robert Musil, of poets Georg Trakl, Franz Werfel, Franz Grillparzer, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Adalbert Stifter, and of writer Karl Kraus.

Famous contemporary playwrights and novelists are Nobel prize winner Elfriede Jelinek and writer Peter Handke.


Austria's cuisine is derived from the cuisine of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In addition to native regional traditions, it has been influenced above all by Hungarian, Czech, Jewish, Italian and Bavarian cuisines, from which both dishes and methods of food preparation have often been borrowed. The Austrian Cuisine is therefore one of the most multi and transcultural cuisines in Europe.

Typical Austrian dishes include Wiener Schnitzel, Schweinsbraten, Kaiserschmarren, Knödel, Sachertorte and Tafelspitz. There are also Kasnockn, a macaroni dish with fresh Pinzgauer cheese and parsley, and Eierschwammerl ( chanterelle) dishes. The Eierschwammerl are the native yellow, tan mushrooms. These mushrooms are delicious, especially when in a thick Austrian soup, or on regular meals.

The candy PEZ was invented in Austria. Austria is also famous for its Apfelstrudel.


Skiing slopes at Sankt Anton am Arlberg
Skiing slopes at Sankt Anton am Arlberg

The most popular sport in Austria is alpine skiing and Austria shows constant dominance in the Nations-Cup. Similar sports such as snowboarding or ski-jumping are also widely popular. The most popular team sport in Austria is football. However, Austria rarely has international success in this discipline, though the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship is jointly being held with Switzerland. Besides football, Austria also has professional national leagues for most major team sports including ice hockey and basketball. Bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton are also popular events with a permanent track located in Igls, which hosted bobsleigh and luge competitions for the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics held in Innsbruck.

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