Austrian History and Culture

A brief History

Schönbrunn Palace

Austria, with its impressive alpine mountains and picturesque towns along its lakes and rivers is a highly unique country. Its capital is Vienna, an ancient city dating back to the Roman Era. Once the centre of Charles V’s vast empire and later of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the city has a lot of landmarks reminding dating back to the different stages of Austria’s history. More generally Austria looks back on an eventful history which has shaped the character of the nation and left it with a heritage of culture, a successful democracy and a promising outlook in to the future. Oh and the Lederhosen? Well, we wear them for the tourists.

Entering the 20th century as a proud dual-monarchy of Austria-Hungary, the former empire was divided into several independent states after the First World War. The nation was so far reduced that observers believed it incapable of providing for its own citizens and yet the Austrian people proved resilient and prospered, at least until being adjoined to Germany in 1938. The Second World War ensued and saw terrible crimes against humanity committed (by Austrians as well as others) and havoc wrought on the country. What followed was a decade of uncertainty during the occupation by Allied forces.

However, the occupation ended in 1955 and Austria was granted the right to be ‘perpetually neutral’. Having to stand on its own feet, Austria developed a thriving democracy and due to its neutrality managed to establish its position as a mediator between rivalling nations. Vienna, the capital, now hosts a number of international organisations, such as the UNO Headquarters in Europe, the OPEC and the IAEA. The recent enlargement of the European Union has then brought Austria back to where it belongs: right into the centre of Europe.

Clearly Austria transformed several times over the course of history, yet there are some elements of the Austrian character that haven’t changed much over the centuries: the partiality for beauty, nature and the arts have always been driving forces in the country’s past and present.

Culture

The ‘Wiener Philharmoniker’

While Austrians made important contributions in the fields of science (Erwin Schrödinger, Sigmund Freud, etc.), philosophy (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Karl Popper), arts (e.g. Otto Wagner, Gustav Klimt) and literature (e.g. Arthur Schnitzler, Franz Grillparzer), probably the most important area of Austrian cultural achievement remains classical music. During the 18th century, the classical music era dominated European classical music, and Austria was an especially important centre for musical innovation. Three composers arose, making lasting innovations: Ludwig von Beethoven’s symphonic patterns, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s balance between melody and form, and Joseph Haydn’s development of the string quartet and sonata.

Almost forgotten are the stereotypical images of Austria of yodelling, Lederhosen and the Sound of Music. What is left behind is a unique nation, characterised by its beautiful national heritage, its openness to change and its reputation for hospitality. All in all Austria’s innovative and dynamic culture makes it without doubt one of Europe’s most welcoming and interesting nations.

Want to know more?

Check out the National Tourism Office’s website for some more light reading about our history and culture.