From the time I first saw the Sound of Music, Austria has been a place I wanted to visit. I expect to hear the von Trapp family singing from the trees and lakes outside of Vienna. But what do we really know about Austria, other than perhaps, Germany’s little sister? The Soviet collapse in 1991, and Austria’s entry into the European Union in 1999 were landmark events. They are not members of NATO. Distancing themselves from Germany has been positive for this country.
As a rule, it is difficult to categorize Austrians, as they do not stand out for any particular reason. They are moderate in their outlook and behavior. They are soft-spoken, well-mannered, family-oriented, and socially conservative. They do NOT like to be called German!!!
As the 114th largest country in the world, their land area is 83,871 square kilometers, roughly the size of South Carolina, without all of the great golf courses. It is bordered by Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Lichtenstein, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland. Agriculture accounts for 38% of the land, and 42% is forested.
With a population of nearly 9 million, over 91% are Austrians, including the famous von Trapps. Surprisingly to me, 74% are Catholic, with only 5% Protestant. Fortunately for me, German is the native language. Austria is a federal parliamentary republic, with its capital in Vienna. The Chancellor is Christian Kern, never heard of him. Austria has a service based economy (71%), versus 18% industrial, and only 1.3% agricultural. The funeral industry is said to be the largest in Europe.
Austria is known as the winter sports capital of Europe. After all, the Alps cover 75% of the country! They have hosted several Winter Olympic Games, including Innsbruck in 1964, and again in 1976. Austria is also well known for its cycling routes along its largest rivers.
But for most of us, Austria is known for its music, with Salzburg and Vienna offering world renowned opera. Dozens of summer festivals are centered on music, the most famous being the avant-garde Salzburg festival.
The food reminds me too much of Germany, with schnitzel, beer, bread, and strudel. But Vienna is best known for its café’ culture. The local wines are mostly white, and on the acidic side. The beer of choice is the ubiquitous Marzen Lager. The four main types of beer here are:
Lagers: decent classic “Märzen” lagers commonly available include Stiegl, Egger and Zwettler. The quality of many others including Gösser, Puntigamer, Schwechater, Wieselburger and Zipfer all now under the Heineken umbrella has debatebly dropped.
- Pilsners: are normally noted with Pils or Spezial, most common is Hirter Pils.
- Dunkles: is a rich dark brew offered by most breweries.
- Weiße: is wheat beer. There are several breweries and many imports from neighboring Bavaria, though its rarely found on tap.
- Zwickl: is unfiltered lager and the pride of several breweries.
- Some other useless bits of information are:
The magic words for wine drinkers in Vienna are ein Achtel (an eighth of a liter), which is the most common serving size in Vienna.Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud is best known as the founding father of psychoanalysis, which has heavily influenced modern psychology as well as other domains of science and culture. He died in exile in London in 1939.The design of the first sewing machine dates back to 18th-century English tailor Thomas Saint. However, in 1814, Austrian tailor Josef Madersperger of Vienna was granted the first patent on a design for a sewing machine he had been working on for nearly a decade.Born in Salzburg, physicist Christian Doppler is most famous for his discovery of the “Doppler effect,” how the observed frequency of sound and light waves is affected by the relative motion of the source and detector. The Doppler radar that most meteorologists use today worldwide relies on the Doppler Effect.Gregor Mendel was an Austrian monk who became famous for his garden experiments with pea plants. His experiments became the basis for the science of modern genetics, and he is known as the “father of modern genetics.”Born in Salzburg, Austria, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy and supposedly had the gift of a perfect memory. At age 6, he performed for the Empress Maria Theresa at Schönbrunn Palace and composed some of the most enduring classical compositions in musical history including: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, and many symphonies and masses—including the unfinished masterwork Requiem, which is still shrouded in mystery. He was buried in a pauper’s grave in St. Mark’s Cemetery in Vienna, and his remains were never identified.For those of us who ski, Alpine, or downhill, skiing has been the most popular sport in Austria for over 100 years. Mathias Zdarsky wrote the first handbook of skiing in 1897, invented the first ski bindings worthy of mention, and organized the first slalom race in 1905.Austrian composer Franz Schubert, one of the music’s greatest lyricists, was nicknamed Schwammerl (Little Mushroom) by his friends because he was just five feet tall, and contemporary pictures show him as being dimpled and pudgy with a snub nose and sensitive eyes, peering from behind thick glasses.Born in Germany in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven lived most of his adult life in Vienna, Austria. He battled deafness starting at the age of 26 and he composed some of his best-known works while profoundly deaf—including his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, with “Ode to Joy” as its final movement.French Queen Marie Antoinette was one of the 16 children of Empress Maria Theresa. She married the French prince who would become King Louis XVI, and both were later executed by guillotine during the French Revolution.The assassinations of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the son of Archduke Karl Ludwig and nephew of Emperor Franz Josef I, and his wife on Sunday, June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, were the direct cause of the outbreak of World War I, in which Austria was to suffer 1,567,000 dead.Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1959 Broadway musical The Sound of Music was based on the true story of the von Trapp family. The young novice nun, Maria Kutschera became governess to the widower Baron Georg von Trapp’s seven children and finally married the baron himself. Together, they formed a family choir in the mid-1930s but then fled Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938 and continued their career in the United States, settling in Stowe, Vermont. Many of the locations used in the 1965 film version of The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews, were in Salzburg, Austria.While the rulers of the Austrian Empire held the title of Holy Roman Emperor for centuries, the title actually dates from Charlemagne’s coronation in Rome on Christmas Day A.D. 800 as Roman Emperor of the West. The title Holy Roman Emperor was, therefore, in fact neither holy nor Roman.So, there is a richness to the culture here, along with great civility. I love it!!! Beer and classical music, a real odd couple.