Austria is a landlocked nation in central Europe whose culture has been heavily influenced by its neighbours, particularly Germany, Italy and Hungary. The geography of Austria, which is highly mountainous, has also played a major role in creating a distinctively Austrian culture. The close links with Germany are evident in the fact that German is the official language while Hungarian, Burgenland Croatian and Slovene also have the status of official languages.
As Austria is surrounded by eight other nations, the culture of Austria is not a homogenous one. The Alps, covering 62% of the country, contribute to the diversity of Austrian culture. Austria is an overwhelmingly Christian nation with 74% of the population registered as Roman Catholics. A peculiarly Austrian cultural phenomenon is that all Christians must pay 1% of their annual income to their church, a mandatory fee known as “kirchenbeitrag”.
Classical music is perhaps the most recognisable element of Austrian culture to the outside world. Once an enormous empire, Austria was an amazingly creative environment in the 18th and 19th centuries in which Vienna was the European capital of classic music, and the likes of Joseph and Michael Hadyn, Liszt, Schubert and Johann Strauss Snr and Jnr flourished, with the waltz associated with Vienna in particular. The work of Salzburg-born Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is also inextricably linked with Vienna.
Austria is also renowned for its filmmakers with Hollywood legends such as Billy Wilder, Josef von Sternberg and Fred Zinneman making their mark in their native land before emigrating to the States.
Science and philosophy are two fields that have made their mark on culture in Austria. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, is only one of the significant figures to have pioneered his philosophy and ideas here, along with philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper. In the natural sciences many physicists and chemists have made outstanding contributions to nuclear research and medicine, while the Austrian School of Economics has worldwide recognition as one of the competing theories of economics.
A taste of Austria
Austrian cuisine has been strongly influenced by the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Austria’s other neighbours. Perhaps the most famous sweet is strudel, a pastry filled with apple, while Wiener schnitzel is a typical Austrian dish.