Austria

austria32 20120322 1420507769Austria (German: Österreich, literally "the Eastern Realm" or "Eastern Empire") is a land-locked alpine German speaking country in Central Europe bordering Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west, Germany and Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east and Slovenia and Italy to the south. Austria, along with neighboring Switzerland, is the winter sports capital of Europe. However, it is just as popular for summer tourists who visit its historic cities and villages and hike in the magnificent scenery of the Alps.


Culture


Austria is a federation. Each of its nine federal states has a unique and distinct culture.


Austrians aren't easy to categorize. In fact, the main 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 behavior. 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.


Austrians as a large like to define themselves merely by what they are not. Tourists often make the mistake of classifying Austrians as Germans, which despite a common language (well at least on paper), they are not. Arguably, Southern Germany, especially Bavaria, is a close cultural relative of Austria in many ways. Indeed the regions of Austria are all similar to their neighbors, so you will not notice you have crossed a border, whether it be into South Tyrol in Italy, north to Bavaria or east to Hungary.


austria30 20120322 1859147642Austria and Germany are sister nations and enjoy warm relations, but Mozart was Austrian, or a Salzburger for the record, not German! For most of its history, Austrians have a hard time defining their own nation; they face perhaps currently the most media influence from Germany but have a very different culture, especially from northern Germany. The historic minorities and individual cultures are valued, yet they have to struggle to survive.


Austria has a long history of being multicultural country: a glance at the Vienna phone book is all you need to discover this. Ironically, it is Germany to the north that is paving the way regarding the integration of foreigners into society in Central Europe. Austria remains a largely conservative and rural country with the exception of Vienna. Indeed, the cultural conflicts and national identity are as complicated and hard to understand for many Austrians as they are for visitors! The level of personal awareness and views on this vary greatly from person to person but are generally subject to a particularly Austrian avoidance of the subject, which is to the polls. It is best to try to see the diversity and enjoy the variety than to jump to conclusions.


Hence many Austrians derive their identity from their region or Bundesland (state). For instance, typical inhabitants of Carinthia would say that they are Carinthian first and Austrian second and maybe European third. Asking what state that someone is from is normally the first question Austrians ask when meeting for the first time.


The fact that Austrians dislike demonstrations of national identity can, however, also be explained partly by the historical experiences Austria had during the Third Reich and especially due to the violent use of national symbols in the growing Austrofascist movement as well as by the far-right Freedom Party. It is also due to the fact that the current state of Austria is a relatively young and loose federal republic of just 8 million people.


austria29 20120322 1795269215However, the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center rates Austria as the 5th most patriotic country in the world. So Austrians do very much love their country but are unlikely to be flag-wavers. Perhaps Austria's ascendancy to the EU in 1995 and its more recent adoption of the euro and the border-less Europe have given it a stronger sense of importance and self-worth in the greater context of Europe.


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 adverse to change. They enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world and want to keep it that way.


Austria has no well-defined class system. The rural and regional difference tend to be greater than in neighboring countries. Generally, the further to the west and the more rural you go, the more socially conservative people are.


Geography


Contrary to popular perceptions, Austria is not all about mountains. While the Alps do cover 3/4 of the country dominating the provinces of Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria, Upper Austria and Carinthia, the eastern provinces of Lower Austria, the Burgenland and the federal capital of Vienna are more similar to the geography of the neighboring Czech Republic and Hungary. This diverse mix of landscapes is packed into a relatively small area of size. Glaciers, meadows, alpine valleys, wooded foothills, gently rolling farmland, vineyards, river gorges, plains and even semi-arid steppes can be found in Austria.


austria52 20120322 1816949485One quarter of Austria's population lives in Greater Vienna, a European metropolis, located where the Danube meets the easternmost fringe of the Alps, not far from the border with Slovakia and its capital Bratislava.


Virtually all government, financial and cultural institutions, as well as national media and large corporations are based in Vienna, due largely to history and geography. Thus, the capital dominates Austria's cultural and political life and is clearly a world unto its own. It has little to do with the rest of mainly rural Austria and outside of Graz and Linz there really are no other large scale cities in the country. There is a playful joke told in Vorarlberg province regarding the dominance of Vienna regarding national affairs that reads, "the people of western Austria make the money and Vienna spends it."



Climate


Austria has a temperate continental climate. Summers last from early June to mid-September and can be hot in some years and rainy in others. Day-time temperatures in July and August are around 25° C (77° F), but can often reach 35° C (95° F). Winters are cold in the lowlands and very harsh in the Alpine region with temperatures often dropping below -10° C (14° F). Winters last from December to March (longer at higher altitudes). In the Alpine region large temperature fluctuations occur all year round and nights are chilly even in high summer. The northern Alps are generally a lot wetter than the rest of the country. The South East (Styria and Carinthia) is dry and sunny. The area around Vienna often experiences strong easterly winds.


Cities

  • Vienna (Wien)
  • Bregenz
  • Eisenstadt
  • Graz
  • Innsbruck
  • Klagenfurt
  • Linz
  • Salzburg
  • Villach

Other destinations

  • Lake Constance — a big lake situated in Vorarlberg and shared with Switzerland and Germany
  • Kaprun — part of the Europa Sport Region
  • Pinswang — one of the most ancient settlements of the North Tyrolean Ausserfern, on the border with Bavaria and a short walk or drive to the famous King Ludwig's castles
  • Salzkammergut
  • St. Anton — a popular ski resort in Austria on the Vorarlberg-Tyrolean border
  • Thermenland
  • Wörthersee — one of Austria's warmest lakes
  • Zell am See — one of the most important alpine tourist towns in Austria

austria33 20120322 1687044021Cycle Touring


Austria is well known for its scenic cycle routes along its largest rivers. Though Austria is a mountainous country, cycle routes along rivers are flat or gently downhill, and therefore suitable even for casual cyclists. The most famous route is the Danube cycle path from Passau to Vienna, one of the most popular cycle paths in Europe, drawing large crowds of cyclists from all over the world each summer. Other rivers with well-developed cycle routes are the Inn, Drau, Moell and Mur. Most routes follow a combination of dedicated cycle paths, country lanes, and traffic calmed roads, and are well suited for children.


Music


Many visitors come to experience Austria's musical heritage. Salzburg and Vienna offer world renowned opera, classical music and jazz at moderate prices, but performances of high standards are also widely available throughout the rest of the country. There are dozens of Summer festivals for all tastes, the most famous being the avant-garde Salzburg festival (Salzburger Festspiele) but because they're aimed at tourists prices can be high. Austria's strong musical tradition is not confined to classical music alone. Austrian folk music (Volksmusik) is an integral part of rural Austria, and is said to have influenced many of the nation's big composers. In the Alps almost every village has its own choir or brass band (Blasmusik), and you'll often see groups of friends sitting down to sing Lieder in rural pubs. Traditional Alpine instruments are the accordion and zither. In Vienna a type of melancholic violin music known as Schrammelmusik is often performed in Restaurants and Heurigen.


Movies


Austria has quite a special kind of cinematic culture, that is worth taking notice of as tourist. Many films star celebrities from cabaret, a kind of staged comedy popular in Austria. Most of these movies are characterized by their rather cynical and sometimes bizarre black humour, usually portraying members of Vienna's lower or middle class. Josef Hader, Roland Düringer, Reinhard Nowak or Alfred Dorfer are among the most outstanding actors here. Recommendations include Indien (1993), Muttertag (1993), Hinterholz 8 (1998), Komm, süßer Tod (2000) and Silentium (2004). Popular directors are Harald Sicheritz, Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl. Haneke received positive international praise for his films Die Klavierspielerin (2001), based on the novel by nobel-prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek and Caché (2005). Seidl received various awards for his drama Hundstage (2001). Also, the 1949 classic The Third Man was shot in Vienna, and is regularly shown in Vienna's Burg Kino.


austria41 20120322 1841581307Hiking


It is normally safe to hike without a guide in the Austrian Alps, as there is a dense network of marked trails and mountain shelters. However, a few lethal incidents do happen every year as a result of carelessness. Walkers are strongly advised not to stray off the trails and not to hike in bad weather or without suitable equipment. Before setting off, always check with the local tourist office whether the trail corresponds to your abilities.


Also, check the weather forecast. Sudden thunderstorms are frequent and are more likely to happen in the afternoon. A rule of thumb is that if you haven't reached the summit by noon, it's time to give up and return to shelter.


Though the scenery is by all accounts majestic, don't expect an empty wilderness. The Alps can be very crowded with mountaineers, especially in high season (there are even traffic jams of climbers on some popular mountains). Littering is a no-no in all of Austria, but especially in the mountains, and you will enrage fellow walkers if you're seen doing it. If you really want to show respect, pick up any litter you happen to see in your path and dispose of it at the end of your hike (it's a bit of an unwritten rule). Long distance trails are marked with the Austrian flag (red-white-red horizontal stripes) painted onto rocks and tree trunks.


Most trails and mountain huts are maintained by the Austrian Alpine Club. Some are run by other equivalent organizations, such as the German, Dutch and Italian Alpine Clubs. Mountain huts are meant to be shelters, not hotels. Though they are normally clean and well-equipped, standards of food and accommodation are basic. Don't expect a high level of customer service either. Blankets are provided, but bringing a thin sleeping bag is mandatory for hygienic reasons. During the high season (August), it's a good idea to book in advance. Mountain huts will not turn anyone down for the night, but if they're full, you'll have to sleep on the floor. Prices for the night are usually around 10-20€ (half for Alpine Club members), but meals and drinks are quite expensive, as everything has to be carried up from the valley, often by helicopters or on foot. For the same reason, there are no trash cans in or near huts. Electricity and gas are hard to bring there, too, so warm showers (if available at all) have to be paid for. Some huts don't even have running water, this means pit latrines. As mentioned above, mountain huts are very useful for hikers, they mostly have a heated common room and they are very romantic, but there is nothing more than necessary.


Detailed hiking maps showing the location of marked trails and shelters can be purchased online from the Austrian Alpine Society.


austria57 20120322 2006388729Language


The national official language of Austria is German which, in its national standard variety, known as Austrian (Standard) German (Österreichisches (Hoch)deutsch) is generally identical to the German used in Germany, with some significant vocabulary differences (many of which concern kitchen language or the home) and a rather distinct accent. Most Austriacisms are loanwords from Austro-Bavarian, even though languages of the neighbouring countries have influenced as well. Other languages have some official status in different localities (e.g., Slovenian in Carinthia, Burgenland Croatian and Hungarian in Burgenland).


The first language of almost all Austrians, however, is not German, but instead local dialects of Austro-Bavarian (Boarisch) (also spoken as a first language by many in Bavaria and South Tyrol, Italy), with the exception of in Vorarlberg where it is replaced by Alemannic (Alemannisch) (also the first language of the locals in German-speaking Switzerland and Liechtenstein, plus largely in Baden-Württemberg, especially in the southern parts, and partly in Alsace, France). Both these languages belong to the Upper German family, but are only partially mutually intelligeble to each other and German, and especially in the larger cities almost everyone will be able to communicate in German as well, if only when speaking to foreigners, (including Northern Germans). Most Austrians can understand another region's dialect but have the hardest time in Vorarlberg due to the fact that it's Alemannic-speaking.


English is widely spoken, and the only area most tourists have linguistic problems with is in translating menus. Even competent German/Austro-Bavarian speakers may find that they are replied to in English, and it is not uncommon to hear Austrians addressing each other in English! In rural places, however, people older than 50 often don't speak English, so it can help to learn a few basic German or Austro-Bavarian phrases if travelling to such places.


Italian is widespread in the parts of Austria bordering Italy like the Tyrol, even though the majority language on the Italian side (except in Bolzano, the region's capital) is still German (Austro-Bavarian in practice).


In general, when speaking German, Austrians tend to pronounce the vowels longer and use a pronunciation which is regional, yet genuine, elegant and melodic; it is agruably the most beautiful form of German. Also, the "ch", "h" and "r" are not as harshly pronounced as in Germany, making the accent much more mild in nature.


austria27 20120322 1650498690Currency


Austria has the euro (EUR, €) as its currency. Therewith, Austria belongs to the 23 European countries that use the common European money. These 23 countries are: Austria,Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. These countries together have a population of 327 million.


One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse as well as all bills look the same throughout the eurozone. Nonetheless, every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
The best rates for changing money are offered by banks.


The legacy currency, the Schilling, can still be exchanged for euros indefinitely, but not all banks may offer this service.


Prices


The prices are comparable with Western European countries, and a bit higher than the USA. The general sales taxs of 20 % is included in prices but lower sales taxes applies to certain services and mainly food. A can of Coke will cost you about 55 cents, a good meal €15. Prices in tourist areas (Tyrol, Vienna, Salzburg, Zell am See) are a lot higher than the averages. B&B accommodation and restaurants in towns and rural areas are quite cheap.


sch14 20120322 1410331740Shops


Shops are generally open from 8AM to 7PM on weekdays and Saturday from 8AM to 6PM and closed on Sundays except for gas station shops (expensive), shops at railway stations and restaurants. Be aware that paying by credit card is not as common as in the rest of Europe or as in the United States but all major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners Club) are accepted at almost every gas station and at bigger shops, especially in shopping malls. In smaller towns and villages you normally find one or two small shops or bakeries, which carry nearly everything, called "Greißler", although they are under threat from bigger shopping centers.


ATMs


ATMs in Austria are called Bankomat. They are wide-spread and you will find them even in smaller, rural villages. Many shops (and some restaurants too) offer the service to pay directly with an ATM card. The majority of ATMs accept cards from abroad. All Bankomats in Austria can easily identified by a sign showing a green stripe above a blue stripe. It doesn't matter which Bankomat you use; the transaction fee is always zero (excluding any fees charged by your own bank).


Bargaining


Bargaining is not common throughout Austria except at flea markets. It may be okay to ask for a discount, but accept No as an answer.


Safety


Austria is one of the safest countries in the world. According to the OECD Factbook of 2006, levels of robbery, assault, and car crime are among the lowest in the developed world, and a study by Mercer ranks Vienna as the 6th safest city in the world out of 215 cities. Violent crimes are extremely rare and should not concern the average tourist. Small towns and uninhabited areas such as forests are very safe at any time of the day.


Beware of pickpockets in crowded places. Like everywhere in Europe they are becoming increasingly professional. Bicycle theft is rampant in bigger cities, but virtually absent in smaller towns. Always lock your bike to an immobile object.


Racism can also be a problem and make your stay an unpleasant experience. Just like anywhere else in Central Europe, there might be instances of glaring, hostile looks, even questioning by the police in big cities like Graz or Vienna is not uncommon. This might make the non-Caucasian audience unwelcome. However, Racism is almost never seen in a violent form. In more remote parts of Austria people of non-white origin are a rare sight. If you see senior locals giving you strange looks here don't feel threatened. They are probably just showing curiosity or a distrust of foreigners and have no intention of doing any physical harm. A short conversation can often be enough to break the ice.


Do not walk on the bike lanes (especially in Vienna) and cross them like you would cross any other road. Some bike lanes are hard to recognize (e.g. on the "Ring" in Vienna) and some cyclists drive quite fast. Walking on bike lines is not only considered to be impolite, but it may also happen that you are hit by a cyclist.


sch6 20120322 1153575564Toilets


Public toilets must normally be paid for. Prices range between €0.20 and €1, which must either be handed to a toilet assistant or inserted into a slot. Public toilets can always be found in city centers (normally on the main square), in train stations, and near major tourist attractions. In Vienna, it's probably a good idea to simply walk into the next McDonald's and use the washrooms there for free.


Laundry


Households without washing machines are almost unheard of in Austria. As a result, laundrettes are few and far between, and may be completely absent from smaller cities. However, most hotels, youth hostels, campsites and even B&Bs normally offer laundry facilities for a small charge.


People


People in Austria are friendly and helpful. Most Austrians are very polite and treat tourists well.


Health


Austria has an excellent healthcare system by Western standards. Hospitals are modern, clean, and well-equipped. Healthcare in Austria is funded by the Krankenkassen (Sickness-funds), compulsory public insurance schemes that cover 99% of the population. Most hospitals are owned and operated by government bodies or the Krankenkassen. Private hospitals exist, but mainly for non-life-threatening conditions. Doctor's surgeries on the other hand are mostly private, but most accept patients from the Krankenkassen. Many Austrians choose to buy supplemental private health insurance. This allows them to see doctors that don't accept Krankenkassen and to stay in special hospital wards with fewer beds (which often receive preferential treatment).


If you are a traveller from the EU, you can get any form of urgent treatment for free (or a small token fee) that is covered by the Krankenkassen. Non-urgent treatment is not covered. Simply show your European Health Insurance Card and passport to the doctor or hospital. When going to a GP, watch out if the street sign says "Alle Kassen" (all Krankenkassen accepted), or "Keine Kassen" (no Krankenkassen accepted), in which case your EHIC is not valid. Supplemental travel insurance is recommended if you want to be able to see any doctor or go to the special ward.


sch12 20120322 1695961529If you are a traveller from outside the EU, and have no travel insurance, you will need to pay the full cost of treatment up-front (with the exception of the emergency room). Medical bills can be very expensive, though still reasonable when compared to the USA.


Austria has a dense network of helicopter ambulances that can reach any point in the country within 15 minutes. Beware: mountain rescue by helicopter is not covered by your EHIC, or indeed most travel insurances. If you have a medical emergency while you are in the mountains (eg. break a leg while skiing), the helicopter will be called on you regardless of whether you ask for it or not, and you will be billed upwards of €1,000. Mountain sports insurace is therefore highly recommended; you can obtain this from your health insurer or by becoming a member of the Austrian Alpine Club. (€ 48,50 for one year of membership, automatic insurance for mountain search-and-rescue costs up to € 22.000.)


Certain regions in Austria (Carinthia, Styria, Lower Austria) are affected by tick borne encephalitis. For those who plan doing outdoor activities in spring or summer a vaccine is strongly recommended. Also be aware that there is a small, endangered population of sand vipers in the south.


Tap water is of exceptional quality and safe to drink in Austria (except in some parts of lower Austria, where it is recommended to ask about the water quality first!). The quality of water in Vienna is supposedly comparable to that of Evian.


Respect


Symbols of Nazism, including material questioning the extent of National Socialist crimes or praising its actions, are forbidden in Austria, under section 3g of the NS-Prohibition Law. The penalty for any kind of neo-Nazism is a prison sentence of up to ten years, or a fine (the maximum is €21,600). Foreigners are not exempted from this law. This law also covers shouting Nazi paroles like "Sieg heil" and the performance of the Hitler salute.


austria26 20120322 1490023085Austrians (especially those over 40) take formalities and etiquette seriously. Even if you are the most uncharismatic person in the world, old-fashioned good manners (Gutes Benehmen) can take you a long way in a social situation. On the flip side, there are endless possibilities to put your foot in it and attract frowns for breaking an obscure rule.


In general, in most of continental Europe, personnel in shops and other services do not show the same level of politeness people from other continents might be used to. You may find for example that a shop assistant tells you off after asking to buy something. In Vienna a cafe isn't considered a real cafe without bad-tempered and arrogant waiters.


Austrians as a people generally "don't like" Germany or Germans at least in the competitive sense and are quite sensitive about it. 80 million to the north in Germany and 8 million in Austria has made this a even more lively rivalry. Don't compare Austria negatively to Germany; you will quickly anger the locals as Germans are seen as over rich bad arrogant driving tourists on a bad day.


Perhaps surprisingly for a rather conservative nation, Austria's attitude towards nudity is one of the most relaxed in Europe. The display of full nudity in the mainstream media and advertising can be a shock for many visitors, especially those from outside Europe. It is not uncommon for women to bathe topless in beaches and recreational areas in summer. Though swimming costumes must normally be worn in public pools and beaches, when bathing "wild" in rivers and lakes is normally OK to take one's clothes off. Nudity is compulsory in Austria's many nude beaches (FKK Strand), health spas and hotel saunas. Like in Germany, do not wear bathing suits into saunas or you garner strange looks.


sch4 20120322 1593185356Etiquette


When entering and leaving public places Austrians always say hello (Guten Tag or Grüß Gott) and goodbye (Auf Wiedersehen). When entering a small shop, one should say "Grüß Gott" to the shop keeper when entering and "Wiedersehen" when leaving (the "Auf" is normally left off). Phone calls are usually answered by telling your name, and finished with Auf Wiederhören.


Don't raise your voice or shout in public, especially on public transportation. It might be interpreted as aggression. If you are speaking a language other than German, it becomes all the more important to speak quietly in order to not be a "loud foreigner".


When being introduced to someone, always shake them by the hand, keep the other hand out of your pocket, say your name and make eye contact. Failure to make eye contact, even if out of shyness, is considered condescending.


It is a custom to kiss ones cheeks twice when friends meet, except for Vorarlberg, where people kiss each other three times like in Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Fake air kisses work to. When you're not sure whether this is appropriate, wait until your counterpart starts the greeting.


When drinking alcohol you don't drink until you have toasted ("anstoßen"). Say "prost" or "cheers" and most importantly make eye contact when toasting.
In restaurants, it is considered rude to start smoking while someone on the table is still eating. Wait until everybody has finished, or ask if it is okay with everyone.


If you have drunk all your wine and want more it's okay to pour some more into your glass, but only after you've kindly asked everyone around you at the table if they need any more.


If you really want to show your manners while eating, let your unused hand rest on the table next to your plate and use it occasionally to hold your plate while eating, if necessary. Austrians use generally European table manners, that is, they hold the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left hand, eating with both utensils. It is polite to let your wrists or hands rest on the table, but not your elbows.


austria6 20120322 1447574682In most Austrian households it is customary to take off one's shoes. This is a habit prevailing in most of Central Europe, maybe because of general cleanliness, but also because grit and slush from the pavements can cause havoc to a flat in winter.


Austrians (like other Central European nations) really love to use honorific titles. Many books have been written on the subject of Austria and its Titelwahn (title craze). There are over nine hundred titles from many categories such as job descriptions, academic degrees, honorary titles, official titles, etc.. People who think of themselves as being respectable always expect to be addressed by their proper title, be it Prof., Dr., Mag. (Master's), Dipl.Ing. (Master's in Engineering), Ing. (Graduate Engineer) or even B.A. This is especially true for older people. Younger people are generally much more relaxed in this regard. The Titelwahn is something to be aware of but it is also often subject of satire and self-deprecating humour so it should not be taken too seriously. Foreigners are not expected to understand or care about (all of) it.


In German you should always use the Sie form when speaking with strangers or older people - the Du is mainly reserved for friends and family. Younger people generally address each other with Du. Misusing those forms is considered as rude and impolite. However switching between the forms can be very irritating especially to English speaker but when picking the wrong form people will excuse that with your few language skills. In Tyrol the Du form is used more frequently than elsewhere.


Based on the Wikitravel article on Austria.