From Mozart to Freud, Austria’s contributions to the cultural enrichment of our world are second to none. This Central European nation boasts one of the world’s highest standards of living and a long history as a major European power.
The foundations of the modern Austrian state were laid in 976, when the country was created as an archduchy within the Holy Roman Empire. In the 13th century Austria passed into the hands of the Habsburgs, who would rule it for the next 700 years. This aristocratic family built a vast empire of territorial holdings throughout Europe, with Austria as its center. By the 19th century, they had become one of the dominant political forces on the continent, a position they formalized with the creation of the Austrian Empire in 1804. This grew to include Hungary in 1867; it developed into a large, multi-cultural society, but suffered from ethnic and nationalist strife, which led to the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, and catalyzed World War I. The Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved at the end of the war amid resurgent nationalist movements in its constituent territories; the newly independent and severely weakened Austrian Republic was annexed by Germany during World War II and subsequently occupied by the victorious Allied Powers. However, through careful political maneuvering, including a constitutional declaration of permanent neutrality, Austria managed to evade the partitioning and long-term foreign administration Germany suffered, and regained its sovereignty in 1955.
Today’s Austria is one of the world’s ten richest countries, as measured by GDP per capita, and is characterized by an endearing mixture of modernity and tradition. Its stable, developed economy relies on advanced industry and tourism, the latter of which derives equally from Austria’s urbane city life and pristine countryside. Visitors to Vienna find that it still holds its place as one of Europe’s greatest cultural centers, with plenty of museums, galleries, and theaters. Classical music and other aristocratic traditions are the Austrian way of life, and the State Opera and annual Opera Ball continue to draw millions of visitors each year.
Long a pluralistic society, Austria still attracts large numbers of immigrants. Most expatriates come from surrounding Eastern and Central European countries, but there are large numbers of Western Europeans, North Americans, and Turkish citizens as well. Jobs are plentiful; most positions will require fluency in German, but it is very easy to get unskilled tourism and hospitality work with a good command of English. Austria also offers numerous academic opportunities, and visiting is a must for students of music, art, and architecture.
Austrian German differs considerably from most other German dialects, but is quite similar to Bavarian. A written standard, it is seldom spoken by Austrians, who instead rely more often on local dialects which may be quite dissimilar from one another. If this situation proves too taxing for your German skills, you’ll be happy to discover that English fluency is widespread among Austrians. Slovene, Croatian, and Hungarian are spoken as minority languages, and are co-official in their respective ranges.