The early history of what is known as Austria today was marked by the rule of various tribes such as the Celts, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Huns, Avars, and Slavs. These warlike tribes entered the country through the Danube Valley and replaced each other in quick succession. This continued until Charlemagne (742–814), founder of the Frankish Empire in Western Europe, established his rule in an area known as the Ostmark in 803. Gradually the region became Christianized and largely Germanic. Austria was ruled by the Babenbergs between 976 and 1246. The Babenbergs came from Bamberg in Franconia (now known as northern Bavaria). The Babenbergs were succeeded by a powerful dynasty known as the Habsburgs, who ruled Austria from 1278 right up to World War I. The Habsburgs were one of the major ruling houses of Europe. They expanded their empire through marriage and land purchases rather than war and conquest. The next challenge was to keep out the Turks, who were intent on invading Europe. Austria accomplished this with the help of the German and Polish armies. With peace restored Austrians began putting up grand and opulent buildings in several cities, and Vienna became a center for music under the patronage of rulers like Emperor Leopold I (1640–1705). In 1740 Empress Maria Therese (1717–80) ascended the Austrian throne and ushered in a peaceful reign that lasted 40 years. During this period the foundation was laid for the modern Austrian state. This development was halted, however, when the French Emperor Napoleon (1769–1821) defeated Austria in the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. After Napoleon Bonaparte assumed the title emperor of France, Francis II (1768–1835), understanding that the old empire was finished, declared himself the emperor of Austria. In 1804 the Austrian Empire was founded and then transformed in 1867 into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a compromise between the Hungarian nobility and the Habsburg monarchy, the kingdom of Hungary had self-government and representation in joint affairs such as foreign relations and defense with the western and northern lands of the Austrian Empire, which were still ruled by the Habsburgs. In 1878 Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina, which had been isolated from the Ottoman Empire by the formation of new countries in the Balkans. The territory was later annexed in 1907 and put under joint rule by the governments of both Austria and Hungary, but nationalist struggles would intensify in the following years. Finally in June 1914, a Serb nationalist group in Sarajevo assassinated Emperor Franz Joseph’s nephew, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863–1914). As a result, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. When the Russians went to the aid of the Serbians, the conflict escalated into World War I. The countries of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria were united in an alliance during World War I, known as the Central Powers because these countries all lay between Russia in the east and France and the United Kingdom in the west. World War I ended with the defeat of the Central Powers in 1918, and this led to the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Emperor Karl (1887–1922) of Austria, the last of the Habsburg emperors, was exiled. After the war Austria became a much smaller country when its territory was divided into the states of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. The country went through great economic hardships that made it a fertile ground for the growth of fascism and Nazism. Although the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of St. Germain had expressly opposed the unification of Austria and Germany, Nazi Germany tried its best to annex Austria during the late 1930s. Austria was finally annexed to Germany by a referendum in 1938. This annexation was called the Anschluss, literally “connection” or “political union.” With the Allied victory ending World War II in 1945, Austria was freed from Nazi rule by the Allied Forces and divided into zones that were occupied by American, British, French, and Russian troops. They stayed on until Austria declared its neutrality a decade later. The Austrian Independence Treaty was signed on May 15, 1955. The neutrality clause was incorporated in the constitution on October 26, 1955 and Austrian independence was restored. Its two biggest parties, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) formed a coalition led by the ÖVP. The ÖVP was a conservative democratic party based on Christian values that sought to address diverse interests by stressing the importance of expanding economic welfare and educational opportunities for all social groups. Austria strove to overcome its economic difficulties and established a free trade treaty with the European Community (the EC, which later evolved into the European Union, or EU) in 1972. In January 1995, it formally joined the EU. When the right-wing Freedom Party (headed by Nazi sympathizer Jörg Haider) formed a ruling coalition with the moderate right People’s Party early in 2000, the leaders of the other 14 EU members decided not to cooperate with Austria. The EU came to understand that its actions were counterproductive, and relations between Austria and other EU countries returned to normal later in 2000. Austria continues to be plagued by issues like restitution for Holocaust crimes, which is a volatile topic of public debate.

Mountains dominate about 60 percent of Austria in the west and south. Located in the Central Eastern Alps, Austria can be divided into the Tirolean Alps, the High and Low Tauern, the Northern Limestone Alps, the Southern Limestone Alps, and the Wienerwald Alps. The Alps have many passes and valleys that are easily traversed and so allow Austria to act as the pivot of central Europe. The country is flat or gently sloping along the eastern and northern borders and has the largest population. Winters are cold with rain and snow in the low-lying areas. Summers in Austria are moderate with short but heavy showers accompanied by thunder. The main river is the Danube. The highest peak is Grossglockner (12,457 feet) in the Central Alps.

Austria has a well-developed economy, and its people enjoy a high standard of living. It has close relations with other countries in the EU, especially Germany. Between 2001 and 2003, there was an economic slump, but the economy has improved. The government’s aim is to encourage knowledgebased areas of the economy, reduce taxes, deregulate the service industries, and attract more adults to play an active role in the labor market. In spite of the fact that Austria is a small country that suffered many setbacks as a result of World War II, its economy has managed to grow steadily. It accomplished this by exporting goods such as highquality machine tools, chemicals, and other manufactured goods to Western Europe, with Germany a major trade partner. Austria is self-reliant in food production and it has achieved this by means of subsidies. It imports fuel, especially oil, coal, and gas, and certain industrial raw materials. However, it has developed its hydroelectric power-generation capacity and, by doing so, has been able to avoid overdependence on importing fossil fuels. Austria attracts a large number of tourists and, thanks to this revenue producer, it has been able to keep its budget balanced despite the trade deficit. Austria has worked hard to develop trade relations with its neighbors in Eastern Europe and has signed a number of mutually profitable trade agreements. In 1989 Austria sought to become a member of the European Community (EC) and is now a member of the European Union (EU).

In the region now called Austria, culture goes back at least to 1050 B.C.E. when it was inhabited by the Hallstatt and La Tene cultures. Fine architecture, music, literature, and art are all a part of Austria’s rich cultural heritage, which was influenced by neighboring countries including Italy, Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia. Apart from classical music, folk music and folk dance also occupy pride of place. Austria has a variety of dances such as the Schuhplattler, Ländler, polka, and waltz that are well known, as well as a number of less familiar dances like the Zwiefacher, which is performed in southern Germany. Although the origins of the Ländler are unknown, it has been known by several names. At some point, it became known as Landl ob der Ens, which was shortened to Ländler. There was a time when the Catholic Church disapproved of the Ländler because it required close contact between partners of the opposite sex. It became popular around 1720 and eventually became what we know as the waltz. These folk dances are accompanied by such musical instruments as the Styrian harmonica (a type of accordion), the fiddle, the clarinet, the harp, the flute, and brass bands as well as the contrabass or the guitar. Drums are not used, though they may accompany modern Austrian folk-pop music. The most popular form of modern Austrian folk music is Viennese Schrammelmusik. This is played with an accordion and a double-necked guitar. This type of music is a mixture of rural Austrian, Hungarian, Slovenian, Moravian, and Bavarian music. Vienna has long been a center of musical innovation, and the patronage of the Habsburgs drew large numbers of composers during the 18th and 19th centuries. The presence of such famous composers as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), and Johann Strauss II (1825–99), among others, made the city the center of classical music in Europe. Another kind of music for which Austria is famous is Juchizn, a kind of yodeling (throat-singing) developed in the Alps. This was a form of communication across the mountains. From Austria, it spread into Bavaria, Switzerland, and elsewhere. Austrians have a style of clothing called country estate style. It is popular primarily with farmers, peasants, and other rural people. Girls wear a dirndl (a long skirt with a tight-fitting bodice) and boys wear shirts with lederhosen (leather shorts or trousers with suspenders).

Austrian food has been influenced by Hungarian, Czech, Jewish, and Italian cuisines. Goulash is one such dish, which traces its roots to Hungary. Austrian pastries and sweet dishes are acknowledged for their excellence throughout the world. New regional cuisines that make use of easy methods of cooking are also gaining popularity in Austria. Meat and dumplings form the core of Austrian cuisine. It is hearty, simple food, and the bestknown dish is probably Wiener schnitzel, which originated in Vienna. It consists of a fried cutlet, most often veal, batter-fried with egg and breadcrumbs. Beuschel, which means calf’s lights (lungs), is made of thin slices of calf’s lungs and heart. The most well-known Austrian dessert is Apfelstrudel (a kind of apple pie), which is made with baked dough filled with a variety of fruits and a sprinkling of raisins and cinnamon. Other dishes include: Topfenstrudel (a cream cheese strudel), Salzburger Nockerln (Salzburg dumpling), which is a meringuelike dish, Palatschinken (a Viennese crêpe, from the Hungarian palacsinta), Powidl (a plum preserve), Sacher torte (a chocolate cake named for 19th- and 20th-century restaurant owners), Tafelspitz (boiled oxtail, often served with apple and horseradish sauce), Selchfleisch (smoked meat) with sauerkraut, and Rindsuppe (beef soup). Austrian beer, wine, and coffee are also celebrated for their superior quality. To round off a meal, Austrians usually have a glass of schnapps or fruit brandy. The latter beverage is made from a variety of plants and fruits including apricots, rowanberries, gentian roots, or various herbs. It is made in small private schnapps distilleries known as Selberbrennter or Hausbrand. There are almost 20,000 such distilleries in Austria. Between meals, Austrians like to snack on open sandwiches. These are made using a variety of sausages, along with mustard and bread. The sausage is sliced, and rolls are usually used. Other favorites include bosna, a spiced bratwurst in a hotdog roll that can be found at any roadside fast-food eatery.

In Austria, families get a lot of help and support from society. It is illegal for pregnant women to work eight weeks before the date their babies are due and eight weeks after birth. During this period they are given leave with full pay. The parents are entitled to two years of maternity or paternity leave and can split the leave time between them. Baptism, as practiced by Austria’s predominantly Catholic population, is a water purification ritual that is performed on children after birth to initiate them into the Church. Baptism is performed in church by a priest. This ritual can be traced back to John the Baptist, who is believed to have baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Baptism stands for the cleansing of sins and the union of the person with Jesus. Baptism in the Roman Catholic Church takes place during the Sunday service. The parents choose godparents to help them in the child’s spiritual and religious upbringing. The priest usually performs the rites with the family and other guests gathered around him. The baby is carried by either of its parents. The priest blesses the water in the font in front of him. (The font is a fairly big marble container.) He then prays for the child and thanks God for the new life. The parents and godparents are reminded of their own faith and beliefs. The parents are asked to give the child its name. The priest repeats the name. He then holds the baby and pours a little water over its head with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He takes some holy oil and makes the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead. The parents and the godparents are given a candle to hold as they watch the rites being administered and make a promise to bring the child up as a Christian.

For Roman Catholics the First Communion is an important ceremony. It is the time when the body and blood of Jesus, in the form of bread and wine, is received by a child for the first time. It is a sacrament administered to children when they reach the age of discretion, usually from the age of seven on. The other major coming-of-age ceremony is confirmation. It is a sacrament in which the Eucharist is given to those who have already been baptized. The bishop administers it in church. He prays and anoints the forehead of each child. The confirmation ends with the bishop’s blessing.

In Austria church weddings are optional but a civil ceremony is mandatory if the marriage is to be considered legal. During the time needed to get ready for the wedding, the couple concerned must be physically present in the country. If only one of them is available, he or she has to get signed permission from the other person on a form known as Ermächtigung. The forms can be obtained from the standesamt (vital statistics) offices. If neither partner can be present before the ceremony, special arrangements can be made to hold the wedding anyway. After the wedding ceremony the bride and groom compete for the title of head of the household. This privilege goes to the person who is the first to buy something after the wedding ceremony. The bride usually wins by buying some small item— like a pin—from her bridesmaid.

In a Catholic burial the body of the deceased is prepared and then laid out in a coffin. The coffin is taken to the burial site, where a priest conducts a prayer service before the coffin is lowered into the grave. However, the body can be laid to rest only after certain formalities have been completed. When death occurs the first formality is to get a coroner’s certificate. This is known as a Todesbescheinigung in Vienna and the Totenbeschaubefund in the other Austrian provinces. Only after the coroner’s release can the certificate of death be issued by the registrar’s office in the district where the person died.