Austria (German Österreich), republic in central Europe, bounded on the
north by the Czech Republic; on the northeast by Slovakia; on the east by
Hungary; on the south by Slovenia, Italy, and Switzerland; and on the west
by Liechtenstein, Switzerland, and Germany. Austria is about 580 km (about
360 mi) long and has an area of 83,858 sq km (32,378 sq mi). Vienna (Wien)
is the country’s capital and largest city.


The Austrian climate varies with elevation; with location in relation to
Atlantic, continental, and Mediterranean influences; and with certain local
wind ch haracteristics. Mountainous regions are partially subject to moderate
Atlantic conditions and experience more precipitation than the eastern
lowlands, which are under continental influences. Spring and fall are
usually mild throughout the country. Summers are short, with moderate
temperatures. Cold and often severe winters last about three months in the
valleys, where they are usually ended by the foehn, a warm, dry wind from
the south that is often accompanied by damp fog and sudden thaws that
precipitate avalanches. The foehn is important to Austria’s agricultural
production, allowing for ea arly cultivation of the southern valleys. Average
annual temperatures range between about 7° and 9°C (about 44° and 48°F)
throughout the country. Average annual rainfall is 610 mm (24 in) in Vienna
and 870 mm (about 34 in) in Innsbruck. In some interior valleys, the
average annual rainfall is between ab

bout 1,520 and 2,030 mm (about 60 and
80 in).


The Austrian people are German-speaking, but the country has a varied
ethnic mixture—a legacy from the time of the multinational Habsburg
Austria. About 99 percent of the population is ethnic Austrian. Minority
groups include Croats and Hungarians (in Burgenland), Slovenes (in Kärnten
[Carinthia]), Czechs (in Vienna), as well as small numbers of Italians,
Serbs, and Romanians. An influx of refugees in the years following World
War II (1939-1945) increased their numbers, and new groups, such as the
Turks, were added

Population Characteristics

According to the 1991 census, Austria had a population of 7,795,786. The
2004 estimated population was 8,174,762, giving the country an overall
population density of 99 persons per sq km (256 per sq mi). Some 68 percent
of the population is urban, with more than one-quarter of the people living
in the five largest cities: Vienna, Gr raz, Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck


Roman Catholicism is the religion of 76 percent of the population of

Austria. Various Protestant denominations account for 5 percent of the

population, and 2 percent of Austrians are Muslim. Those without a religion

or whose faith is unknown constitute 17 percent of the population.


German is the official language of Austria. About 2 percent of the

population speaks languages other than German, chiefly Bosnian, Croatian,

Serbian, Slovenian, and Turkish

Universities and Colleges

The largest of Austria’s 18 university-level institutions is Vienna

University (1365). Other major universities are Graz University (1586),

Innsbruck University (1

1669), and Salzburg University (1622). Austria also

has two technical universities; colleges of mining, agriculture, veterinary

medicine, and commerce; and five academies of fine arts and music, which

also offer summer programs that attract foreign students. University

enrollment in 2000–2001 was 264,700.


Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Vienna was a world center of

culture, particularly in music and literature. Austrian fine art usually is

considered with the art of southern Germany. A distinctive Austrian style,

however, is manifested in the refined baroque architecture and sculpture of

the 17th and 18th centuries, notably in Vienna, Salzburg, and Melk.

Libraries and Museums

The largest of the 2,400 libraries in Austria is the National Library,

founded in 1526. Important research collections are housed in the various

universities, in several old monasteries, and in a number of scientific

libraries. The collection of the former royal house contains state papers

dating from 816, collections of the Holy Roman Empire dating from 1555, and

documents concerning the history of the Austrian Empire, the Austro-

Hungarian monarchy, and the period since 1918.

The art and natural science museums of Vienna are internationally known, as

are many individual collections. The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of

Art History) is famous for its paintings by members of the Brueghel family

and for the works of Dutch, Italian, and German painters. The Albertina

collection of prints and drawings, the collections of

f jewelry and relics of

the Holy Roman Empire, the Austrian Gallery, the technical museum, and the

museum for folklore and ethnography are all well known. Salzburg,

birthplace of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, has several museums housing

collections of his manuscripts and memorabilia, including one in the house

where he was born.


Austrian Literature, literature written in German from the 16th century to

the present by authors of Austrian nationality and of distinguishable

Austrian national consciousness. Although the unknown author of the

medieval Nibelungenlied and the greatest German minnesinger, Walther von

der Vogelweide, were both Austrian, an Austrian culture distinct from that

of Germany developed only after the Counter Reformation, when in the 16th

century Roman Catholic Austria and Protestant Germany were separated. As

Spain and Italy were at times part of the Habsburg empire, Austrian

literature was influenced by both Spanish drama and Italian opera.


The Land of Music is a name often given to Austria. Composers Wolfgang

Amadeus Mozart, Anton Bruckner, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johann

Strauss the Elder and Younger, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz von Suppé,

Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, Anton Webern, Franz Lehár, and

Arnold Schoenberg, as well as conductors Felix Weingartner, Clemens Krauss,

and Herbert von Karajan, are just a few who have enriched Austrian cultural

life. The Vienna Boys’ Choir and the Vienna Ph

hilharmonic Orchestra are

celebrated organizations. Vienna has two famous opera houses, the Volksoper

(People’s Opera), opened in 1904, and the Vienna State Opera, completed in

1869 and known for its beautiful architecture and fine performances. In

addition, every provincial capital has its own theater, and the summer

festivals in Vienna, Salzburg, and Bregenz are


The Austrian economy is based on a balance of private and public

enterprise. All the basic industries were nationalized in 1946; these

included all oil production and refining; the largest commercial banks; and

the principal companies in river and air transportation, railroad

equipment, electric machinery and appliances, mining, iron, steel, and

chemical manufacturing, and natural-gas and electric power production.

However, government control was reduced through privatization efforts in

the late 1980s and early 1990s, allowing for the sale of shares in many

nationalized companies to private investors. Over the years, Austria

maintained close ties with the countries of Eastern Europe. Since the

collapse of Communism in those countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s,

more than 1,000 Western companies have chosen Austria as their base for new

Eastern European operations.

In 1999 the estimated annual national budget included revenues of $78.2

billion and expenditures of $84.5 billion. Gross domestic product (GDP) was

$204.1 billion in 2002.


The Austrian manufacturing industry consists of a few large organizations,

many of which operate under government auspices, and a great number of

small and medium-sized production units. Many of the smaller enterprises

make traditional Austrian wood, glass, textile, and ceramic handicrafts.

About 26 percent of the labor force is employed in the manufacturing

sector. The principal manufactured products in the early 1990s were

machinery, metals and metal products, chemical products, food products, and

wood and paper products.


With the famous Alps and a wealth of cultural and recreational facilities,

Austria is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. A premier winter

sports area, the country also has summer music festivals (including the

famous Salzburg Festival), lake resorts (especially in Kärnten), medicinal

spas, and many museums and other attractions. In 2002 some 19 million

people from other countries visited Austria. More than half of these

tourists were from Germany, with the rest coming primarily from The

Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, and the United

States. An important part of the Austrian national economy, tourists spent

$11.2 billion in the country in 2002.

Currency and Banking

The monetary unit of Austria is the single currency of the European Union

(EU), the euro (1.07 euros equal U.S. $1; 1999 average). Austria is among

12 EU member states to adopt the euro. The euro was introduced on January

1, 1999, for electronic transfers and accounting purposes only, and

Austria’s national currency, the schilling, was used for other purposes. On

January 1, 2002, euro-denominated coins and bills went into circulation,

and the schilling ceased to be legal tender.

As a participant in the single currency, Austria must follow economic

policies established by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB is located

in Frankfurt, Germany, and is responsible for all EU monetary policies,

which include setting interest rates and regulating the money supply. On

January 1, 1999, control over Austrian monetary policy was transferred from

the central bank of Austria, the Austrian National Bank, to the ECB. After

the transfer, the Austrian National Bank joined the national banks of the

other EU countries that adopted the euro as part of the European System of

Central Banks (ESCB). Austria has more than 1,100 commercial, savings,

cooperative, and mortgage banks.

Commerce and Trade

The value of imports in 2002 was $68.2 billion. Industrial and general

machinery, transportation equipment, clothing and accessories, metals, food

products, metal manufactures, textiles, office machines, and petroleum and

petroleum products were among the chief import commodities. Austrian

exports totaled $67.4 billion in the same period. The principal products

exported included specialized and general industrial machinery, metal

manufactures, electrical machinery, transportation equipment, paper and

paper manufactures, iron and steel, textiles, engines, and

telecommunications and sound equipment. Germany is the largest market for

and supplier to Austrian industry. Other leading markets for exports

include Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, Hungary, and the United

Kingdom. Leading sources for imports (in addition to Germany) are Italy,

the United States, France, and Switzerland. Austria became a member of the

European Union in 1995



In 2002 the Austrian labor force totaled 3.8 million. About 60 percent

belonged to the 15 unions that make up the Austrian Trade Union Federation.

Membership in unions is voluntary, but all wage earners are required by law

to join their respective chambers of labor. Chambers are organized on a

provincial basis and represent workers on legislative matters. Women make

up 40 percent of the total labor force.


Austria is a democratic, federal republic governed according to the

constitution of 1920, as amended in 1929 and subsequently modified. Like

the constitutions of many other Western democracies, the constitution of

Austria provides for a distinct division of power among the executive, the

legislative, and the judicial branches of government. Laws having their

origin in 1862 and 1867 guarantee basic human rights and liberties; the

rights of minorities are also guaranteed by the constitution. Thomas

Klestil became president of Austria in 1992.

Political Parties

Austrian politics in the second half of the 20th century were dominated by

two main parties, the Social Democratic Party (called the Socialist Party

until 1991) and the Austrian People’s Party. Beginning in the late 1980s,

however, the right-wing Freedom Party gradually gained strength. Other

national parties included a coalition of Green parties, which are

affiliated with the international Greens environmental movement, and the

Liberal Forum.


The legal system is based on the division between legislative,

administrative, and judicial power. There are three supreme courts: the

Supreme Constitutional Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, and the

Supreme Judicial Court. The judicial courts include 4 higher provincial

courts, 17 provincial and district courts, and about 200 local courts. The

constitutional court deals with matters affecting the country’s

constitution, and examines the legality of administration and legislation.

The administrative court deals with matters affecting the legality of


Marriage and Family

Couples often decide to live together before or instead of marriage. Many

people marry in church, but a

civil ceremony must also be performed for a marriage to be legal.

In urban areas, families tend to be small, but rural families are often a

bit larger. Both parents generally work outside the home, so couples tend

to share duties related to the household and children. The government gives

families financial allowances for each child. Children who are not in

school and whose parents both work are cared for privately or in day-care

centers. Most urban Austrians live in apartments, whereas in rural areas

people more often live in single-family houses. About one-fifth of all

housing is publicly owned.

Holidays and Celebrations

New Year’s Eve in Austria is also referred to as Sylvester’s Eve. By

tradition, Austrians melt a small piece of lead over a lit candle or other

flame and quickly pour it into cold water. The lead figure that is produced

is seen as a symbol of the coming year. People also exchange lucky charms,

such as marzipan pigs, horseshoes, and chocolate coins
The Epiphany (6 January) shares the same date as a special day called the
Perchtenlauf. Fasching is the Austrian equivalent to Mardi Gras, Carnival,
or Fastnacht. Fasching, which immediately precedes Lent, offers opportunity
for an indulgent celebration before the fasting and solemnity associated
with Lent.
Austrians celebrate Easter Sunday and Monday, and usher in springtime with
Walpurgisnacht on 30 April, lighting bonfires and enjoying other festive
activities, at one time meant to scare off evil spirits and the darkness of
the passing winter.
Austrians observe Labor Day on 1 May. Ascension Day commemorates the day
Jesus Christ is said to have ascended into Heaven. Whitmonday is observed
the day after Whitsunday (the Pentecost, 50 days after Easter). Corpus
Christi, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (in May or June), honors the
Eucharist. Assumption Day (15 August) marks the day Mary’s body is said to
have been “assumed” into Heaven.
Austrians celebrate their National Holiday or Flag Day on 26 October, All
Saints’ Day on 1 November, and the Immaculate Conception on 8 December.
Immaculate Conception Day celebrates the Roman Catholic belief that Mary’s
soul was free from original sin.
On Christmas Eve (24 December), called Heiliger Abend (“Holy Evening”), a
festive meal is eaten and celebrants open gifts from the Christkindl
(“Christ child”). Christmas carols are also sung. Christmas Day (25
December) is reserved for family visits.
Most families vacation in July or August, while children are on school



2.Encarta Reference Library Premium2003

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