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Austria has produced some of the world’s finest composers, dazzled us with an imperial Baroque architecture of sweeping theatricality and charm, and led the way with groundbreaking psychoanalysis. It has taught us to waltz, demonstrated what constitutes a real coffee house, and given us one of Europe’s most popular winter playgrounds. All this from one small nation, roughly the size of South Carolina.

But it was not always so. Under the Habsburg monarchy its capital, Vienna, was the jewel in the crown of a cosmopolitan European empire that stretched across Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and northern Italy, exercising enormous political and intellectual power. The heirs to this glittering past have had a difficult transition to make over the last century. The collapse of the monarchy and subsequent alliances with Germany, leading to defeat in the two World Wars, drastically reduced Austria’s boundaries, and left a nation still wrestling with its identity. Historically the country was a land of transit along the Danube route, and the meeting of Germanic, Mediterranean, and Eastern European peoples and cultures helped to shape the Austrians of today.

Austrians are hardworking and conservative, but live well. They have turned their heritage and culture to good advantage, developed new high-tech industries, established good relationships with their former Communist neighbors to the east as well as their EU partners, and against current global trends have enjoyed a small economic miracle.

Culture Smart! Austria describes the real people in the picture postcard. It provides an overview of the past, and examines their traditions and the values that they live by today. By offering key insights into everyday Austrian life it will equip you to discover for yourself the many qualities of this lively and cultivated people.

PETER GIELER is an educationist and writer who was born in Britain to Austrian parents. After a long career in educational training in London, he became General Secretary of the Anglo–Austrian Society and editor of the UK quarterly Felix Austria. He is a well-known lecturer and runs several cultural courses about Austria. 


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