Considering the hills are supposedly alive with music, the small country of Austria is often overlooked today. Not only has the country brought forward high-class artists, scientists, and thinkers, with a strong focus on sustainable development it also has a bright future ahead. Here are some interesting facts about Austria.
Facts about Austria
1. Austria shares land borders with 8 countries.
Mostly owed to its landlocked nature and location in central Europe, Austria has many direct neighbors. Austria borders Germany and Czechia to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Liechtenstein and Switzerland to the east.
2. Austria has one of the oldest flags in the world.
The Austrian flag in its current form was first adopted in 1230. It most likely developed from the coat of arms of the medieval Babenberg dynasty who ruled Austria between 976 and 1156. It consists of 3 bands, red – white – red. Unlike in other countries, the colors don’t have any special significance.
3. About 60% of Austria is mountainous.
The majority of Austria is covered in mountains, most notably the Eastern Alps. The highest peak in Austria is the Grossglockner at 3,798 m (12,460 ft). In fact, Austria has 13 peaks with a height of 3,000 meters and 34 peaks that exceed 2,000 meters. As a result, alpinism is deeply ingrained in Austrian culture.
4. Austria was once the biggest political powerhouse in the world.
Today, Austria is one of the smaller countries in the world, both by size and by number of inhabitants. But that wasn’t always the case. The Habsburg Empire is largely considered the predecessor of modern-day Austria.
Not only did the Habsburgs rule vast parts of Europe outright between the 13th and 19th century, but for nearly 400 years, a member of the House of Habsburg was also Holy Roman Emperor.
As if that weren’t enough, the Habsburgs were notorious for extending their political reach through marriage. For example, did you know that the infamous Marie Antoinette was an Austrian archduchess?
The marriage between Philip the Handsome and Joanna of Castile eventually awarded Austria with the power of Spain and its territories overseas. So at one point in time, Austria even ruled over lands in the Americas.
5. Austria started and lost both World Wars.
Austrians were so good at marrying, a popular saying suggested “Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube” (Wars should lead others, you happy Austria, marry). One can only speculate where Austria would be today, had Austrians listened to their own advice. Instead, Austria is directly responsible for starting World War I and indirectly responsible for World War II.
Austria declared war on Serbia in 1914, following the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo. A string of interlocking alliances then resulted in the deadliest war the world had ever seen. Austria eventually had to capitulate and had to give up most of its lands in order to pay reparations as outlined in the Treaty of Saint-Germain.
As for World War II, Austria is not directly responsible as the war had its origin in a conflict between Germany and Poland. However, Adolf Hitler, who was Chancellor of Germany at the time, was actually born and brought up in Austria.
Hitler left his native Austria at the age of 24 only to later become responsible for unimaginable crimes committed against humanity. In the process, he annexed Austria to Germany which meant Austria was doomed to lose its second World War as well.
6. The generation of nuclear power is illegal in Austria.
In 1972, construction began on the first nuclear power plant in the town of Zwentendorf. Leading up to its completion, anti-nuclear power sentiment grew in Austria resulting in a national referendum in 1978. By a slim margin, 49.5% voted for, and 50.5% against, nuclear power.
The Zwentendorf plant was completed but never used for its intended purpose. Today, its reactors are used for research purposes only. In addition, a solar power plant has been built on its premises.
7. 66% of Austria’s electricity comes from hydropower.
Owing to its advantageous topography, Austria has been benefiting from hydropower for a long time. Today, about two-thirds of all electricity generated in Austria comes from hydropower.
8. The first-ever postcard was published in Austria.
How is this for a fun fact about Austria? Austria introduced the first postcard in 1869 and was quickly adopted in other countries as well. The first regularly printed postcard came out in 1980 and depicted a scene from the Franco-Prussian war.
9. The sewing machine was invented in Austria.
Certainly one of the more unique Austria facts. The year was 1814 when an Austrian tailor, Josef Madersperger, proudly introduced his life’s work to the public – the sewing machine. Unbelievably, nobody recognized the usefulness of his invention at the time and Madersperger only gained recognition for it after his death after living out the remainder of his life in poverty.
10. Red Bull was invented in Austria.
The energy drink we all love (or love to hate) today was invented in Austria in 1987 by Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz. However, there has been a fair bit of controversy around this claim.
Mateschitz’s creation was inspired by an existing energy drink he came across during travels in Thailand, Krating Daeng. He successfully adapted the original recipe to western tastes which makes Red Bull the best-selling energy drink today.
11. Austria is a country of numerous inventions.
We have already named a couple of famous Austrian inventions. There are, however, dozens more. Besides the sewing machine and Red Bull, Austrians also invented PEZ (the candy), the alkaline battery, the snowglobe, slow motion, the Kaplan turbine, and more.
12. Austria is home to the oldest zoo in the world.
Tiergarten Schönbrunn was constructed on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna in 1752. Its original purpose was to serve as a menagerie or a scenic setting for imperial breakfasts. It first opened its doors to the public in 1779.
13. The largest ice caves in the world can be found in Austria.
The city of Werfen in Austria is home to the biggest ice caves in the world, discovered by Austrian geologist Anton Posselt in 1879. A 42 km long system tunnels throughout Hochkogel mountain. Only about one kilometer of it is accessible to the public but still attracts more than 200,000 visitors each year.
14. The Sound of Music bombed at the box office in Austria.
The Sound of Music is perhaps the most famous movie ever to be filmed in Austria. It was an instant box-office hit in most of the English-speaking world when it was released in 1965. Not so, however, in Austria.
Austrians took exception to the historical and cultural inaccuracies of the movie. If you ask any Austrian today, chances are they have never watched the movie in their life.
15. Mozart is a national hero of Austria.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is probably one of the best-known Austrians ever. Born in Salzburg, a young Mozart would go on to become one of the most renowned classical composers in history.
References to Mozart can be found throughout Austria today. From the popular Mozart balls (a confectionary) to W.A. Mozart Airport – it is almost impossible to escape Mozart in Austria.
16. Skiing is the national sport of Austria.
In the early 20th century, Austrian Mathias Zdarsky was the first to descent a mountain on skis. The sport quickly grew in popularity and skiing has been ingrained in Austrian culture ever since.
Today, skiing and its related industries contribute about 9 billion Euros to the local economy. It is in fact so important, that most kids in Austria learn how to ski at an early age.
17. Austria drives on the right side of the road.
But that wasn’t always the case! In some parts of Austria left-hand drive was common until the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I.
All parts of the country adopted right-hand drive until 1938. Remnants of left-hand drive can be found in the Austrian rail network where some trains still drive on the left.
18. Schrödinger’s Cat was conceived in Austria.
Erwin Schrödinger, the physicist behind the thought experiment commonly known as “Schrödinger’s Cat” was born in Austria. He came up with the experiment in 1935, only 2 years after winning the Nobel Prize in Physics for the formulation of the Schrödinger equation.
19. Psychoanalysis was born in Austria thanks to Sigmund Freud.
Sigmund Freud is perhaps one of the most famous Austrians of all time. Born in Vienna, Freud would go on to become the founding father of modern psychoanalysis. Although much of his work is considered controversial today, his influence still carries on.
20. Before the Euro, Austria used Schilling as its currency.
The Schilling was the currency of Austria before the introduction of the Euro in 1999. The Schilling bills depicted Austrian buildings and famous Austrian personalities, such as Mozart, Erwin Schrödinger, and Sigmund Freud.
21. The croissant was invented in Austria, not France.
Perhaps one of the most controversial facts about Austria is its claim to be the birthplace of the croissant. Although the croissant is most notably associated with France, its predecessor, the kipferl, has been a staple in Austrian cuisine for more than 700 years. And although the croissant as we know it today came out of Paris in 1839, it made its debut in a Viennese bakery.
22. Austria’s coffee culture is a cultural heritage.
Ever since the Turks left behind a few sacks of coffee beans in the 17th century, Austrians have loved their coffee. And even more so, they love spending time at cafes. In 2011, the “Viennese Coffee House Culture” was listed as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” in the Austrian inventory of the “National Agency for the Intangible Cultural Heritage”, a part of UNESCO.
Very fittingly, the Viennese coffee house is described in this inventory as a place, “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”
23. Austria is Neutral.
After World War II and allied occupation, Austria became a truly free nation again in 1955. A precondition for the allied forces leaving Austria was for Austria to remain a neutral country, similar to Switzerland.
Austria’s Declaration of Neutrality was signed on 26 October 1955 and in absence of an independence day remains Austria’s national day until today. This declaration makes it impossible for Austria to ever become a full member of NATO.
24. Although Austria is neutral, it enforces compulsory military service.
Conscription is an integral part of Austria’s defense systems. Although its relevance has been questioned many times over (not least because Austria is a permanently neutral country), every man has to join the military for 6 months. Alternatively, men can also opt for a civilian service for 9 months. It is so important to Austria, that a referendum in 2013 resulted in the rejection of a proposal that would have ended conscription.
25. Austria was the first country to regulate organic farming.
Organic farming has been playing a big role in Austrian agriculture for decades. It was also the first country to introduce laws regulating organic farming. Today, almost 20% of all farmland in Austria is managed organically and more than 10% of the Austrian supermarket turnover is derived from fresh organic products.
26. Austria is a recycling champion.
Austria is the third-best recycler in the world, just behind Germany and South Korea. Nearly 60% of all waste in Austria is recycled and only 4% goes to landfills. The remainder is incinerated with energy recovery.
27. Austrian Bertha von Suttner was the first woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
Bertha von Suttner was an Austrian pacifist whose endeavors led to her being presented with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905. She was the first female laureate to win in this category and the second female laureate in total (after Marie Curie).
28. The largest named emerald can be found in Austria.
The Emerald Unguentarium, a 2,860-ct (20.18 oz) emerald vase carved in 1641, can be admired on display at the Imperial Treasury in Vienna. It is the biggest named emerald in the world. An uncut emerald weighing more than 3.1 lbs, however, is privately owned by a person in Colombia.
29. Austria has the highest percentage of people who smoke in the world.
According to the OECD, Austria has the highest percentage of people who smoke at least one cigarette daily, with more than 36% of Austrians smoking that much.
30. 60% of Austrians are Catholics.
Christianity is the predominant religion in Austria. 60% of Austrians identify as Roman Catholic, although the number was closer to 75% only in 2001. Other major religions practiced in Austria are Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism, and Islam. About 23% of the population is unaffiliated.
31. Austria is home to the tallest chocolate fountain in the world.
Austrians certainly have a sweet tooth. Cakes, pastries, and chocolate are ingrained in Austrian culture. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Austria should hold a chocolate-related world record. A chocolate fountain 12.27 m (40 ft 3 in) tall can be found at Confiserie Wenschitz in Allhaming.
32. Austria’s capital Vienna has been named the most livable city in the world.
Vienna has been named the world’s top city for quality of life uninterruptedly since 2009. Contributors to its high ranking are an excellent infrastructure, first-class water supply, and healthcare, low crime rates, and a large variety of cultural and leisure activities.
33. The national animal of Austria is a mythical eagle.
While most countries only consider real animals for their national symbol, the national animal of Austria is a mythical eagle. It is part of the coat of arms of Austria and symbolizes Austria’s sovereignty. Apart from that, Austria also has a more “normal” national animal, namely the barn swallow.
34. Austria has 10 UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites.
Austria is home to 9 cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one natural World Heritage Site. Seven of the sites are unique to Austria while a further 3 are shared with other countries. One of them, the Historic Center of Vienna, is inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to planned new high-rise buildings.
35. Austria’s national dish is Tafelspitz.
Officially, Austria doesn’t have a national dish, but Tafelspitz may very well be considered one. Tafelspitz is essentially boiled beef served with minced apples and horseradish. Others might consider the Schnitzel Austria’s national dish. As for drinks, the herbed lemonade Almdudler is jokingly referred to as Austria’s national drink.
36. Edelweiss is Austria’s national flower.
Edelweiss is a protected mountain flower and a national symbol of Austria. In fact, you may remember Georg von Trapp performing the song “Edelweiss” in The Sound of Music in which he bids farewell to the Austria he knew and loved.
37. China has copied an entire Austrian town.
The town of Hallstatt in Salzburg, Austria has long attracted thousands of tourists from abroad every year. It is particularly popular among east-Asian tourists for its scenic setting. Its fame rose so much that in 2012 China opened a carbon copy of the town located in the province of Guangdong.