- -  Day # 277  + +

EU > Austria > Innsbruck

Gr?ss Gott .AT

Innsbruck, AT (View on map)

More than nine months behind me and less than three more months to go. Austria is country number 22 and the magic number 27 is slowly getting in sight. So, what is there to know about Austria? First of all: it`s not a province of Germany and it has nothing to do with Australia. As the Austrians like to say: there are no kangaroos in Austria.

Manuel (23):

..feels Tyrolian rather than Austrian
Population: 8 million people. Language spoken: German. Favourite things to miss for Austrians when away from their country: dark bread and pasteurized milk. Historical and contemporary celebrities: singer Falco, skier Hermann Meier, politician Adolf Hitler, politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, philosopher Carl Popper. Famous brands and companies: power drink Red Bull, glass crystal Swarowski and car motor producer Steyr. Unemployment: among the lowest in the EU. Currency: EU, used to be Austrian Shilling.

The image of Austria to the outside world differs greatly among continents. South Americans will know Austria for music, for Vienna and for Salzburg. They are usually unfamiliar with the existence of mountains in the western part of the country. Europeans will know it for mountains and skiing and be ignorant about the fact that more than half of Austria actually consists of rather flat terrain. Marian (20) explains that Americans will either not know of its existence at all, or they will take it for Australia, or they will think it`s all as happy and gay as the image portrayed by the Sound of Music. `Even more likely, they will take it for a province of Germany and think of it as a national-socialistic country. Or they know that we drink a lot of beer`, Marian says. `In reality, Austria does not really have a national identity. We just like to tell people that we are not German, in the same way the Scottish are not English.`

Manuel (23, photo) tells me about how people from Tyrol feel Tyrolian rather than Austrian: `Austria consists of several different geographic areas, each of which has a distinctly different landscape. Tyrol is a province made up of mountains and valleys. It`s very cosy if you see the mountains as a protective shield against the outside world. I have a hard time spending much time in areas with no mountains. Flat landscapes make it harder for me to navigate and I also quicky start missing the wonderful possibilities our landscape offers for sports. Sports on flat terrain are just a bit less exciting and less challenging.`

`The mountain landscape also has its disadvantages. Quite some people deal with psychological problems and Tyrolians may be friendly but they are not always very accessible for outsiders. They tend to think about tourists from particularly Germany and The Netherlands in quite an ambiguous way. Tourism brings in a lot of money, but foreigners are not always as loved by the Tyrolians as they think they are. Seeing a Dutch yellow license plate on the car in front of you is usually a guarantee to get a delay, simply because they drive so slowly. Many of the Dutch holidaymakers cannot properly attach snow chains on their cars and some even completely skip the procedure. All in all, they are not the safest car drivers on the Austrian roads`, Manuel explains.

Unlike Hungarians, Austrians do not seem to be particularly nostalgic about their past. Not even about the time of the Austrian Hungarian Empire. According to Johanna (19), Austrians are more likely to feel ashamed of their role in history, particularly when thinking of World War II. `Still, there are considerable groups of people who do not want to accept responsibility for the role Austria played in that war and simply blame the Germans for it. The start of compensating victims of the Nazi-regime has only recently started, and it is still a controversial topic`, Johanna says.

Austria joined the European Union in 1995. Public opinion has not always been in favour of the EU. Austrians are not very fond of giving up the neutrality that it has specified in its constitution, and which will be overruled if the country chooses to ratify the European Constitution. Whether or not a referendum will be issued to decide on the issue remains unsure. Johanna says that Austrians are quite aware and scared of the negative consequences of globalization. `When the Chinese start to drink more milk, it makes our milk more expensive, even though we don`t really have anything to do with these people. We don`t feel related to them, but globalization gives them influence on what we can and cannot do. There is more of a counter movement that promotes regionalization. People are starting to feel more attached to their own region as a reaction to the increasing globalization.`

Helga (24) explains that Austrians are always looking for harmony and compromise. `That explains why we are always ruled by large government coalitions. `Take the example of the new anti-smoking law. Any venues larger than 80 square metres are now forced to have a separate section for smokers and non-smokers. Places smaller than that can choose whether or not they allow people to smoke. End result: nothing changed and everybody agreed to the new measures.`

Media attention
In recent years, Austria twice made headlines with the unreal stories of people keeping children in the basement of their homes, abusing them and isolating them from the world. Theresa (23), like many Austrians, was shocked to hear about these dramas: `It`s incredible that such things happen and also that they remain undiscovered for such a long time. I would not qualify it as a typical Austrian thing to do, or something that is inspired by any kind of national Austrian mindset. These dramas, no matter how sad and unbelievable, happen all around the world and the recent cases in Austria are just a tip of the international ice berg of what people are capable of inflicting on others.`

During the next two months, Austria will be at the centre of European attention during the month of June. Austria, in cooperation with Switzerland, will be hosting the European Football Championships. Some streets in Innsbruck`s city centre have slightly remodeled in anticipation of the event. The local football stadium has been expanded, only to be shrunk again once the event is over. Innsbruck will be hosting the national teams of Russia, Sweden and Spain for the group matches.

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