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Austrian clichés: How true are these ten stereotypes?

What do people think of when they imagine Austria? Probably The Sound of Music film, cakes, Freud and a penchant for Lederhosen. The Local investigates if there really is any truth to the most common stereotypes about Austrian people.


Everyone in Austria loves The Sound of Music

Probably the first film people think of when they imagine Austria, right?

But although you can head on many Sound of Music tours in Salzburg to see various filming locations for the movie, the film has never been popular in Austria and it was a complete flop when it premiered in 1965. 


Tourists take photographs in front of a Sound of Music tour bus in Salzburg. (Photo by WILDBILD / AFP)

People wear Lederhosen and Dirndls 

While it’s still not everyday attire, Lederhosen (embroidered short leather trousers) and Dirndls (old-fashioned dresses) traditionally worn by farmers and peasants in the mountains, are making a bit of a comeback.

For many years traditional clothes, known as Tracht, were seen as very conservative – and were sometimes connected with far-right politics. However, recently Austria’s millennials and hipsters have started to reclaim the Lederhosen.

Salzburg even launched a #Lederhosendonnerstag (Lederhosen Thursday) movement a few years ago.

People also enjoy popping on their leather trousers to go wine drinking in the autumn months, when wine taverns open in Austria’s vineyards. 

VERDICT: True (surprisingly)

Traditional cakes are displayed in Vienna (Photo by DIETER NAGL / AFP)

There are cakes to die for. Everywhere.

The myths are definitely true in this case. Austrian cakes are extremely delicious and you can find Apple Strudel, Sacher Torte (with obligatory whipped cream), along with hundreds of other mouth-watering cakes everywhere you go.

There are also hundreds of varieties of bread. And don’t forget other treats such as Kaiserschmarrn (fluffy pancakes) and Krapfen (doughnuts) at carnival time. 


Austrians speak German

There is a famous saying that what separates Austrians and Germans is their common tongue. Or in German: “Was Deutschland und Österreich trennt, ist die gemeinsame Sprache.” 

READ MORE: How to speak Austrian: These are the major differences between Austrian and High German

The differences between Austrian German and German German have been widely reported, and that’s before you get onto different dialects throughout Austria.

Just remember, Austrians have different words for plenty of things, including bags (Sackerl instead of Tute), tomatoes (Paradeiser instead of Tomaten) and apricots are always Marille rather than Aprikose. 

READ MORE: These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be

VERDICT: Sort of true

Bavaria’s State Premier Markus Söder (L) and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. (Photo by Sven Hoppe / POOL / AFP)

They are just like Germans, right? 

Here is a myth which is very important to dispel. Austrians and Germans certainly do not see themselves as that similar (a distinction is made for Bavaria, which is seen as an honorary Austrian state). 

Germans are among the largest groups of people moving to Austria, but often report culture shock on arrival, particularly if they move to Vienna.

While many report they enjoy the Viennese charm and Schmäh (sardonic humour) and Austrian chilled out vibe, rule-following Germans also often say they find Austrian people unreliable and slow.

Many who leave Germany say they are driven mad by promises to meet up which never materialise, discussions which drag on for hours with no end in sight and one particular Austrian concept … namely … .


The ‘Austrian solution’ 

The Österreichische Lösung or the ‘Austrian solution’, is best described as “a compromise which nobody is satisfied with”.

People will discuss solutions for hours on end but will never come to a solution, preferring to take a fatalist approach that what will be will be, and nothing can ever change.

One example is the initial half hearted implementation of the smoking ban in Austria.

When smoking restrictions were first introduced restaurants were only asked to create smoking zones if they were above a certain size, and smoking was widely tolerated even in non-smoking areas.

Many cafes and restaurants simply enforced individual smoking policies until a stricter ban came in during 2019.

This demonstrates another Austrian stereotype, which is … 


Change takes time in Austria 

Austrian composer Gustav Mahler famously said of Vienna, “If the world ends tomorrow, I would go to Vienna. Everything happens 50 years later there.”

Austria has traditionally been a place where change has happened slowly.

In the past, this was partly due to its location, a backwater sandwiched between east and west during the Cold War years.

With its traditional reliance on cash, Sunday shop closings and slightly old fashioned attitudes, Austria can seem like a place which is slow to adapt to change.

READ MORE: Could coronavirus end Austria’s love affair with cash?



Austria can also be forward thinking

Ambitious policies are in place in Austria to increase affordable public transport. Vienna already offers a fast and comprehensive public transport network for the price of just €1 per day for its residents. 

READ MORE: 365 Ticket: Everything you need to know about Vienna’s cheap yearly metro pass

The country is LGBTQ+ friendly and has allowed same sex marriage since 2019. A 2019 Eurobarometer poll found that 66 per cent of Austrians thought same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe.

Austrian singer Conchita Wurst performs at the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Indeed one of Austria’s most famous singers is drag queen performer Conchita Wurst, the Austrian winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest. 

VERDICT: Also true 

Everyone is in therapy

Sigmund Freud, who invented psychoanalysis, is of Austria’s most famous former residents, and from this, the country has developed a reputation for being a fan of therapy.

The facts seem to bear this out. A recent survey by experts from MedUni Vienna found that suicides in Austria have fallen by four percent in Austria since the start of the pandemic.

This was attributed to supportive measures such as allowing adults to be prescribed psychotherapy on their health insurance and to be offered this online, along with the expansion of telephone crisis intervention services, and targeted support programmes in the labour market.

Verdict: Partly true

Austria is taking its time in embracing diversity

While the rural areas of Austria and smaller cities are less diverse than countries such as the UK, in 2016 a census found around 22 percent of the population in Austria came from a foreign background, with around a quarter of these descendants of foreign-born parents but born in Austria. 

READ MORE: The 10 biggest culture shocks experienced by foreigners in Austria

Irish Times journalist Claire Healy wrote in 2018 that in Vienna a little more than half of the population of the city actually consists of Austrians with only Austrian parents, the rest of the population comes from other EU (16 per cent) and non-EU (23 per cent) countries, particularly Serbia, Turkey and Germany.

She also wrote “Austrians and foreigners who are Muslim and/or have darker skin do not generally experience the city as particularly “liveable””, saying people “were sometimes subject to racial slurs and were restricted in access to services”. 

This may be changing. Thousands of people marched in the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, and Austria is expected to become more diverse in the coming decades.

However, it may be a stereotype which is sadly true, that Austria is not always as welcoming as it could be when it comes to immigration. 

Verdict: Sadly somewhat true

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‘Love in midst of horror’: Austria hosts The Wedding of Auschwitz exhibition

The two newlyweds have dressed up for the picture, but they are not smiling. And for good reason: their union was sealed at Auschwitz -- the only wedding known to have taken place in the death camp.

'Love in midst of horror': Austria hosts The Wedding of Auschwitz exhibition

The yellowed photo of Rudolf Friemel, an Austrian communist who resisted the Nazis, and his Spanish wife Margarita Ferrer Rey, is now on show in his home town Vienna.

It is the centrepiece of an exhibition, “The Wedding of Auschwitz”, which uses papers donated by their family to tell the couple’s heart-breaking story.

Friemel met Ferrer Rey in Spain after going there to fight with the International Brigades in 1936 against General Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War.

He was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 after returning home.

In the camp he was set to work repairing SS vehicles, and was held in “better conditions than other prisoners”, according to Vienna’s Social Democratic mayor, Michael Ludwig, who wrote the introduction to the catalogue.

But why the Nazis granted the Friemels — their bitter enemies — “such an unique privilege to be able to marry remains a mystery to this day,” Ludwig added.

Escape attempt

“What I find most interesting is that we see that there was love in the midst of horror,” the couple’s grandson, Rodolphe Friemel, told AFP from his home in southern France.

He wondered if “maybe my grandparents did all this just to see each other again,” with Margarita allowed to travel to Auschwitz from Vienna for the wedding with their son — who was born in 1941 — and Friemel’s father.

The marriage was registered at 11 a.m. on March 18th, 1944, as the slaughter at the camp reached its peak.

Some one million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as homosexuals, prisoners of war and others persecuted by Germany’s Nazi regime.

Photos of the Gestapo Vienna detection service, September 1941. (Rudolf Friemel Estate, Vienna Library in the City Hall)

Friemel, 48, gave the wedding documents, including congratulations messages from other prisoners, to the Vienna City Library early this year to ensure their preservation.

His grandfather was allowed to wear civilian clothes and let his hair grow for the occasion, and a cell was made available to the couple for their wedding night in the camp brothel.

But the respite was shortlived. Rudolf Friemel was hanged in December 1944 for helping to organise an escape attempt. The camp was liberated a month later.

All his wife and child — who moved to France after the war — were left with were his heartbreaking letters and poems.

Margarita died in 1987.

The show runs at Vienna City Library until the end of the month.