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LEARNING GERMAN

8 TV shows you should watch to learn about Austrian culture

If you want to learn about Austrian culture, forget the classroom - the television is where the true lessons are learned. Here are eight shows you should watch to learn about Austrian culture.

What better way to learn about Austria than through these programs? Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash
What better way to learn about Austria than through these programs? Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash

You’re immensely curious about Austrian culture, but you’re also looking for that next bingeable series to curl up to on the couch. 

Whether you’re a local newcomer wanting to experience classic Austrian television or a global citizen just hoping to learn something new, look no further. 

One of these shows is bound to capture your intrigue—and you might even learn some German along the way.

What the Austrian locals are watching

Here are some quintessential shows for viewers with some German under their belt.

1. Schnell ermittelt: classic Austrian “Krimi”

No list of Austrian television would be complete without at least one “Krimi”, which is an entire genre of books, films and shows that revolve around fictional crime stories, solved over the course of the plot.

Schnell ermittelt, German for “quickly investigated,” follows chief inspector Angelika Schnell of the Vienna homicide department as she and her team solve murder mysteries with often unconventional methods.

Full of laughs and thrills, this sixty-episode series was described by Austrian newspaper Der Standard as “CSI in good Viennese dialect.”

COMPARE: Which is Austria’s best streaming service?

2. Vorstadtwieber: comedy-drama set in posh Vienna

One of the most successful shows on Austrian television, Vorstadtweiber (“Suburban Women”) has just finished airing its sixth and final season.

Modelled after the US’ Desperate Housewives, this drama-packed satire of upper-class Austria leads viewers behind the shiny facade of Vienna’s suburban elite to the web of secrets, corruption, and lies surrounding five women bent on orchestrating their own financial liberation.

3. Braunschlag: bleak comedy in rural Austria

Out of the big city and into the fictional Lower Austrian village of “Braunschlag,” this critically acclaimed series from 2012 will give you a deeper understanding of Austria’s varying regions and dialects while you laugh along to its absurdist humour.

In order to bring an influx of business to his bankrupt town, the mayor of Braunschlag fakes a supernatural apparition of the Virgin Mary, but the lie runs quickly out of hand, devolving into a crazed cascade of sarcasm and greed that culminates in just eight episodes.

Multicultural understanding

For Austrian residents interested in ethnicity and human rights, consider this weekly update geared toward the country’s cultures in the minority.

READ MORE: 11 maps that help you understand Austria today

4. Heimat, fremde Heimat: weekly inclusion “magazine”

The odd one out on our list, Heimat, fremde Heimat (“Homeland, foreign homeland”) isn’t a bingeworthy serial, but rather an informative weekly TV program focused on minority and immigrant groups in Austria.

In production since 1989, the show covers such topics as human rights, ethnic issues, cultural diversity and coexistence in German and several other languages.

Viewers watching the broadcast on television will have access to subtitles on the ORF Teletext Deaf Service.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

An English-friendly look at Austrian culture

For anyone who wants to get a glimpse without being tossed into the deep end of a new language, these shows offer an English language option.

Austrian clichés: How true are these ten stereotypes?

5. Vienna Blood: period crime drama

Set in 1900s Vienna but produced completely in English, this series depicts a rich, fictionalised Austrian past that goes down easy for English-speakers—if they can handle the psychological twists and turns of a thrilling crime-solver.

Currently in its third season, Vienna Blood follows medical student Max Liebermann and detective Oskar Rheinhardt as they investigate harrowing murders in famous Viennese locales, including the state opera house, the natural history museum, traditional cafés and Burggarten Park.

6. Kitz: teen soap-opera set in a ski resort town

In a contemporary narrative aimed at international youth, this 2021 teen soap shines for its exaggerated drama and picturesque Austrian landscapes, and if that’s all you’re looking for, stop here.

Set in the Tyrolean ski resort town of Kitzbühel, the story centres around nineteen-year-old waiter Lisi Madlmeyer and the gilded Munich vacationers who come for a visit.

With a range of language dubs and subtitles, this show provides a look into Austria’s ski resort tradition, even if the accents and local flavour don’t quite match up.

Cash and Schnapps: A guide to visiting pubs and cafes in Austria

7. Freud: fictionalised period thriller

If it isn’t clear by now, Austrians love to watch a criminal mystery unfold on television. In this dark 2020 crime series, famed Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud is reimagined as a drugged-up Viennese Sherlock Holmes whose only path to solving a warped criminal conspiracy is through the use of his psychoanalytic prowess.

Available with English subtitles, Freud is a macabre trip through 1880s Vienna, with a fair share of visions, nightmares and bare skin.

8. The Empress: historical drama (Coming in 2022)

Viewers looking for a more accurate depiction of Austrian history on television will have to wait—but not for long.

Slotted for a 2022 spring release and rumoured to be Austria’s answer to the UK’s international hit The Crown, The Empress (working title) is set to depict the early days of one of Austria’s most celebrated figures: Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria, or “Sisi,” as she is called, alongside her husband-to-be, Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I. If the title and news release are any indication, the show will likely offer an English-language option.

So turn on the TV, settle in and get ready to learn about Austrian culture the easy way—and if we missed a show that gave you a better understanding of Austria, leave us a comment below.

Member comments

  1. Fans of Braunschlag will also like Boesterreich – which is like a darker Austrian equivalent of Little Britain.

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CULTURE

Austria’s empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi

A new movie and two TV shows are set to reignite the fascination with Austrian Empress Elisabeth, popularly known as Sissi.

Austria's empress: These are latest TV shows and movies about Sissi

She was the Princess Diana of the 19th  century. An impossibly glamorous Austro-Hungarian empress whose star-crossed  love life and tragic end entranced the public.

Now a movie and two new series — including one being made for Netflix — are set to reignite the fascination with Empress Elisabeth, who was popularly known as “Sisi”.

The film, “Corsage”, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday while the series, “Sisi” — which covers her early life and turbulent marriage to Emperor Franz-Joseph — is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.

READ ALSO: Austria’s ‘original influencer’: Ten weird facts about the Austrian Royal Family and Empress Sissi

It has already raised eyebrows there with its frank depiction of the young empress’ sexuality while garnering favourable reviews from critics.

The series’ Swiss-American star Dominique Devenport told AFP that part of the upsurge in interest in Sisi is a desire “to find more female narratives”.

A portrait of Princess Sissi displayed in her Imperial Apartments in Venice.(Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP

She may have been one of the most famous women of the 19th century, but Devenport said Sisi’s life was “full of extremes, full of pain”.

Married to Franz-Joseph when she was just 16, Sisi chafed against the rituals and strictures of life at the stiff and stuffy Habsburg court.

Devenport said the questions she asks of herself in the series are ones many young people today can relate to: “How can I stay myself; what decisions do I make, how do I keep up with what is expected from me?”

READ ALSO: Austria’s dirndl: a dress for past and present

The rival Netflix series, “The Empress”, is still in production, with release slated for later this year.

A royal star 

Historian Martina Winkelhofer said Sisi was “one of the first very famous women in Europe”.

“You have to consider that she came into Austrian history at the beginning of mass media,” she said.

The inscription on the monument to Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi” in the Volksgarten (People’s Garden) in Vienna. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The advent of photography turbocharged her fame — “suddenly you had the wife of an emperor who you could really see.”

With the current thirst for stories with strong female characters, it was no surprise that Sisi’s story would be revisited, Winkelhofer argued.

Sisi was also obsessed with her own image, and her figure. In the elegant 19th century Hermes Villa on the outskirts of Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years, curator Michaela Lindinger pointed to the exercise equipment which Sisi used in an effort “to keep young really until her last day”.

READ ALSO: WW1 centenary: Austria and Hungary stand apart on ‘lost grandeur’ of the past

Vicky Krieps, the acclaimed Luxembourg-born actress who made her breakthrough opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread”, plays this later Sisi in “Corsage”, withdrawing from her husband and from life at court.

In Sisi’s bedroom, a gloomy statue entitled “Melancholia” is a sign of the sadness that overcame her after the suicide of her son and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Rudolf, in 1889.

Just under 10 years later, she herself died at the age of 60, assassinated by an Italian anarchist.

Enduring fairy tale

Traditionally, however, it has been the fairy tale aspect of Sisi’s life that has drawn attention and made sites like Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Palace among Austria’s most popular attractions.

Sisi has become a representation of Habsburg glamour far beyond Austria’s borders, and is a particular cult figure in China.

Picture taken on January 21, 2022 shows the original bedroom of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, popularly known as “Sissi”, in the exhibition in the Hermes Villa in Tiergarten in Vienna where the empress spent some of her later years. (Photo by ALEX HALADA / AFP)

Indeed, Andreas Gutzeit, the showrunner of the series “Sisi”, said he got the idea to revisit the story after watching the trilogy of 1950s films in which the empress was portrayed by Vienna-born actress Romy Schneider, whose life was also a high-octane mix of glamour and tragedy.

READ ALSO: Here are over 20 things you can do in Vienna for free

Gutzeit said the RTL+ series has already been sold to several countries in eastern Europe and as far afield as Brazil.

The many different facets of the empress’ life mean that “in each period, you have your own Sisi”, insisted historian Winkelhofer.

Over the ages her image has moved from a focus on her physical beauty to her use of charm, to more modern depictions of her as a more assertive and empowered proto-feminist figure.

“You can discover a new woman in each lifetime,” Winkelhofer said.

Where to watch?

  • Sisi, a TV show, is streaming in Germany on RTL+ and is broadcasted in Austria on ORF.
  • The Empress, a Netflix show, will stream later this year in the platform.
  • Corsage, the movie by Marie Kreutzer starring Vicky Krieps, is set to hit the cinemas this summer after its Cannes premiere.
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