Austria and Germany: Worlds Apart

Billy Wilder (1906-2002), the noted Austrian-American film director (Double Indemnity, Stalag 17, Some Like It Hot), as famous as he was, used to complain about how he was frequently misidentified as German. Americans often get Austria and Germany mixed up. Sometimes they even confuse Austria with Australia! Thus the joke T-shirts and signs found in Austria with a “no kangaroos” logo. Silly Americans!


The Hohensalzburg castle seen from the padlock bridge in Salzburg, Austria.
PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Never really that good at geography, Americans, even if they can find Austria on a map, also tend to be ignorant of the many great and subtle differences between the small Alpine republic (population 8.4 million), known as Österreich, and its much larger neighboring republic to the north, known as Deutschland (population 80 million). Austria is only about the size of the US state of South Carolina. Germany is slightly smaller than Montana. In some ways, the two countries can be compared to the United States and Canada, or the US and Great Britain (with the sizes reversed): They both speak the same language, but with significant differences, and they share a common history that has made them friends, yet has also left them worlds apart.

More at The German Way
Austria (culture/history)
Austria for Tourists (travel info/sights)

Even English-speakers with a modicum of German can hear the difference between the lilting, almost musical tones of Austrian German versus the less lilting, more crisp sound of standard German (Hochdeutsch). Bavarian, on the other hand, is very similar to Austrian. (Bavaria being a state in Germany, yet not quite part of Germany. Rather like Texas in a way.) The difference between Austrian German and standard German is similar to the difference between the drawling language heard in the US South versus the more standard English of the US Midwest or West. Continue reading

Landeskunde for Expats

What is “Germany”? When most English-speaking people think of Germany, images of lederhosen, the Alps, Neuschwanstein Castle (the “Disney castle”), and Oktoberfest are probably the first things that pop into their heads. Of course all of those things are Bavarian, not German. If they happen to think of German cars (Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche), they’re still in southern Germany (except for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg). And then there’s historical stereotype number one: Adolf Hitler, who was Austrian and liked to hang out in Bavaria.

So for many people Germany = Bavaria. That’s like saying Texas is the United States of America. Oops.

Porta Nigra detail 2

Trier’s landmark Porta Nigra gate. Trier is Germany’s oldest city, but it’s not in Bavaria. Learn more about Trier. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo

Most people who have never been to Germany, Austria or Switzerland have no idea how regional those countries are. Germany has about 80 million people, most of whom have much more of a regional identity than a national (or a state) one. Germans live in regions with names such as Allgäu, Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Eifel, Franken (Franconia), Harz, Oberbayern, Ruhr (Ruhrgebiet, Ruhrpott), Rheinland, Schwaben (Swabia), and Taunus. There are over 50 different named regions in Germany, few of which correspond to the 16 Bundesländer (states).

Austrians sometimes claim there are two regions in their country: Vienna and everywhere else. Of course it’s more complicated than that. Austria may only be the size of South Carolina, but its 8 million citizens live in nine provinces and regions from the Danube in the east to the mountains of Vorarlberg in the west – all with different dialects, geography, and customs. Continue reading

When a Brötchen is a Bömmel …


The definite preference in Germany may be for dense, dark bread made with various combinations of wholewheat, spelt, rye, seeds and nuts (it accounts for over 90% of bread consumption), but the small, white, crusty bread roll does maintain an iconic status – whether presented in a wicker basket to accompany a breakfast spread; ripped up and dipped into your Linseneintopf at lunch; or as a quick snack zwischendurch. Indeed, walk the streets of Berlin late in the afternoon and you’ll barely see a child go by who isn’t gnawing on one.

You’d have thought, then, that buying such a white bread roll is relatively straightforward. But it’s not. Why? Well, it’s not a problem of availability. Every bakery, supermarket and Spätverkauf (after-hours corner shop) will have shelves full of them. Nor is it a matter of price. Even your most expensive bio (organic) bakery will sell you one for less than 50 cents; cheaper outlets will be almost giving them away for less than 20 cents. Continue reading

Just When You Thought You Knew German

The first time I had ever heard of “Swiss German” was when I was preparing to move from Düsseldorf, Germany to Rapperswil, Switzerland. My German neighbors had me over for a farewell barbecue and they said to me: “Whatever you do, don’t come back and visit us speaking that Swiss German.” I was aware that the Germans had a somewhat love/hate relationship with their southern neighbors, but I had no idea the Swiss spoke some different form of their common language. In fact, I was quite confident with the German that I had picked up over my three years in Düsseldorf, and I figured it would be quite an easy transition from one country to the other.  I was wrong.

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Getting Intimate with The Swedish Chef

I was warned about certain things, a lot of things actually, prior to my move to Germany.  None of them prepared me for what I call Swedish Chef Syndrome.

I am a native English speaker from the New England region of the US.  My own way of speaking is also heavily influenced, you know, by 20 years in California (we all say “you know” all the time).  I can communicate with just about any other English speaker from anywhere.  Some regions have more distinctive dialects than others, Caribbean and African nations, in particular.  I’ve always managed to make do, though.  I also had five years of Spanish while in school… so I’m mostly set in terms of getting around the Western Hemisphere, the former British Colonies and even Southern Europe where Spanish is close enough to Italian and Romanian that I can still function.

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