Austria like you’ve never seen it before

And after these 10 surprising maps, the Alpine republic will never look the same again.

Image: Austrian Maps
  • Austria has an almost-exclave, connected to the motherland via a single dot on a mountaintop.
  • Habsburgs were so fancy, they were buried in three different locations across Vienna.
  • These and other absurd and obscure facts about Austria are the subject of a highly entertaining Twitter account.

Sch\u00f6nb\u00fchel Castle (Schloss Sch\u00f6nb\u00fchel) in Sch\u00f6nb\u00fchel-Aggsbach, Lower Austria

Picture-perfect: Schloss Schönbühel. But there's more to Austria than just being pretty.

Image: Uaoei1, CC BY-SA 4.0

Unless you're into skiing, double monarchies or "The Sound of Music," you probably don't give Austria much thought. Yet everybody's second-favorite Alpine republic is a locus of many weird and wonderful facts.

If you don't believe us, check out these infographics produced by @austrianmaps. Here are ten things you'll now never again be able to un-know about Austria.

Stuck in the middle

Image: Austrian Maps

Austria is far from anywhere. Or, comfortably in the middle of everywhere. Which of these two truths rings truer depends on the elasticity of your travel wants (or needs). As this map shows, the Austrian capital Vienna (that's that circular thingy in the top right-hand corner) is almost perfectly equidistant between the two megacities book-ending Europe in the northwest and southeast.

Other maps show Austria just as snugly halfway between Madrid and Moscow (if you're into city trips); and Ibiza and Crimea (if you're more of a beach person).

Moderately interesting

Image: Austrian Maps

In its mission statement on Twitter, Austrian Maps promises "maps of Austria from moderately interesting to plain terrible." In order to set the bar at the appropriate height, we get Austria's version of the 'Indiana/Outdiana' map.

Don't let this put you off, though: Innsbruck is a lovely city (go check out the Golden Roof, completed in 1500) and close to the Alps (take the funicular Hungerburgbahn from the city centre straight up into the mountains).

Left to right hand traffic

Image: Austrian Maps

A few centuries ago, which side of the road you drove on was political. That's because Napoleon, the great equaliser, introduced right-hand traffic wherever he went. Which may explain why his arch enemies, the Brits, so obstinately clung to the other side of the road. The Austrians weren't too keen on him either, so when he left, they went back to… chaos: right-hand traffic here, left-hand traffic there.

  • In 1915, Austria-Hungary generalised left-hand traffic, but protests led to the reintroduction of right-hand traffic in Vorarlberg in 1921. Which was not that much of a bother, because at the time, this state was only connected to the rest of Austria via two mountain passes.
  • Following a general pact across Europe in 1927 to go with right-hand traffic, the rest of Austria switched back as well, but not immediately and not all at once, because the states couldn't agree on a unified timetable.
  • On 2 April 1930, the west of the country (up to the city of Lend) switched from left to right. Carinthia and Eastern Tyrol made the switch on 15 July 1935.
  • Following Austria's annexation by Nazi Germany, on 1 July 1938 the German traffic code came into effect, imposing right-hand traffic.
  • Except in Vienna and surrounding areas, where left-hand traffic remained in force until 19 September 1938.

Austria's pene-exclave

Image: Austrian Maps

Jungholz is an Austrian town, but it's surrounded on all sides by Germany. Does that make it an exclave? It would, if it didn't touch the rest of Austria at a single point – the summit of Mount Sorgschrofen, where four borderlines meet: two German, two Austrian.

Which means Jungholz is a pene-exclave (i.e. an 'almost-exclave', just like a peninsula is an 'almost-island'). Nevertheless, because it can only be reached via German territory, it is cut off from direct access to the rest of Austria, and thus is a 'practical exclave'.

Because of this, the town has been economically aligned with its Bavarian (and later German) neighbors, but those differences have been mostly subsumed within the European Union. It still maintains both a German and an Austrian post code, though.

Ve meet again, Mr Bond!

Image: Austrian Maps

If you're a picturesque enough country, James Bond will come race your city centers to bits, killing any number of Her Majesty's foes and scaring the locals witless. Austria is a particular favorite – visited by no less than four iterations of secret agent 007:

  • George Lazenby ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service"),
  • Roger Moore ("The Spy Who Loved Me"),
  • Timothy Dalton ("The Living Daylights") and
  • Daniel Craig ("Spectre," "A Quantum of Solace").

And there's plenty more places to blow up in Austria, the map helpfully suggests. If we were scouting for locations for the next Bond (m/f), the dam at Kaprun and the nuclear plant at Zwentendorf would be on the top of our list, too.

World cities bigger than Austria

Image: Austrian Maps

Austria may be a proper country with a flag and a president and all the other trappings of modern statehood, but it's rather keenly aware of its own diminutiveness. That certainly has to do with the fact that it was once the senior partner in a much grander nation: the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of Europe's major powers until its demise following World War I.

With a certain masochism (named after Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, an Austrian), this map points out cities around the world – many not even capital cities – that have a larger population than Austria, which has 9 million inhabitants.

Between the mountains and the fields

Image: Austrian Maps

Austria's national anthem is the last melody written by Mozart before he died. That was the official story, but it turns out it's too good to be true: the masonic hymn was probably penned by one of Mozart's fellow lodgers.

The lyrics, of much later origin, describe Austria as "Land der Berge, Land am Strome, Land der Äcker, Land der Dome" ('Land of mountains, land by the river Donau, land of fields, land of cathedral domes').

What does that cover? Quite a lot, as this map shows, but not all of Austria, not by far. But then, "land of bits in between" doesn't quite have that anthemic ring to it.

Having a ball

Image: Austrian Maps

They're not quite on any Unesco world heritage list just yet, but Vienna's balls really should be. If not because they're a spectacular, centuries-old tradition replete with elaborate dresses, genteel manners and shedloads of classical music, then because they are both completely out of place in the modern world – and a wonderful escape from it.

Each winter season, the Hofburg Palace, Vienna's Rathaus (City Hall), the Vienna State Opera and other locations across town are filled with so many dancing debutantes and scheming socialites that you may be forgiven to think the Kaiser is still sitting on his throne.

In all, Vienna counts around 400 annual balls, many hosted by professional guilds, like the academic association, the medical profession or even the real estate sector. As the map shows, even some states have their own ball: Upper and Lower Austria, Tyrol, Styria and Vorarlberg, and… Moscow.

Of course, Moscow is not an Austrian state. Although there are plenty of moneyed Muscovites who wouldn't mind. Not all of Russia's bling gravitates to London. There's plenty to go around, and some of it likes to dress up and dance. And when that happens, it's not that hard to imagine that it's 1815 again, Vienna is the world's largest congregation of diplomats (there to hammer out the Treaty of Vienna), and there's still a Tsar on the throne in Moscow.

Egg-cellence in maps

Image: Austrian Maps

Q: How much fun can mapmakers have? A: As much as their imagination allows. Case in point: this Easter-themed map (hence the bleating lamb) comparing the egg-shapedness of Austria's various states.

Vienna is the state most overlapping with an egg of the same size (0.905), Elongated Burgenland (a.k.a. Austria's Chile) is the least egg-like state (0.521).

And what does this teach us? That it can be fun to follow the data, even if it leads you into a blind alley, where you get robbed of your seriousness. Sometimes, a good laugh is worth taking one on the chin.

Not that kind of church organ

Image: Austrian Maps

There are still emperors in Vienna, but they're all dead and buried. However, just going on the number of burial sites, you could think there are three times as many of the dead blighters as there actually were in real life.

That is because, lugubriously, emperors and other Habsburg royals were traditionally buried in three pieces: their bodies in the Capuchin Crypt, minus their hearts (which went to the Loreto Chapel) and also sans their inner organs (which were preserved – if that's the right word - at St Stephen's Cathedral).


All maps reproduced with kind permission. For more Austrian map madness, check out Austrian Maps on Twitter.

Strange Maps #1029

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Four philosophers who realized they were completely wrong about things

Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?

Sartre and Wittgenstein realize they were mistaken. (Getty Images)
Culture & Religion

Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways. 

Keep reading Show less

The history of using the Insurrection Act against Americans

Numerous U.S. Presidents invoked the Insurrection Act to to quell race and labor riots.

The army during riots in Washington, DC, after the assassination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., April 1968.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
  • The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
  • The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.
Keep reading Show less

Experts are already predicting an 'active' 2020 hurricane season

It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

Image source: Shashank Sahay/unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

Scroll down to load more…