Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Why do the Austrians speak German? Did the Germans conquer them?

Sometimes it is striking who little we know about our own history. When it comes to the other people's history, the results are even worse.
Luckily we can spend most of our time without being confronted with these facts, but when we speak to people from another country this can change very quickly.

Take today, when I was chatting with one of my PhD colleges about Germany and other European countries. He admitted that he doesn't know much about European geography and history (I don't know much about Chinese geography and history either), so I quickly opened Google maps to show a map of Germany and its neighbors. I also pointed out Austria and mentioned that they speak German as well. This puzzled my college and he asked why the Austrians would speak German and whether the Germans had conquered Austria before. So I tried to explain that until the 19th century there was no state called "Germany" but that most of the time Germany was a patchwork of many different kingdoms, princedoms and other small states. This caused even more confusion and I tried to give a brief summary of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nations. This was the moment when I felt that my history knowledge was a bit rusty. I could not remember whether Austria was at any time part of the Holy Roman Empire or not. The name Habsburg still came to my mind, but why exactly they speak the same language I couldn't say. When my college asked me some more questions about how the people in Hungary are related to other European people, I had to give up completely.

In the end I took 10-min of my work to browse wikipedia on the subject of the Holy Roman Empire but the question still remained unanswered.

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