Contemporary Vienna is a vibrant city with a population of about 2.0 million. It's certainly not the biggest city in the world, but as in so many countries, the capital has a bittersweet relationship with the rest of the land, prompting many wry remarks over the beer tables. Salzburgers tend to think that they are more authentic, noting that every other Viennese is called 'Nowak' (a Slavic name). This is a legacy of the Habsburg empire, when Vienna assimilated thousands of foreigners into the fold. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Viennese are not overly troubled by inferiority complexes. Though formally dissolved in 1918, the empire still sets the tone in Vienna's exuberant architecture. Unlike many European cities, Vienna has managed to come through the centuries relatively intact, and it endures as a tremendous treasure trove for art lovers. The museums are exceptional, the churches magnificent and the respect for heritage paramount.
That said, Vienna has seen some major changes over the last decade. For fifty years, Vienna was a somewhat sleepy outpost on the outskirts of the economic West. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Vienna became a Central European city again. A second boost came in 1995 when Austria joined the EU. Vienna is formally divided into 23 districts. As in Paris, these all have their historic names, and numbers are most often used to differentiate between them. Most Viennese are brought up in the Roman Catholic tradition, although in a recent poll, a quarter of the inhabitants professed no religious affiliation. There are sizable Orthodox, Muslim and Protestant communities. The Jewish population, once so dynamic, was all but extinguished during the Second World War, and many Jews who had emigrated during the 1930's did not come back. Today, Vienna is the seat of many international institutions, including several key posts of the UN. An increasingly cosmopolitan atmosphere has emerged. The Museumsquartier, one of the world's largest cultural complexes, opened to great fanfare in 2001.
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