The Republic of Austria is a German-speaking parliamentary democracy in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west.
Under the rule of the House of Hapsburg, Austria was the nucleus of a substantial land-empire from the 15th century through the early 20th century. Using a mixture of marriage, hereditary right, and conquest, Austria absorbed territories, provinces, and whole countries, most notably Hungary.
Prussia arose in the 18th century to challenge Austria's role as preeminent German state. Throughout the 19th century, Austria's influence began to wane, especially as the modern German state emerged, built around Prussia. A critical step in the unification of Germany was Austria's defeat at the hands of Prussia in 1866, after which Austria quickly lost influence among the other German states.
Shortly afterwards, the weakened Austrian government agreed to a Dual Monarchy with Hungary, abandoning its attempts to treat Hungary as a mere province and granting it near-total autonomy. Both nations continued to have the Hapsburg emperor as head of state, as well as common foreign and military policies, but were otherwise separate. The many other ethnicities in the Austro-Hungarian Empire remained second-class citizens, particularly in the Hungarian territories.
Despite past military defeat, Austria allied itself with Germany throughout the remainder of the 19th century and into the early 20th century. Austria's invocation of this alliance in the aftermath of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand helped trigger World War I in 1914. Austria capitulated in 1918, and was stripped of its empire. The former imperial family would remain in exile until the 1960s.
Austria was briefly a democratic republic during the 1920s, but by the 1930s, Fascism had taken hold. In 1938, however, Austria was officially annexed by Nazi-dominated Germany, and remained part of the Greater German Reich until the end of World War II. After a period of Allied occupation, Austria once again became an independent republic in 1955.
Nicole Gunther went as a tourist to Austria and visited the ruins of the Roman city of Carnuntum, where she bought a plaque of the gods Liber and Libera which she took with her back to America, not knowing that a remote ancestress of hers had lived in that city. Eventually, when she felt fed up with life in the modern Los Angeles, the two Roman gods transported her to that city in the Second Century, where she lived in the body of her ancestress. She found the city and the whole of what would become Austria a province of the Roman Empire, whose inhabitants spoke Latin (though with a provincial accent), identified themselves as Romans and regarded the Germanic tribes invading the city with hostility and disdain. Nicole Gunther was the only one who knew that their descendants would be German-speaking Austrians, and she kept this knowledge to herself.
Austria was annexed by Germany mere months before Germany attackedCzechoslovakia in October 1938, which in turn triggered the Second World War in Europe. The annexation gave Germany a third shared border with Czechoslovakia, and a critical launch pad for the invasion in October 1938, since the fortifications weren't as strong there.