Story and photos by Corinna Lothar
called Augsburg the freest, most illustrious town in the world.
That may be just over the top (or perhaps apocryphal), but who wants
to argue with Casanovas tips about the pursuit of pleasure? Besides,
Augsburg is one of the most delightful places in Germany.
Here you can you find the worlds oldest stained
glass windows, and Europes oldest social housing project, and
the family roots of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Lovers of Mozart, in fact,
can follow his trail from Augsburg for a hundred miles to Salzburg for
the annual festival of Mozart operas. Its easy to reach by automobile
Roman pinecones, the symbol of Augsburg
Augsburg is the third city of Bavaria, the second oldest
city in Germany, founded in 15 B.C. by the Roman general Drusus, the
stepson of Roman Emperor Augustus. Drusus set up a military camp on
the rolling hills between the Lech and Wertach Rivers and the encampment
grew into a town, with a marble temple, a tribunal and a castle, which
the Romans called Augusta in honor of the emperor. The Italians still
call the town by that name, but the Germans renamed the Bavarian city,
Augsburg continued to play an important part
in the Holy Roman Empire during the Middle Ages. The city is not all
the pursuit of pleasure. This is where, in 1518, Martin Luther was summoned
to recant his 95 theses before a papal emissary. He refused, and the
In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg, separating the Protestant
and Catholic churches in the Holy Roman Empire, was signed in Augsburg.
The Peace gave citizens the right to choose between the two religions.
Augsburg became a center of the Lutheran creed.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Augsburg was one
of Europes wealthiest communities, primarily because of its textile
industry and the political and financial power of its banking families.
Chief among these were the Fuggers.
In 1521, Jakob Fugger the Rich established an unusual
legacy. He built a small city within the city of two-story row houses,
each containing two apartments. The Fuggerei, as it was called, consisted
of eight streets and seven gates. It had its own walls and church. Each
of the original 110 housing units had a private entrance, and each apartment
had a chimney. The downstairs apartment opened on to a small garden,
while the upstairs apartment had an attic.
The entrance to the Fuggerei
Renters paid only one guilder a year, the equivalent
of about 50 cents. To qualify, residents had to be destitute through
no fault of their own; they had to be Catholic and citizens of Augsburg;
and they were obligated to pray daily for their benefactors. This was
sweet music to the lucky renters, and why not? The most prominent resident
of the Fuggerei was the master builder Franz Mozart, the great-grandfather
of the composer.
Not much has changed in the intervening 450 years, except
that it is the Fugger Foundation rather than the family which owns the
Fuggerei, and it is the town council which determines who gets to live
in the Fuggerei.
Residents are still required to be citizens of Augsburg
and to offer daily prayers for their benefactors. The rent remains the
equivalent of one Rhenish guilder, or about $2 a year, but that doesnt
include utilities. Today, there are 150, mostly older, people living
in 140 apartments in 67 buildings in the oldest social settlement in
Fuggerei guide in medieval attire
The Fuggerei is open for visitors. A model apartment,
furnished as it would have been, shows how the inhabitants lived during
the Middle Ages. During the summer months, a café inside the
Fuggerei, located on the main square, serves light fare in a beer garden
setting. A guide in medieval dress is stationed near the central fountain.
During World War II, Augsburg, including the Fuggerei,
was heavily damaged, but its core was rebuilt to look much as it had
during medieval times. Today, 60 years later, it has acquired much of
the patina of the original and has once again become a graceful town
with a large central square, an imposing city hall, lovely churches,
a charming market and numerous restaurants and cafes, many of them serving
excellent German and Italian cuisine. Photographs of the damage to the
Fuggerei and its reconstruction are exhibited in a small museum within
the Fuggerei. The entrance to the museum is the house in which Franz
The Catholic heart of Augsburg is St. Marys Cathedral,
where the 12th century stained glass windows are located in the south
transept. The windows represent the Old Testament prophets Jonah, Daniel,
Hosea and Moses and King David. Although small, when the sun streams
through them, the windows are beautiful to behold.
The cathedral was built from the 9th to the 14th centuries,
primarily of red brick. Inside are five splendid altar paintings by
Hans Holbein the Elder, one of Augsburgs native sons. (The playwright
and poet, Bertolt Brecht, is another native son, whose birthplace is
now a museum.) It was built with square Gothic towers and its 11th century
bronze doors, adorned with reliefs depicting a mixture of Biblical and
mythological subjects, are now in the Cathedral Museum adjoining the
In the courtyard in front of the cathedral several
Roman artifacts are displayed, including a large stone pinecone, the
symbol of the city. The pinecone is thought to have been the regimental
symbol of Drusus, the Roman general. It is found as a decorative element
in several places around the city, including on one of the large gables
in the front of the Town Hall.
The basilica of Saints Ulrich and Afra -- actually
two churches, one Catholic and the other Protestant is worth
a visit. The Gothic churches are named for Ulrich, a 10th century prince-bishop
whose army assisted in the defeat of the Hungarians in the 955 Battle
of Lechfeld, and Afra, a Roman virgin martyred in 304 A.D.
Founded in 1321 as a Carmelite monastery, St. Annes
Church was host to Martin Luther during his stay in Augsburg in 1518.
His rooms have been turned into a small museum of the Reformation. A
portrait of Luther by Lucas Cranach the Elder hangs in the eastern choir.
The Town Hall
Augsburgs city hall (the Rathaus),
which Napoleon visited in 1805 and 1809, dates from the early 17th century.
The building was the first in the world to be more than six stories
high. Its outstanding feature is the two-story golden banquet hall with
elegant doors, gold-leaf coffered ceilings and large wall paintings.
The building was severely damaged by allied bombers in 1944, leaving
the hall in ruins. It was rebuilt after World War II and now serves
for important state and city functions.
Next door to the golden hall are four princes
rooms, used for smaller meetings. They are lovely wood paneled
rooms, two on either side of the hall. The Rathaus is open to the public.
For visitors with the stamina to climb the 258 stairs
to the top of the Perlach Tower, next to the Town Hall, an ancient guard
tower dating from 1060, theres a great view of the city and the
Maximilian Strasse (street) lined with elegant patrician houses. It
is Augsburgs elegant main shopping street.
The Perlach Tower
The Schaezlerpalais is a splendid mansion, built as
a private home by an Augsburg banker in the late 18th century. Teen-aged
Marie-Antoinette stopped off for the night on April 28, 1770 at the
Schaezler mansion on her way from Vienna to Paris for her marriage to
the Dauphin of France. She danced the night away at a ball given in
her honor in the mansions rococo ballroom.
Today, the mansion houses the municipal and state collection
of paintings. Most of the paintings are by German artists of the Renaissance
and baroque periods, but along with Holbein the Elder and Durer works
are Tiepolos and Rubens and other Renaissance masters. The Durer portrait
of Jakob Fugger hangs in this museum.
Augsburgs Centre of Contemporary Art and the State
Gallery of Modern Art, showing post 1950s American art, are located
in the Glass Palace, an industrial monument made of iron, concrete and
glass, which formerly was used as a weaving mill. Concerts and films
are shown in the Glass Palace, which also houses, Magnolia, one of Augsburgs
An Augsburg specialty is its childrens puppet
theatre. Modern and classic fairy tales - Aladdin and the Forty Thieves,
Rumpelstiltskin and The Little Prince are performed at the
Augsburger Puppenkiste . The marionettes are a delight to old and young,
even to those who dont understand German.
A typical Augsburg bakery
Augsburg has many excellent restaurants, preparing both
Bavarian and international dishes. One of the most charming is a little
restaurant in the center of town called Die Ecke (the Corner), where
French and Swabian dishes are flawlessly prepared. Hans Holbein the
Elder and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart dined there. For good Italian food,
try Milano or Tartuffo, both located in the center of town. August is
a tiny restaurant serving excellent German food. Haupt is a restaurant
located in the basement of the Prince Carl Palace, a 19th century military
Bavarian specialties include white sausages served with
pretzels and mustard (but only eaten until noon); pork roast with dumplings;
spaetzle (mini noodles) in a rich cheese sauce; and goose with red cabbage
and dumplings in November and at Christmastime. Wonderful rolls and
dark bread and excellent pastries are available at the many bakeries
throughout the city.
Augsburg is well situated for day trips in the area.
Munich is only 40 minutes away by train, or an hour by car. Lake Constance
and the charming island town of Lindau are within easy driving distance.
Fuessen and nearby Neuschwanstein Castle are about 60
miles south of Augsburg in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps. The castle,
built by mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria, was the inspiration
for Walt Disneys Cinderella castle.
Fuessen is also close to the beautiful rococo Wieskirche
(or Church of the Fields), an extravagant 18th century masterpiece located
in an alpine meadow just off the Romantic Road which ends in Fuessen.
Casanova would love it.
WHEN YOU GO:
United Airlines and Lufthansa service Munich from several
U.S. cities. Once in Munich, its an easy train ride from the airport
to downtown Augsburg.
Trains run frequently from Augsburg east to Salzburg
and Austria, north to Nuremberg, south to Garmisch and Switzerland and
west to Stuttgart and France. Rail passes or single tickets can be purchased
in the U.S. through RailEurope at 1-800-622-8600 or raileurope.com.
For information on Augsburg, see Guide
to Augsburg and Stadt
Augsburg: A Visitors' Guide to Augsburg.