As a Fulbright Fellow in Germany, I am determined to visit as many towns as possible in Deutschland during my time here. Earlier this month, I went on a whirlwind 1-1/2 week tour of northern and southern cities, including Augsburg. Located about an hour northwest of Munich, Augsburg was a free imperial city favored by Emperor Charles V. Or, to be more precise, Charles V and his entourage took over the town during many Imperial Diets.
However, it is Augsburg’s history as a city with powerful dynastic merchant families, such as the Fuggers and the Welsers, which captured my interest. The Fuggers were one of the merchant families in Southern Germany that bankrolled the activities of emperors, dukes, and the papacy during the 16th century. Much literature may be found on the Fuggers and their patronage of the arts. One of their more humanitarian contributions–which continues to be operational today–exists in the form of the Fuggerei.
Jakob Fugger the Rich founded the Fuggerei, a housing complex for needy Catholic citizens of Augsburg. Built between 1516 and 1523, it was donated to the city in 1521. The annual rent from the beginning of its inception was one Rhenish guilder, and that same amount–translated to today’s monetary terms of 0.88 €/yr–remains today. Let me repeat, the rent in the Fuggerei is 88 CENT EURO PER YEAR. This is incredible; it was incredibly generous then, and it certainly is unheard of today. That the Fugger family can still maintain their support, and had done so for the last 500 years, is also quite amazing. Of course, there are certain criteria that must be met: one must be Catholic, one must be below a certain income level, one must pray three times per day for the salvation of the Fugger family at the on-site church of St. Markus, and one must observe a curfew of 10 p.m. lest be subject to a fine. No, I don’t think you can sneak back into the complex as there is an actual city wall with a controlled gate that closes at 10 p.m. Sixty-seven houses holding 142 apartments, a museum, and a 16th-century reconstructed apartment with “old” interiors remain extant at the Fuggerei.
The legendary folks who lived here included Franz Mozart, mason and great-grandfather of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the first victim of witch hunts in Augsburg, Dorothea Braun who was accused of being a witch by her own 11-year old daughter. Whoops.
I was also impressed by Augsburg’s contemporary graffiti art. In many cases, it rivals Berlin (*she says as she ducks for cover*).