500 years ago, the wealthy Fugger family founded the Fuggerei to provide affordable housing for the needy. A visionary move by the deeply religious Jakob Fugger
Guide Heinz Schulan
Augsburg is Bavaria's third largest city and, at over 2000 years, the oldest. Its impressive stream and canal system earned the City on the Romantic Road the coveted title of Unesco World Heritage Site. The city’s most famous son is Jakob Fugger – 500 years ago the richest man in the world. With his “Fuggerei”, he created a unique monument to charity. His life and work still shape the image of the city today.
No clan of entrepreneurs has been as influential as the Fuggers throughout world history. Their most famous family representative, Jakob Fugger (1459 to 1525), was the first European commodity tycoon and one of the first global trading entrepreneurs. But he was not only a tough banker and entrepreneur, he was also pious. Towards the end of his life, he was plagued by the fear that he had not done enough good.
On 23 August 1521, he signed the charter for the construction of a housing estate in which Augsburg citizens in need, through no fault of their own, were to receive dignified accommodation. This facility, called the “Fuggerei”, not far from Augsburg's Rathausplatz, is the oldest social housing in the world. People in need who cannot afford normal rented accommodation still live there today. In the “Fuggerei”, they have a safe roof over their heads.
„The Fugger City Palace was the first Renaissance building north of the Alps."
A flat for 88 cents
Wild vines cling to the facades of the picturesque, ochre-coloured terraced houses. With their red tiles, green window shutters and neat gables, they look very snug and cosy. Many of the visitors that flow through the narrow streets of the Fuggerei each day would be quite happy to move in themselves.
Especially since the rent has been unbeatable since the settlement was founded. At that time, the annual rent was at a Rhenish guilder. Around 88 cents in today’s money. What Jakob Fugger established still applies to the current 150 tenants.
Never without his gold cap
A big fan of Jakob Fugger is the actor Heinz Schulan. He has played the banker for fifteen years on stage and on city tours – always in a historical costume with gold cap and robe, just as Albrecht Dürer once painted the businessman. To this day, Fugger’s life and work continue to shape the face and history of Augsburg and Heinz Schulan never tires of talking about it.
“I appear at historically important Fugger sites, such as the city palace in the upper town and the Fugger monument at the Fuggerei in the lower town. The distance between the two sites is around 1,000 metres as the crow flies and a forty-five-minute city tour. The city palace was the first Renaissance building north of the Alps. Inside, there are three beautiful serenade courts.”
Another highlight that should not be missed on any of his guided tours: the town hall, including the Golden Hall. With its incredibly splendid interior decoration and ceiling covered in gold leaf, it is considered one of the highlights of the Renaissance in Germany.
Experience history at first hand
“I recommend that every visitor to Augsburg visits the Fugger Welser Experience Museum.” Here you will go on a trip through time into the 16th century and become part of the society of that period in a spectacular way. “There is also a beautiful arcade café overlooking the garden of St. Stephen’s Abbey. The bistro opposite Berthold Brecht’s birthplace is also lovely. Augsburg’s cabaret scene meets there. The bistro is snugly furnished.”
There are many reasons to visit Augsburg: the city lies directly on the Romantic Road, one of the most popular tourist routes in Germany and only around an hour’s drive from Munich. In July 2019, Augsburg’s globally unique water management system was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Strategically well thought out, built at the confluence of the Lech and Wertach rivers, the city owes its economic and cultural development to water. Its appearance is dominated by beautiful fountains and water towers. 530 bridges big and small take you over countless canals and brooks – more than in Venice!
... from Heinz
I definitely recommend the Fugger-Welser-Museum. There is a beautiful arcade café overlooking the huge garden of St. Stephen’s Abbey. You can follow the discovery routes on virtual maps and visit an original Fugger mine. It’s so vivid, it really immerses you in this period.
fugger-und-welser-museum (only in German)
Directly opposite Bertolt Brecht’s birthplace today stands a bistro. The city’s cabaret scene meets there – but the bistro is open to everyone and very popular. The bistro’s landlord is the last paper maker in Germany. He still makes handmade paper in the bistro and even sells it to the Pope.
papiermanufaktur-wengenmayr.de (only in German)
Inn at the cathedral
My personal favourite is the Wirtshaus am Dom, there you will find typical Bavarian-Swabian cuisine at its finest. They serve the best Kässpatzen (cheese noodles) in town.
domwirtshaus.de (only in German)