A fun city: in the summer months, the cool Lech canals and cosy beer gardens are refreshing places to be while those looking for culture can enjoy its rich history and other attractions. All with a peaceful atmosphere and in the company of friendly locals. Overtourism? Not in Augsburg.
Text: Markus Stein. Photos: Frank Heuer
Discover and experience Augsburg anew
Fuggerplatz. Two slightly paunchy street musicians are already in position with their guitar and fiddle. At the table of the Italian restaurant, the vino is frizzante in the friendly sunshine. The melodies, unplugged and at a discreet, almost delicate volume, waft through the air. Not an irritating sonic boom as you so often find in pedestrian zones, but unobtrusive background music.
Somehow that feels typical of the atmosphere in Augsburg: lively in its hot spots, but always discreet, pleasantly relaxed, almost homely. Even famous resident Hans Jakob Fugger, under whose bronze nose a child bounces on a trampoline, is no exception. He looks down calmly from his elevated plinth, enjoying the morning peace…
In the “Family Summer”, the trampoline is just one of many sights and attractions in Augsburg. The Rathausplatz is a vibrant scene, with a traditional merry-go-round, candy floss and roasted almonds. Keeping the children amused against a magnificent backdrop! The Town Hall, sixty metres high with onion domes, built at the beginning of the 17th century, represents the pride of the citizens of the former free imperial city. Together with the nearby Perlach Tower it is the main landmark of the city of Augsburg.
The Town Hall, a genuine masterpiece
The gleaming highlight of the interior of the Town Hall is a must for any visitor to Augsburg: the Golden Hall, measuring 550 square metres and 14 metres high! It boasts a superb gilded panelled ceiling made of walnut. Baroque in style, dizzying in splendour - and not just because you have to put your head right back to see it.
The views are also spectacular. The large windows look out over Rathausplatz and to the Augustus Fountain with its many statues. Along with the Mercury and Hercules Fountains, it is one of three splendid Renaissance fountains in the city.
Four water gods on its base symbolise the city’s four rivers: the Wertach, Lech, Singold and Brunnenbach. Female figures dispense water from their bronze breasts! Also well worth a look: on Elias-Holl-Platz, the even more imposing back of the Rathaus looms up into the sky. At its foot, guests sit in comfort on the terrace of the Ratskeller while passers-by find shade on a bench under the trees.
Visionaries with heart: the Fugger dynasty
Never crowded, Augsburg has around 300,000 inhabitants, but the city is a manageable size, with visitors able to reach most attractions on foot. These include the world’s oldest social housing complex still in use, the famous Fuggerei, a few minutes’ walk from the Rathaus.
It was founded in 1521 by the aforementioned merchant and banking tycoon Hans Jakob Fugger. He grew immensely rich by trading in fustian (a linen-cotton blend), copper and silver. Fugger himself was never on the breadline. He was able to afford this charitable facility - and thereby do something for his spiritual salvation.
The Fuggerei: 88 cents annual rent
Everyone who moves into this walled enclave of terraced housing, comprising 67 two-roomed apartments, has to pray each day for the founder and his family: the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary and the Nicene Creed. They also have to pay “rent” of 88 cents a year plus 88 cents a year for the Fuggerei pastor - and monthly expenses (which can really mount up). A foundation decides who is admitted.
Bavarian tapas under the cross vault
A walking tour leads through the well laid out small-town idyll of the Fuggerei not far from the Old Town centre. The gabled houses are decorated with all manner of coats of arms and holy figures. Virginia creeper spreads across some of the facades.
After a visit, many people will seek refreshment in the small beer garden or the restaurant “Die Tafeldecker”. Its specialities include “Bavarian tapas”, such as wild boar goulash with miniature potato dumplings or “Bazda” with red onions. The minimalist decor of the restaurant in modern Bavarian style, characterised by dark walnut, was designed by the three members of the Augsburg designer team “Dreimeta”.
Design made in Augsburg
The biggest challenge? “The listed vaulted ceiling in the restaurant was an acoustic nightmare”, explains designer Andrea Kraft-Hammerschall, a dark-haired man in his mid-thirties. “The noise bounced around up there so much that you could hardly hear a word that was said. One of the ways we solved this problem was to integrate sound-absorbing material in the slatted wood of the wall cladding.” A tribute to the founder: Hans Jakob Fugger is a regular customer here - in the form of a large portrait on the wall.
Lechviertel: Brecht & more
A small museum in the Lech district is dedicated to this great author and playwright. The Hintere Lech river flows past at speed, as if it wants to get past the birthplace of the former bogeyman of the middle classes as fast as possible. Of course, that is not the case at all. For one thing, Augsburg today is proud of its famous son, and for another the river drops almost thirty metres on its way through the city district. And picks up quite a pace along the way.
Which is fortunate because for a long time the power of the canals was harnessed to drive waterwheels - the one at Schwallech still bears witness to this - and provided energy for artisans and mills. The cornerstone of the city’s prosperity with its textile factories. The origins of the water management system date back to the 13th century, and in 2019 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
More bridges than Venice
The 29 canals of the Lech and two of the Wertach together measure almost 90 kilometres and run parallel to each other. They rejoin their original rivers north of the city. The waterworks at the Roten Tor with its three towers is an impressive monument. For centuries it supplied the city with drinking water.
Augsburg's canals: Get to the water
All this water is beneficial in other ways too. In the summer it has a cooling effect on visitors - for example, as they stroll along the canals in the Lech district, past small shops and cafes. Here it is advisable to keep an eye out and peer through any gateways you pass.
Every now and then you will come across a cosy beer garden, such as the Thing Garden with its astonishing graffiti, featuring the flower of Augsburg, a well-known street art motif. Possible stopping points are Schwibbogengasse, Bei Sankt Ulrich then Hinterer Lech. In Holbeinplatz you can take a sip of water from the drinking water fountain or tuck into an ice cream from the cafe.
Into the water!
Another Augsburg water experience: boating in the city moat. Colourful rowing boats bob up and down in the calm waters of the moat, and a snack bar on the restaurant terrace offers refreshments before or after the boating activity. Or you can hire a bicycle, pack your swimming costume and head up the Lech, past the 1972 Olympic slalom course to the Hochablass.
Did he break into a sweat and seek refreshment in the Lech? Nobody knows, but the thought suggests itself when you read: “Here in October 1518 Martin Luther refused to withdraw his theses before the Papal Legate Cajetan.”
This small inscription can be found on the wall of the Fuggerhäuser in Maximilianstraße 36/38, Augsburg’s showpiece mile. Or did the reformer then go and treat himself to a cool drink in the Damenhof? Today he could do just that. The first Renaissance courtyard north of the Alps, a real gem nestling in a complex of buildings and boasting painted arcades and a rectangular pool, offers food and drink and is a popular place for an aperitif.
'Blue hour': Hercules Fountain
It has been a long day. The light is slowly fading. At the Hercules Fountain in the Maxstraße, the water splashes down in the light from the car headlamps, an evening wind blows through the leaves of the palm trees. In the background the tower of St. Ulrich and Afra rises up to the sky.
The first night owls are sitting on the edge of the fountain, their drinks in their hands. Young faces are lit up by their mobile phone screens. A flash car roars past, stops, drives on. Peace descends once more. Voices and laughter are the only sounds to disturb the warm evening air.