AUGSBURG, Germany, July 14 2012—Long history, grandiose architecture and classic art distinguish the city of Augsburg in Bavaria, Germany’s southern state.
Smaller and less known than neighboring Munich, Augsburg nevertheless calls out to tourists who enjoy Europe for its grand buildings, history and art. It’s also situated near, an hour or so, famous sites such as the Rococo Wies Church, Neuschwanstein Castle and Munich itself.
A good place to begin is with the Augsburg walking tour, eight euros per person. The city’s central area holds the significant buildings, museums and churches. Shops, cafes, fountains and canals add to the visual feast. Begin at city hall, which was built to impress by citizens proud of their city’s political prominence and wealth. Perlach tower and town hall sit next to each other overlooking the expansive town square. Both were created by Elias Holl between 1615 and 1620 and are fine examples of Renaissance building.
From the top of the onion domed Perlach is a great view of the city. The white facade of the town hall is emblazoned at the top with a black two-headed eagle symbolizing Augsburg’s status as an imperial free city. Two turquoise-colored onion domes are fixed atop twin towers.
Inside the town hall’s 5th floor that the restored Golden Hall dazzles. The soaring ceiling is two-and-a-half stories high and was originally hung with chains from the roof so that no columns would interrupt the airy space. Painted with allegorical figures depicting civic virtues, each painting is surrounded by molding covered with gold. Doors and frames are done with swirling leaves, banners and crests also coated with gold. Nothing was left of the building except the outside walls after WWII bombing in 1944. Records and photos allowed for its recreation which took 16 years and millions of German marks (then currency). Reopened in 1998, the Golden Hall’s craftmen painstakingly followed documents detailing its design. (The craft skills needed to work with the delicate gold leaf were shared with younger workers, thus ensuring that those skills not be lost.) For all the shine, only 2.6 kilograms of gold were used in the entire room that gleams with 17th century pride.
Facing the town hall is the Augustus Fountain (see above), a bronze statue of the Roman emperor for whom the city is named. He stands nobly with a crown of laurel leaves, sword, and royal robe above four water-spewing dolphins held by cherubs. Just below more water spouts of winged figures representing river deities. The finely-detailed sculpture, designed by Hubert Gerhard and cast by P. Wagner, took from 1588 to 1594 to complete. The wavy beard of a river god, the dimpled chubby leg of a cherub, and the detailed laces on Augustus’s sandals speak for the artist’s craftsmanship.
Locals gather around the fountain on any given day. When weather allows, from spring to fall most years, restaurants from around the plaza distribute chairs, tables and umbrellas kept in storage for the purpose.
Augsburg is the third oldest city in Germany. Founded by the Romans 2000 years ago as a military encampment, it grew into a city due to its location along the Lech and Wertach rivers, and on main trade routes from Italy to Germany. Named Augusta Vindelicorum after the emperor Caesar Augustus, it remained a part of the empire until German tribes finally kicked them out around 500.
Central to the city is St. Mary’s Cathedral, which was begun in 923, but modified and enlarged over the centuries. Believed to be the oldest (around 1140) figurative stained-glass windows, the prophets Daniel, Hosea, Jonah, Moses and David are portrayed in colorful but dignified simplicity. The large St. Mary’s has the massive walls, stout columns, vaulted ceilings and pointed arches characteristic of the Gothic-Romanesque period.
Older archeological remains can be viewed near the cathedral including the original site of the cathedral built over the foundation of a Roman patrician home. The bath became the baptistery. Statues, columns, gold coins, ceramic pieces and other artifacts are also found at the Roman museum, about a five-minute walk away.
Don’t miss the Fuggerei. Centuries old apartments built from the generosity of wealthy benefactor, the “city within a city” is a fascinating look at a structure and culture almost unchanged over 500 years. Described as “the oldest social settlement in the world,” its creator was a man so wealthy, he funded church and royalty, such as Pope Julius II and Emperor Maximilian. Jacob Fugger was the global player of his day.
Heir to influential and wealthy family fortune who got their start in woven goods, he invested their fortune in copper mines and banking, increasing the family’s affluence. Jacob Fugger the Wealthy (1459-1525) was called the Bill Gates of his time by our guide. He is also credited with the accession of Emperor Maximilian for whom Augsburg’s premier boulevard is named.
Fugger in his later years decided to build and endow forever the Fuggerei, four-room apartments for a yearly rent of 1 guilder, about $1. Built in 1516, they have been continuously occupied by residents who meet the same list of requirements. To move into the Fuggerei, the dwellers had to be needy but upstanding citizens of Augsburg and Catholic. Three daily prayers for the soul of founder Jacob Fugger were the final requirement.
Strolling down the spotless streets of the Fuggerei is a walk into living history. The ivy-covered gold buildings with lines of green-shuttered windows are beautifully maintained. During the first several centuries, families occupied the apartments which were luxurious at the time. Through the generosity of Fugger descendants who honor their ancestor’s wishes, German seniors continue to live in comfort. Although there is no formal procedure in place to ensure that the thrice daily prayer duty is fulfilled in the small chapel, our guide told us they check up on each other.
Rules set in 1516 still apply. A wall was built around the homes to maintain quiet and residents must be inside those walls by 11:00 P.M. or pay a euro. At the Fuggerei museum one apartment has been recreated with original furnishings. An iron pot is hung above a brick oven that doubled as a heater. Wooden table and chairs, shelves for other cooking utensils and candles completed the kitchen. One of the two bedrooms has a carved wooden bed with forest motifs decorating the foot and headstand. The canopy had more than decorative purpose. It kept mice and other creatures living in the roof from disturbing the residents’ sleep. A small wardrobe with inlaid decorations finished the bedroom.
Religion played a central role in Augsburg although money and power were also motivating forces. Here at another church, the exquisite Baroque St. Anna, Martin Luther unsuccessfully presented his case for reformation in a debate with Cardinal Catejan in 1518. St. Anna Church, smaller in scale and gracefully serene. Biblically-themed paintings hung along a wall floating between columns are done in dark tones, reflecting the bitter conflict that raged within Augsburg and Germany overall. The Peace of Augsburg, proclaimed in 1555, allowed both Catholics and Lutherans to practice their beliefs.
A visual example of the peace is the large Catholic Basilica of Saint Ulrich and St. Afra with the smaller Lutheran Church of Saint Ulrich and St. Afra nestled right next to it. Inside the basilica three magnificent Baroque altars by Hans Degler adorn the church. Each represents an important Christian holiday: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. In one, bronze figures of Jesus and the holy family are surrounded by wise men, bishops, angels and others among ornamental pillars and arches. In a eerie crypt down a flight of stairs lie the remains of St. Ulrich, bishop of Augsburg in the 10th century and St. Afra, a 4th century Christian who was burned because she refused to sacrifice to Roman gods.The city outlook today is ecumenical in religious matters and welcoming to all with a vibrant, diverse population and economy.
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