Wandering Augsburg – Part One

City of Fugger, and of Gold- and Silversmiths – the lasting influence of one family.

Here I thought that Augsburg was going to be just another boring city…. Wrong! When Jackson, my friend and fellow seminary-graduate came to visit from Hong-Kong, sightseeing Augsburg was one of the requests.  I don’t regret having gone there. There was so much to see that I cannot cover in one blog alone.   Musea are closed on Mondays; we didn’t get to visit the imposing Synagogue, which will require another trip to Augsburg.  Just as well, at the end of the day we ran out of time.

Augsburg’s population is 259,196. The city is an important centre for gold and silver trade.

So, who was this Fugger?!  It’s almost a rag to riches story, although Hans, the first Fugger and a master weaver, used personal seed money  to start them off in Augsburg. The  arrival of the Fugger family to Augsburg was in 1367. That’s when they were first entered in the city’s tax register. The next momentous entry was 1386, when Hans Fugger was elected to the directorate of the weaver’s guild,  thereby obtaining a seat to Augsburg’s Grand Council. Further years witnessed business expansion and propitious marriage unions.

In 1455, the Fuggers divided their business areas and shortly thereafter they divided their family branches into the Fugger vom Reh, headed by Andreas, and Fugger von der Lilie headed by Jacob the Elder.

Between 1472 and 1486 the family fortune doubled.  During 1466, Jacob Fugger transferred from the weaver’s guild to the merchant’s guild. In Venice he furthered his education as merchant. According to the tax register, he was the city’s seventh richest citizen.

During these years, strategic marriages increased both family’s assets, economic and political standing.  In 1480 the Fuggers took part in Salzburg’s mining operations. In the 1490s they expande their businesses interests to include silver and copper. Their substantial wealth facilitated a loan to King Maximilian, enabling him to fund military campaigns. When Maximilian was crowned king, the Fuggers took care of his financial affairs.

At  the beginning of 1500, after the death of one of the female family members, the Fugger brothers renewed and amended the partnership agreement that from then on,  limited business activities to the male family members. The Fuggers  made further expansions by entering the spice trade with India.

In the 1500 they also minted coins for popes, off and on until 1524.  At the death of Ulrich Fugger, Jacob took over full responsibility of all the family’s business concerns.  He was raised to nobility status, admitting him to the higher echelons of society.

Because of the vast family wealth, Jacob Fugger was referred to as “Jacob the Rich”. From 1512 to 1515 many Fugger buildings were constructed in what is now Maximilian street. In 1514 Jacob the Rich started plans for a charitable estate; construction began two years later. This charitable estate was and is known as the Fuggerei and is still in use today.

Jacob Fugger died in 1525 and his nephew Anton Fugger took his place, in accordance to Jacob’s will (because he didn’t have any children).  In a period of 17 years, the Fugger company assets grew 927%!

Subsequently the family history showed members moving through the ranks as councillors, officers and clergy.  They were present and involved in all aspects of social life and of the arts. There were family disputes, which included religious disputes between the Roman Catholic and Zwinglian branches of the family. Their influence reached across Austria, Tirol, Spain.  The single most important legacy of the forward thinking Jacob  Fugger, in terms of social engagement, remains the Fuggerei.

The Fuggerei 

 “With the Fuggerei, Jakob Fugger was continuing a Christian tradition: donation as an expression of one’s responsibility to God and to one’s fellow citizens. At that time, charitable foundations were a matter of honour and social position – especially for successful merchant families. ” (www.fugger.de, “A Pious Endeavour . . . “)

It is the oldest social housing estate in the world.  The walled complex, spread over 15,00 m2 (161,458 sq.Ft), consists of 67 two-level buildings or 142 residences and has its own church. The Fuggerei is near the city centre and its gate still close at 10: pm. It is a self-contained  small scale city within a city, where people used to generated their own income through home-based small businesses. (artisans, bakers, etc.)

The pictures demonstrate aspects of the Fuggerei as well as one of the homes with its original period furniture and one present-day home.The great-uncle of Wofgang A. Mozart used to live in one of the homes. As did an alleged “witch”,  betrayed by her young daughter. One picture depicts bell-pulls. Quite creative. At the time, when the streets were completely dark, one could find one’s way home by feeling the shape of the bell pull.  Each residence has a different wrought iron shape and design.

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The estate is 500 years old and was founded by Jacob the Rich and in the name of his two deceased brothers Georg and Ulrich. It was designed for low-income Roman Catholic citizens of Augsburg, the yearly base rental fee today is still 88 Euro cents (based on the one Rheinish Florin of the time) and three daily prayers!  (Our Father, one Ave Maria and the Apostles’ Creed) There are 150 residents in today’s Fuggerei. Funding comes from the various Fugger foundations, private donations and visitor’s entrance fees. Residents are given assistance with the aim to help themselves and reach economic recovery. They’re given a hand up, so to speak.

It is quite unbelievable that today’s needy Augsburgers would still be able to access this housing system at 500-year old rates!  Imagine the commitment of the Fugger family to continue Jacob’s tradition and vision, and not turn it into an income-generating housing or business project. Within its walls is a  bunker where 200 residents found refuge during WWII. The Fuggerei suffered  damage to 70% of its structures, during the bombing raid of the night of February 25 1944. It is now a museum about life in the Fuggerei’s bunker during the war.

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Reconstruction of the complex was made possible thanks to the income generated through wood sales from the forests of the Fugger’s foundation.

One of the residences turned museum,  allows  visitor’s a better appreciation of life in the Fuggerei then, and another residence shows life today.

The remaining sights, the gold hall at Town Hall, and the various historical churches will have to wait until the next post.

Until then, this comes with best wishes for a very healthy and peaceful 2015 amid our turbulent times.

4 thoughts on “Wandering Augsburg – Part One

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