Augsburg's Renaissance Town Hall was completed in 1620Image: Illuscope
City Portrait Augsburg
DW staff (ncy)
January 8, 2005
Augsburg was shaped by the trade in salt and silver in Roman and medieval times. Today, industry ensures that Bavaria's third-largest city remains wealthy.
The ancient Roman Empire has left its traces in many parts of Augsburg, and its legacy is a continual source of amazement. Urban construction projects, for instance, often end up becoming more like archaeological digs since the most remarkable things turn up.
Of course, historical artifacts are fairly common to Augsburg which was situated along the "Via Claudia," the road leading from Germania to Rome. Over the centuries, the route developed into a main trading route linking several major cities. In the Middle Ages the central importance of the road brought wealth to Augsburg, and the town was designated a "free city" with its own municipal government.
A rich history
The development of Augsburg owes much to the wealthy merchant families Fugger and Welser as well as to the many crafts guilds. The construction of the magnificent Town Hall, for instance, was financed by the flourishing salt and silver trade.
The Perlach Tower, located right next to the Town Hall, is another example of the city's wealth during the Middle Ages. Visitors frequently climb the tower's 250 steps for a panoramic view of the city. Sometimes, when the sky is clear, the view stretches as far as the Alps -- located just one hour away by car from Augsburg.
The city's Renaissance history is closely linked to one of its most famous sons: Jakob Fugger, the wealthiest man in the world at the time. Even the German emperor was forced to borrow money from Fugger to pay for his lavish lifestyle and the many wars of that period. Many a Medieval royal court also ate from silver dishes or wore luxurious clothing that had been produced in Augsburg.
Yet that wealth benefited the poor, too. Most likely motivated by a guilty conscience, Jakob Fugger built the world's first social housing complex, called the "Fuggerei." Such donations were given in the hope of preventing the benefactor's soul from burning in hell and to ensure his ascent into heaven after death.
Back then, when religion was the determining factor of life, many people spent a great deal of money trying to ease their guilty conscience, and it was the Catholic Church that became the primary recipient of such donations. Even today, people in need still live in the "Fuggerei," paying what is surely the lowest rent anywhere -- 0.88 euros ($1.19) a year.
Between history and industry
The city’s most popular, contemporary cultural "export" has to be the Augsburger Puppenkiste (Augsburg Puppet Show). Generations of Germans, and children in particular, have long been enchanted by the wooden puppets.
But for a long time, there was one Augsburg native the people of the city did not find so enchanting: author and playwright Bertolt Brecht, whose communist views were at odds with the otherwise tranquil Augsburg life. More recently, however, Augsburg citizens have not only changed their mind about the author of the "Three Penny Opera," they have even become proud of their famous son.
Augsburg has come a long ways since medieval times. Today the city's image is more modern. It is no longer craftsmen, but the branches of industry located here that ensure the city's prosperity. A massive paper plant, MAN B&W Diesel, Siemens, Daimler-Benz Aerospace and US computer company NCR are just some of the major employers in Augsburg.
Yet in the older section of town, you will find narrow, winding lanes and low buildings lining canals. Magnificent fountains remind of bygone days. The "Datschiburger" -- what the Augsburg people call themselves and a term for their regional plum cake specialty -- live in a pleasant, orderly city, though at first glance the people may often seem wary of new things.