We met our guide in front of the Tourist Information Office in the Rathaus Platz and she took us immediately to the centre of the Platz to show us an inlaid circle in the cobblestones with symbols of the four rivers that flow around Augsburg and gave us an overview of the water management system that Augsburg is famous for. She gave us a short history of Augsburg and gave us some time to inspect the Augustus Fountain. Augsburg was founded by the Romans in 15BCE and was named after Augustus, the Roman Emperor. While Augustus campaigned in Germany, he didn’t spend any time here; his step-son Drusus spent a lot of time in this area.
From the centre of the Platz, our guide took us immediately into the Rathaus that dominates one side of the central square. Although there was a previous wooden town hall built on this spot, the current Rathaus was completed in 1620 and the interior 4 years later. Our guide didn’t bother too much with the administrative side of the building, she took us to the stairs and gave us the arduous challenge of walking up an extended series of steps to the top of the building. I remember thinking that this vertical hike had better be worth the effort. I was well rewarded for my efforts when our group entered the room captured by the photo below. This was the Golden Hall (Goldener Saal) with its extraordinary doorways, murals and coffered ceilings. The rest of the town hall was finished in 1620 but this room took another four years to complete. The architect Elias Hall was inspired by the palace that sat next door to St Mark’s Church in Venice.
Our guide let us wander around inspecting the room before gathering us together again to point out the ceiling imagery which showed us the contrasting images of the Judeo-Claudine Roman Emperors on one side and the wise women of history on the other. It took quite a while for our guide to gather us together and move us on to the next part of our tour.
It is the back story of places like the Goldener Saal that highlight the multiplicity of tragedies that marked the 1930s and 1940s for Germany. Augsburg itself had a large local membership in the NAZI party in the 1930s and even a major square of the city named after Adolf Hitler for a while. The war with the rest of Europe then resulted in untold damage to Germany and it was the next generation that had to determine what to rescue of German art and architecture that had been destroyed in the bombing raids of the 1940s. This town hall and its gorgeous Golden Room was destroyed in 1944, the forlorn image of the ruin to the left is what survived of where the Golden Room once stood. The Rathaus was rebuilt but until the 1980s, the top floor room had a wooden ceiling. The city decided that the Golden Room should be restored for the 2000th anniversary of Augsburg…it was re-opened in 1996 after the citizens had supplied numerous donations for the project. Today, the Augsburg Rathaus is subject to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
From the townhall our guide took us on a short inspection of some of the curious canals that run parallel with the narrow streets behind the old centre of Augsburg. It helped us understand the complex ingenuity of how this city managed its water-supply, adding to our understanding from our morning walk through this district.
One of the many highlights of our afternoon guided walk was when we were taken back across Maximilian Strasse up to the church of St Moritz where we turned into Burgermeister-Fischer Strasse. A little way along this street we turned left up a lane way and found ourselves outside a building called the Zeighaus or the Arsenal. Over the front door was the most unexpected but very impressive sculpture depicting the driving of the evil angels out of heaven by the Archangel Michael.
This building was originally designed and built by the same 17th century architect who designed and built the Rathaus, Elias Hall. It was built between 1602-07 as accommodation for 3,000 soldiers, not long before the outbreak of the 30 Years War that devastated so many towns and cities in Bavaria including Augsburg; this city lost up to half its citizens in that conflict. By the 19th century this building was used as a fire-station and other council services as it was bought by the city in 1893. In a rare occurrence, it survived the British bombing of the city in 1944. It was almost sold by the council in the 1960s to a department store but citizen protests occurred and the local council was taken to court and the sale plans for the arsenal were defeated.
Today it houses exhibitions and the one on show when we had a quick visit inside was a series concerning Roman Antiquities. Outside the main exhibition room in the hallway was a display of statues that we had seen elsewhere in the city. They were the original statues and only copies had to withstand the wind and rain in the streets around the centre of Augsburg.
From the Arsenal, we crossed the lane out the front and walked in through a back entrance of the Fugger Houses on Maximilian Strasse, coincidently right next door to our hotel. When walking down the main street of Augsburg past this building (see below), I hadn’t realised its significance. It was built between 1512-15 for the wealthiest banking family in Bavaria and had been a place where emperors and famous individuals had stayed. (Eg. Mozart, Martin Luther). Perhaps I didn’t look closely at it because it had been significantly damaged during the war, repaired by the early 1950s and the original murals on the external walls of this extensive building were replaced by a much simpler exterior paint job. The photo to the left is one of four courtyards in the building and this one is open to the public.
The last site we visited on our guided tour was perhaps the most curious we had encountered in our time in Augsburg. Stories of millionaire bankers making huge sums of money out of trade are not uncommon…stories of millionaire bankers whose sense of justice also create housing projects for the citizens of their home town are almost non-existent. We walked from the Fugger Palace to the Fuggerei, the world’s oldest housing project that was started in 1516. It is made up of eight streets, 52 houses with their own church and almost their own town within a town. The only conditions appear to be that residents have to be Catholic, pray for the souls of the Fugger family and pay the rent which is minimal.
The above image is of the main road leading in from the gateway of the Fuggerei complex off Jakober Strasse, not far from the Barefoot Church.
There was an empty house that our guide was able to take us through so we could see the amenities provided in each home. Those folk lucky enough to gain entry into this community were well served by the facilities as well as the well-developed community spirit that prevailed here.
When examining any building in Augsburg, an obvious question to ask is what happened to the building/s on February 25/26, 1944 when the allied bombers arrived to destroy the city’s war capabilities. It was the presence of the Messerschmitt factories producing engines and machinery for the German war effort that were the targets. The central area of Augsburg was also a target and so two thirds of this social settlement were destroyed. The reconstruction (and extension) continued until 1973, a resolution to do so was signed as early as March 1, 1944 by the Fugger Family and Senior Council members. The Fuggerei built its own bomb shelter in early 1943 and it still exists today but it is used as a museum of what happened here over the war years and after. The copies of photographs used below from 1944 come from the displays in this museum. The image on the left below is the same street in the Fuggerei with a fountain that can be seen in the photo above taken in Sept of 2022. The photo on the right below shows only two thirds of the Rotes Tower that survived the destruction of the town’s walls in the 19th century but lost its roof and spire in the 1944 bombing of the city. The last photo below is a photo of the Rathaus Plaza of Augsburg from the mid 1930s; the building on the left has been long removed from today’s centre of town. The predominance of the NAZI flags illustrates that the National Socialists had taken over the local council by 1933, enforced by the SA and SS arms of the party.
Like all the German cities and towns we visited on our journey from Hamburg to Augsburg in 2022, we enjoyed immensely our time visiting this fascinating city with its combination of world leading water management technology and its respect and care for its long, 2000 year old history. At all times we enjoyed the same level of friendly hospitality from the people we met along the way.