I was awake early on our first full day devoted to exploring as much of Augsburg as we could manage in the hours available. I decided that before the rest of my travel colleagues got moving, I would duck out early and head down Maximilian Strasse to have a look at the huge church that dominated the start of this main street of Augsburg. (Note dashed line on map to the right of my morning walk.) Its full name today is the Basilica of Saints Ulrich and Afra. St Ulrich (890-973) was a local character who became both a bishop and a general. Hungarian tribes from the east invaded German territories in the early Middle Ages and Ulrich was the general who successfully defended the besieged city of Augsburg and is credited with building early stone fortifications around the city. Afra was a Roman woman who was martyred and buried here in 304 CE
This church was built in 1457 and rebuilt in the 18th century. Although owned by the state, it is a Catholic Church today and is described as a ‘Minor Basilica’. On October 18, 1777, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart held an organ concert in this church.
It was quite a beautiful church inside, particularly the three Renaissance-style side altars (See photo of one of these, right below) which are considered today as masterpieces of German sculpture of the period.
On my return to the hotel, my companions were ready to hit the streets and we had decided on the previous day that we would go for breakfast at the Stadtmarkt that we had noticed the previous day on Anna Strasse, just down from the beautiful church of St Anna. We turned left past the church of St Moritz and continued on down to the corner where there was a park in the area knowns as Konigsplatz. There was a water feature here called Manzu Fountain with a female statue described by locals as the girl ‘with the always wet feet’. From here it was a short walk to the market where we able to get a great feed to fuel the long walking day ahead.
From our breakfast place, we followed our path from the previous afternoon through to the Rathausplatz where we hoped to find the local tourist bureau. We found our target but alas all the morning guided tours were full so we had to book into an English-speaking tour at 2pm. (The tourist bureau is to the right of the square as you look at the image below).
By this time of our stay in Augsburg we had begun to understand that Augsburg was a very different place from the other towns and cities of Germany that we had visited due to its position in a valley where there were a number of rivers being channelled down the valley. Augsburg had been developed as a town on the fork between two of these rivers, the Wertach and the Lech. Given we had plenty of time to check out the town before our guided tour, we decided that we would explore the small canals we had already seen around the streets so we headed off down the steps at the side of the Rathaus to the square behind this building as seen in the image below.
On the map of the region around Augsburg to the left can be seen the two rivers in light blue and the man-made canals, both open and covered that can be seen in dark blue. Apart from defending the town from flooding since the 14th century, the management of water to Augsburg has evolved through many phases until today. It consists of 22 elements including a network of canals, water towers, monumental water fountains and today’s hydroelectric power stations. It has provided water and energy to the town for centuries to ensure that its industries have been sustainably maintained. I had never been in a landlocked city before where narrow canals and streets existed quite comfortably together.
The route we took exploring the canals and associated technology can be seen in blue lines on the map at the start of this blog. Not long after we began our canal tour along Vorderer Lech, we came across what I thought was a hilarious comment on Augsburg’s combination of narrow streets and canals. Somebody had tied a bike to a small bridge and the side of the canal and the result gave the appearance of a bike travelling up stream against the current. This joke would only work in a place like Augsburg.
The white church above left is part of the Dominican Monastery of St Ursula and sits beside a wider section of canal. The original chapel was built here in 1335 and a new chapel was built in the 16th century. On the nights of the bombing of Augsburg in 1944, the church was burnt down to the outer walls and was rebuilt in 1947. Further along on the same street, we encountered what looked like a whole street converted to a canal…there was no quick ducking across this street for a cup of tea with the neighbours opposite.
We encountered a couple of wooden water wheels at different points along the canal. After we exited the narrow canal streets at Forster Strasse, we were rewarded with a small well with a bubbler to refresh ourselves with some clean, clear Augsburg water. One of the things we remarked upon in these streets was where often a half of the street was given over to flowing canal water and many of the houses were still able to make a garden behind their front fences in the small space before garden met house wall.
The map above is from the start of the 1800’s when Augsburg still retained its medieval walls. The red arrows on the map show the location today of the two towers that are still standing Like most large cities in Germany that survived the Middle Ages, there are always indications of where fortified walls stood in the city to protect the inhabitants from invaders. Some towns now ‘blessed’ with tourist numbers like Rothenburg are quite happy to maintain all their medieval fortifications. However most cities once they hit the industrial revolution of the 19th century, found the old walls were in the way and they were pulled down to make way for ‘progress’. Some places were selective in what they pulled down and Augsburg is once such city where the 19th century town fathers decided to keep two towers in place to mark where the old wall ran.
After we walked down Forster Strasse we came to the Willy-Brandt-Platz where there was a large Adult Education institution, just over the road from Vogeltor (left above), one of the two remaining wall towers still standing in modern Augsburg. It was built in 1445 and is four storeys high and at one time protected a moat and a drawbridge. It didn’t survive in one piece from the allied bombers in 1944; only the archway survived and it was rebuilt in 1954.
On the right above is the Rotes Tower. If I had continued in a street line at the start of this day when I went to visit St Ulrich’s Cathedral, I would have found this second surviving tower. It looks very impressive today with its red waistcoat! It too suffered in the 1944 bombing but only lost its roof.
From Vogeltor, we turned back towards the centre of the city. It was time to return to the Rathaus Square for our guided tour. We made our way along Hinterer Lech to Jakober Strasse, the road that leads from Rathaus Platz down to the Fuggerei. This led us to a left turn that took us around the Barefoot Church which can be seen on the left above with the Perlach Tower in the background just to its right. I was very interested in its back story as the first Franciscan church in Germany was first built here in 1244. Francis had sent some of his brothers to Augsburg in 1221 from Assisi, seven years before he died and was canonised in the same year. The successor building here was destroyed by fire in 1398 and was rebuilt 13 years later and this structure survived until 1944 when it too was destroyed by allied bombers during WW2. It was rebuilt by 1951 in a more simplified form. Not far from the back of the Rathaus we passed the statue of St George yet again slaying the dragon.