Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Friday, December 26, 2014

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 2 / The Fuggerei

GAPP Exchange Journal 2014
Part # 2 / Augsburg - The Fuggerei

Corner Fountain of the Fuggerei
We continued on our tour through the historic city of Augsburg in Bavaria.  After having a great lunch and touring City Hall, we checked out the map of attractions and selected the Fuggerei as our next stop.  The Fuggerei is a housing project of interconnected town homes constructed for the poor citizens of the city long ago.  The picturesque enclosed living site is the most popular attraction in the city for tourists.  Annette, who was a previous native of the city, guided us through the old cobblestone streets toward the site.  Upon arrival, we passed through an arched gate to enter the interior of the housing project.  All the buildings were neatly painted in soft yellow and accented with light green shutters.  Some of the buildings were covered by vines that were lush with thick green foliage, which were squarely trimmed around the shape of any invaded windows.  The accompanying streets were clean, neatly swept, and void of any sign of debris from man or nature.  The Fuggerei was a perfect example of the traditional German preference for pristine neatness and structured uniformity.

Jakob Fugger and Sibylle Artzt 
(Painting Credit / Hans Burgkmair the Elder - 1498)
The Fugger family had made a fortune in the Augsburg area by investing in the local mercantile, mining, forestry, and banking industries.  Legend says Jakob Fugger who was known as Jakob Fugger the Rich, was told by a Catholic priest that the wealthy could never get into heaven upon their death because they lived so well on earth and took more than their fair share of available assets earned from the hard labor of the poor.  As a result of that conversation, Jakob Fugger was inspired into action and decided to give something back to the community that had been so good to his financial bottom line.  In 1516, he founded the Fuggerei, which was designed to be a public housing project, built to shelter the poor and downtrodden citizens of Augsburg.  Within seven years, 52 apartment style units had been constructed and were ready for occupancy.  Eligible residents needed to be of the Roman Catholic faith, be poor but without outstanding debts, and were required to say three prayers a day for the Fugger family to help the founders of the community get into heaven.  The prayers were rumored to be continued long after the death of Jakob Fugger in 1525, just in case he didn't pass through the "pearly gates" right away.

Fuggerei Interior Space / Bedroom
Over time, 67 total buildings were constructed that contained 147 identical apartments that each included a kitchen, bathroom, living room, and a small spare room, which totaled about 600 square feet of living space.  The annual rent of one Gulden (.88 Euros) for each apartment has not changed since the project's first year of operation.  I was surprised to find out during our tour that families still live in the apartments of the Fuggerei, making it the oldest continuously inhabited housing project in history.  Ironically, the fee for tourists to visit the Fuggerei is four Euros, which is more than four times the annual rent for the current residents.  The tourist fee helps support the upkeep of the interior streets, common outdoor areas, and the Fuggerei Museum.  The museum is housed in one of the apartments and allows visitors to see what the units look like on the inside.  The interior model appeared to be decorated with traditional furniture from long past but today's units were said to have all the modern conveniences found standard in any twenty-first-century home today.  However, I would imagine it would be tough, living in a tourist attraction full time, with strangers continuously checking out your home and neighborhood.  People who live within the second floor apartments probably have more privacy but don't have the nice rear patio space, garden shed, and small backyard of first floor residents.

Vine Covered Walls of the Fuggerei
The Fuggerei was like a walled medieval city nested within the city of Augsburg.  In fact, the five outside entrances into the walled housing project close and lock at 10PM each night.  I imagine, the place comes alive at night, when the tourists are absent and people can fully relax and be a true community.  Like most places in Germany, Augsburg was a target during World War II due to its extensive industrial sites located throughout the city.  The Fuggerei was heavily damaged during allied bombing raids.  As a result, the Fuggerei had an underground bunker for residents to take refuge when the fearsome air raid warning sirens sounded.  The bunker is part of the Fuggerei Museum and open to the public.  Exploring the underground vaults was an uncomfortable experience as the spaces were filled with historical displays containing artifacts and photographs, which were accented by the muffled sound of air raid sirens.  I can only imagine what it would have been like to be crouched within the cramped concrete space in complete darkness as the sound of explosions were destroying your town and home a few feet above your head.  It was comforting to exit up the stairs outside and emerge in the fresh air and sunlight to find everything still intact.  The museum bunker was just one example of how Augsburg is confronting the negative aspects of its connection to Germany's Nazi past.

  Corner Fountain in Bomb Ravaged Fuggerei
(Photograph Credit / Fuggerei Bunker Museum)
After visiting the Bunker we took a short break and sat on some benches in the shade of several trees to escape the heat of the summer sun.  After World War II the damaged sections of the Fuggerei were rebuilt to the original specifications to preserve the history of this special place.  The surrounding vegetation was beautiful with gardens, shrubs, and flowerbeds.  Despite financial hardship, the current residents of the Fuggerei were proud of their property and invested their labor to make it beautiful and full of color.  The frontal facade of the buildings were uniform in presentation but individual personality was tastefully expressed within each rear patio space and accompanying garden.  We continued to encircle the massive property, taking in all the sights, wondering who lived behind each identical doorway and what hardships may have brought each to this thankful place of refuge.  A bust statue of Jakob Fugger was found within a small common area, making me wonder if they still said the prayers for him.  I found myself hoping he made it to heaven for his three dimensional institution of charity.  The property is still supported financially from a trust fund first set up by the Fugger family almost 500 years ago, which has continuously benefited the site for centuries.  It's the gift that keeps on giving...

Rear Garden and Patio Spaces
 It was time to leave the Fuggerei and go outside the walled housing project to see what else the beautiful old city had to offer before our time was up.  We ventured back out onto the cobblestone streets and made our way back up to the main street known as the Maximilianstrasse.  We were now ready for some light refreshment and stopped by one of the many street-side outdoor cafes for ice cream, apple strudel, and complimenting beverage.  It was a hot day and taking time out to rest periodically made our visit more like a tour and less like a marathon.  After our relaxing break, we went on to visit three churches including Saint Ulrich, Saint Anne, and the High Cathedral of Augsburg.  Each church was different in design, style, and decor, beautiful in their own individual elegance.  Despite their stark differences in ornamentation, all shared a graceful interior theme of peaceful sanctity.  The sun was just about to start its descent in the western sky and we were all running out of energy.  We said goodbye to the old city of Augsburg as we retraced our way back to the parking garage.  We once again walked along the picturesque canals of the working class guild district and passed by the ancient remaining exterior medieval wall and accompanying moat that still guarded the city.  Thanks to our good friend Annette Bock for a fantastic day and tour of her historically beautiful hometown!

Parting Shots of the Fuggerei


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