Saturday, January 30, 2010

Die Fuggerei

Saturday morning. A quick stop at the bakery for a Milchkaffee and a pastry before heading off to Augsburg just over an hour away. No particular reason. Just want to see what there is to see. We do this a lot and inevitably, when we are about half an hour away from home, I say, "Schei├če, I left all the guidebooks at home." I have at least four of them for Germany. Big, thick ones. Filled with lots of pertinent information that would come in handy when one is exploring unknown territory. Rick Steves. Lonely Planet. DK. Frommer's. I have them all. At home.

Fortunately, Augsburg is a big enough city to warrant an Information Center. With free walking maps. And lots of pamphlets on local points of interest that I am sure would also be noted in my guide books. At home.

One of the most notable attractions in Augsburg is the Fuggerei, the world's oldest social living complex. Founded in 1516 by the wealthy Fugger family, the Fuggerei is a small city within the city. High walls and gates at the four compass points surround a collection of single family row homes, a church, a bier garden, a museum, and a bomb shelter. Even though the Fuggerei was heavily bombed in World War II, it was restored outwardly to it's medieval appearance.

The concept was that the Fuggers, bankers by trade, and Jakob Fugger The Rich specifically, felt it was their obligation to help the less fortunate. They built, at their own expense, the Fuggerei to house some of Augsburg's neediest citizens. The Fuggerei is still in operation today and the rent is the same as it was almost 500 years ago - 1 Gulden (basically 1 Euro) a year plus three daily prayers for the founders and current financiers of the Fuggerei. To qualify you have to be Catholic and poor. With 67 houses and 147 apartments it's not going to solve the poverty problem but certainly it is a role model to aspire to. Truly, it's a pretty amazing concept. Just try to imagine any of our bank presidents, so predominant in the news for their outrageous bonuses, deciding to take some of the money from their own heavy pockets and use it to house and educate those in need. For the next five hundred years. Not. Going. To. Happen.

I thought it was so beautiful that every door bell in the Fuggerei is different. When the residents had to make their way home along the unlit streets, they could literally feel their way home until they got to their doorbell. I think TK outdid himself with this shot.

On our way back home, I started browsing through the pamphlet we picked up at the Information Center and it turns out that we missed two important things while visiting the Fuggerei.  There is an apartment whose interior is a reproduction of what the living quarters would have looked like in the 1500's and another apartment that shows an apartment today.  That's exactly the kind of thing I love - voyeurism passed off as the quest for knowledge.  Yeah, we spent all our time in the bomb shelter.  So guidebooks, pamphlets - makes no difference - they're all wasted on us.  But now we have a reason to go back again in the spring when everything is in bloom.

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