Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

back to overview

April 2000

Your Own Private Renaissance

Augsburg-Forty minutes and 1000 years away from Munich

To be born again, to experience a true “renaissance,” a city needs three things: an active intellectual life, a prolific arts scene and some extra cash. This condition aptly describes Augsburg, Bavaria’s third largest city located just 70 km away from downtown Munich. Bring the concept “renaissance” down to the individual level — by having an open mind, an appreciation of beauty and a little disposable income — and you’ve got an excellent weekend ahead of you.

When Munich was but a glimmer in the eye of an ambitious, salt-taxing, beer-brewing monk, Augsburg had already been an established city for some one thousand years. The once remote Roman military outpost Augusta Vindelicum, erected in 15 B.C. by Emperor Augustus at the confluence of the Lech and Wertach rivers, blossomed from a prosperous medieval town into an important center of trade and commerce, from 1500 to 1650. Thanks to the Fuggers, an Augsburg patrician family that knew a good opportunity when it saw one, and their good connections to the Habsburg dynasty, Augsburg played a seminal role in directing the flow of goods en route to the West from the Near and Far East. Goods that were transported along the Silk Road from China, eventually reaching the deft hands of Venetian merchants, still had to reach points much further north, such as Antwerp and London, to turn a profit. It is estimated that by the mid-17th century, the Fuggers had amassed between one-quarter and one-third of the world’s wealth through trade, mining and finance, all cleverly invested around the globe, including the fledgling American colonies. Although many of Augsburg’s buildings were destroyed or badly damaged in World War II, the architectural legacy of the Fuggers fortunately survived the extensive bombing. By far the most eye-catching and best restored, and the landmark for which the city is best known, is architect Elias Holl’s 1620 Rathaus (open daily 10–18). This town hall bears witness to Augsburg’s Italian business contacts, while remaining true to its own heritage.

Wonderfully curious, and completely unorthodox, the overall decorative program of the Rathaus’ exterior bears a certain resemblance to Venetian villas designed by renowned mid-16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. The structure is, oddly enough, crowned with two typically southern-German onion domes, reflecting the power and the attitude of the city’s most influential family. If the Fuggers were going to import the Renaissance from Italy, then the foreign import would have to bear the stamp of local power. On the third floor is the two-story-high Goldener Saal (Golden Hall), once an assembly hall, and now an ornate civic space open to the public. An adjacent exhibition tells the story of the Saal, and that of its unusually successful restoration in 1980s and 1990s, replete with such fascinating details as how gold leaf was lavishly applied to the room’s shimmering, exquisite coffered ceiling.

The Fuggerei, a social housing complex commissioned by the Fugger family for Augsburg’s poor (open daily March 1 – Dec. 23, 9 to 18), is in some ways a more impressive, if less ostentatious, monument to their wealth. Jakob Fugger the Rich (1459–1525) had it built from 1516 to 1523, and set the annual rent at one rheinisch gulden. Today, the complex is still inhabited by the poverty stricken. One year’s rent is set at DM 1.72, the modern equivalent of what it cost in 1523. The only other “payment” asked of tenants is that they pray once a day for the soul of the founder. Visit the Fuggerei on an April evening, as the sun sets, the starlings chatter and the sound of a gently splashing fountain echoes in the cool cobbled alleyways. Not at all a bad way to live — surrounded by peace and quiet, in an old quarter, just five-minutes’ walk from the bustling city center.

Back in town, an excellent selection of art commissioned by Augsburg’s leading family may be found in the Maximilianmuseum (Wed. – Sun., 10–16; admission DM 4), a five-minute walk from the Rathaus, in the city’s famous Fussgängerzone (pedestrian zone). The museum houses a collection of magnificent objects crafted from silver and gold, historical civic artifacts and architectural models.

The city’s main thoroughfare, Maximilianstrasse, is dotted with fountains made in the early 16th century by Dutch sculptor Adrian de Vries, who is the subject of the museum’s newly opened exhibition (Tues. – Sun., 10–19, through June 12). Deeper into the Fussgängerzone stands the Annakirche. The church interior and the Fugger funerary chapel (1518) represent a stunning work of German Catholic devotion to the Papacy. But this church, a former Carmelite abbey, is also where the Protestant reformer Martin Luther resided while visiting the city that same year to confront the imperial papal emissary Cardinal Cajetan, to discuss what we now call the Reformation. The now Protestant Annakirche’s tiny museum dedicated to Luther’s stay provides a glimpse into how the rebellious monk lived and worked during his fleeting time in what he had presumed to be hostile Catholic territory. Once you have had a good look at Renaissance Augsburg, take advantage of the many other aspects that make the city a relaxing and enjoyable place to visit. Occupied by the Romans around the time of Christ, by Swedes in 1632 and by various units of the U.S. Army from 1945 until last summer, the city is finally getting a long-awaited chance to regroup, build anew and grow. For the visitor, this translates into myriad shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities, all of which are comparable in quality to what Munich has to offer. In Augsburg, though, prices are often lower, and retail is nicely concentrated in or near the small Füssgängerzone.

One treasure not also found in Munich is contemporary surrealist painter and Augsburg native Wolfgang Lettl. In honor his 80th birthday, a retrospective exhibition is being held at the Zeughaus, containing 140 of Lettl’s colorful, spirited works from 1940 to today (through April 24; Tues., Wed., and Fri. – Sun., 10–18; Thurs. 13–21). Any fan of René Magritte’s oeuvre, that crazy Surrealism touched with humor, is guaranteed to fall in love with the lesser known, but more humane, Lettl. Many of the artist’s paintings are on permanent display at the Lettl-Atrium, Museum of Surreal Art, at the Augsburg/ Schwaben IHK on Stettenstrasse (open daily 8–20, Sat. 8–16, Sun. and holidays 11–17) near the Rathaus.

There is a lot to be said for a small city with so much character, a place frequently overlooked because of its proximity to Munich. That the two cities are so close to one another can be a distinct advantage for Münchner seeking something refreshingly new. Spend a weekend in Augsburg. Its renaissance — of both yesterday and today — will surely make you feel as though you’ve been reborn.

How to get there: >>> By car: Autobahn A8, toward Stuttgart, exit Augsburg-West; follow the signs for Stadtmitte, and for the city’s easy-to-find, easy-to-use Parkleitsystem.
>>> By train: Several trains depart every hour from Munich Hbf and Pasing Hbf to Augsburg Hbf; travel times vary between 35 and 55 minutes; see for the latest schedules.
>>> Regio Augsburg Tourismus, Ausgburg’s offical tourist office, offers special weekend rates, including the Adrian de Vries exhibition, hotels and city tours (for more information call (0821) 502 07-22 and -35, Fax (0821) 502 07-45 and -46). For general information when in the city, visit their office at Bahnhofstrasse 7.
>>> For further information on staying (hotels and guesthouses) and playing (events) in Augsburg, see the following Websites: and
>>> Restaurant tip: Delicious Swabian cuisine at Bauerntanz, Bauerntanzgässchen 1, Tel. (0821) 15 36 44, Fax 373 38. Reservations recommended.

tell a friend