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The Fuggerei ~ Augsburg in Bavaria Germany

Dear Art Lover,

     Hello and happy holiday times!  My brother Steve and I recently visited Munich, Germany, together.  During our time there, we took the train on a day trip to Augsburg (one of the oldest cities in Bavaria, Germany).  I tend to prefer towns smaller than lovely Munich, and we found a jewel that I wanted to share with you this holiday season.

      [I know that this is an art newsletter, but life and creative living are connected.  Still, if you prefer to scroll down to the bottom, you will see this month's featured artworks.]

The Fuggerei

Fuggerei community Christmas tree selling and gluhwein market

     We stumbled upon this Christmas market, which was the smallest I had ever seen.  The community was selling Christmas trees (you see the tubes used to wrap them in netting for easier transportation home) and Glühwein (the German spiced mulled wine enjoyed during the winter holidays).

One charm of the Fuggerei neighborhood was the tree covered buildings

      Back in 1521, when Rome controlled this part of Bavaria, there were about 30,000 residents from all walks of life living in Augsburg.  Back then, the Fuggerei, now the world's oldest social housing complex, housed from 300 to 350 of the "hidden poor" (defined by the little museum we walked through as "those still able and willing to work, but too poor to support themselves and too proud to beg").

     More than 30 percent of the city's population centuries ago depended on the textile industry.  Augsburg was a merchant city, too, in that it was an important intersection along the roads to major cities in other countries from several directions.  The Romans had a direct line (the famous Roman Roads), for example, to go to Verona, Italy.

      That industry, however, made many people vulnerable to economic hardship with each downturn.  Wars, floods, crop failures, and epidemics could ruin many a family if they had only small savings.

     Taxes were raised not by income, but by property or savings worth more than 75 guilders.  For properties worth more than 3000 guilders, there was a higher tax.  For those who had less than 75, a head-tax was paid instead.  In those days, those who earned less than 50 guilders per year, would not be able to support their own lives, although 100 guilders (two-to-three years' wages for a typical craftsman) could support one to old age or in times of crises.  

From the museum writings:

     "In 1521, Jakob Fugger signed the charter of foundation for the charitable housing quarter that would later be called 'Fuggerei.'  As headquarters of numerous large trading companies at the time, Augsburg was one of the most important economic hubs in Europe and a significant political centre in the Holy Roman Empire.

     People of many social classes lived in the economically and culturally flourishing city.  Social boundaries existed not only between the rich and the poor, however.  Belonging to a certain group or profession also determined the reputation and influence of any individual.  Honour was an important value.  People, whether rich or poor, were viewed as honourable if they complied with a certain set of societal rules."

The world's oldest social community housing exists in Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany.  Map shows layout of town and the location of the Fuggerei

     The Fuggerei became a place for those in need to be able to live independently and in dignity.  They were not allowed to beg.  They received low rents and good housing conditions.

     The vision started with the three Fugger brothers:  Georg, Jakob, and Ulrich.  They built a chapel and family crypt in the Church of St. Anne, formerly known as "The Brothers of our Blessed Mother."  

     In 1506, Georg died.  Ulrich followed four years later.  

     In 1514, Jakob Fugger bought properties to create housing for those proud in need. Two years later, he reached an agreement with the city to regulate the taxation for the anticipated Fuggerei.  The yearly rent was set at 1 Rhenish guilder.

     The dream of the three brothers was finally realized by Jakob in 1521.  That year, he signed a charter for THREE foundations:  the Burial Chapel in the Church of St. Anne's, the predicant office at the Church of St. Moritz, and the housing complex at Kappenzipfel, the Fuggerei that exists today.  

     Jakob stated that only the male descendants of his brothers could lead the foundations.  Ulrich's male line died out in the next generation, but Georg's masculine successors have continued to this day.  The terms that have been kept by generations of Fuggers include:  If possible, the core idea of the foundation must not be changed and be performed for eternity.  Per the foundation charter, the person in charge of the Fuggerei must follow the will of the founder, Jakob Fugger.  

     And despite historic events, challenges, and developments, they have managed to house thousands of residents in this way, mostly without interruption for over 500 years!

     Some prime examples of historical struggles:  between 1632 and 1635, Swedish troops occupied the city and evicted residents of the Fuggerei for their own use.  Afterwards, many of the community houses were destroyed.  Since the Fugger Foundations were struggling financially due to missing interest payments, many residents rebuilt their homes.

    The Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) started as a religious conflict between the Roman Empire and the emerging non-Catholic faiths before growing into a huge and devastating political battle in much of Europe.  It taught a powerful lesson to the Fuggers Foundations.  Initially, they had investments in assets that yielded interest payments.  However, few of those panned out even in the years following the war.  

     From 1660 onward, the foundation bought estates that included farm and woodlands, i.e., real property.  From this they were able to expand forestry practices that sustain the foundations to this very day.

Fuggerei social community for those in need and too proud to beg
charm and functionality (see the stair steps up to the roof built in?) of the Fuggerei, affordable housing

     Growing pains:  Around 1890, there were so many applicants to enter the Fuggerei that the wait was anywhere from 15 to 18 years to become a resident there!

     Centuries after the investment restructure, in 1923, devaluation of currency caused huge losses for many other foundations and charities.  The Fugger Foundations survived due to their reliance on property and realty instead of finance.  However, the number of applicants for the Fuggerei increased from small businessmen and those who were self-employed, who had not invested in such stable resources.

     In 1933, many foundations and charities in Germany found themselves in danger of losing their independence as the Nazi organizations wanted to incorporate them.  The discontinuation of tax shelters, as well as large, additional tax payments, enticed the Fugger Foundations to get creative just to survive.

     During the Second World War, the Fuggerei community built an air-raid shelter in 1943.  Sadly, the air strikes of 25 and 26 February 1944 destroyed seventy-five percent of the Fuggerei neighborhood.  750 people died and 80,000 lost their homes.  But only three days later, 1 March, the council decided to rebuild.

Telephone of former administrator of the Fuggerei in Augsburg Bavaria

Telephone of the former Administrator Baron Von Pölnitz
     Many people work in different professions for the Fuggerei:  forestry, finances, administration, social education, pastoral care, public relations, building maintenance, archive preservation.  The administrator of the Fuggerei is responsible for the management.  Moreover, he is available as a kind of mayor for the concerns of the residents.

View of the kitchen in community housing with only the wood entry point of the stove in the kitchen.. the rest in the living room. A window serves to view and to pass things through.
Cooking is done in a safe way that also serves to warm the house

     In the two above and detail below, you see a typical kitchen of the community housing in Augsburg, Bavaria.  The wood burning stove is mostly situated in the room behind the wall containing the window.  That allows both rooms to be heated, while keeping the dirt, soot, and smoke limited to the kitchen.  Food was cooked over an open flame as you see the setup on the right. 

     The window served two main purposes:  to pass things through (tea, anyone?) to the living room, and to monitor activities in that room, for example, for the mother to keep an eye on a young child playing there. 

The stove was in the next room over, keeping smoke and soot limited to the kitchen.

     Below you see the typical simple living room in this little museum of community housing in Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany.  Tenants have the option also to work at home, thus avoiding slipping into poverty.  Note the small window from the kitchen, and the wood burning stove.  They used to use a tile type of stove, but they were high maintenance and dangerous.  Thus, as technology improved over the centuries, they were replaced with cast iron.

living room of low-rent housing in Germany, also used as a home studio

     Now you see a simple bedroom.  The small cradle with rounded forms to rock the baby is seen a bit on the lower right.  The two wooden boxes that look like drawers were actually pulled out each night for small children to sleep in.  I found it interesting that it was stated that centuries ago, people slept sitting upright.  The horizontal position was too closely associated with death! 

simple wooden bed shown with drawers underneath the straw mattress that were for young children to sleep in
this decorative box painted in German floral designs hangs on the wall as a key chest
Beautiful Bavarian houses in snow with pine tree outside and dormant vines crawling the walls
Detail of community housing in Augsburg Bavaria Germany, the Fuggerei building.

Charming, no?

charming home front with sleeping vines covering most of the wall, with the A-frame top roof shape. picturesque Bavaria
Germany must be the epitomy of European Christmas charm.  look at this house with snow-covered pine tree in front

I just could not decide which photos to eliminate, despite the fading light! 

Are you as enchanted as I am with this little village inside the city of Augsburg?

windows decorated with white paper cutout designs of houses and nativity scenes, Augsburg Bavaria Germany Fuggerei
a tall lit Christmas tree matches the shape of the pointed roof in Augsburg Germany the well is also covered with snow
Each house has a small yard area to garden or work or live as one chooses in the Fuggerei. Many build small sheds to store firewood and such, Augsburg
Each house has a small yard area to garden or work or live as one chooses in the Fuggerei. Many build small sheds to store firewood and such, Augsburg
These German houses in Bavarian Augsburg look like Christmas cards, here a snow covered pine tree in front
Christmas tree lights up the night in this charming neighborhood of the Fuggerei in Augsburg Bavaria Germany
Small German Christmas market for Gluhwein and bratwurst in the Fuggerei Augsburg Bavaria

     You may see it is properly dark now, a few days before the solstice.  Steve and I headed back to the central square where the much larger German Christmas market was filled with people and music. We bought the traditional LONG wursts on the much shorter, but still long bun.  With mustard, of course!  Augsburg is a charming town and we did not see so much of it... imagine what else?  We did not have time to see the Mozart homes nor much of anything else, but we both enjoyed learning about the Fuggerei.  Good ideas that obviously stand the test of time need to be shared.


Art News:

Happy holidays from my artist friends and me.  Here are two works by the mitico Vasily Fedorouk.

Sun, an abstract granite sculpture by Vasily Fedorouk, shown in a garden with brick walls

and here is "Children of Paradise," marble:

Children of Paradise figure sculpture in marble, shown here in a dramatic image of a sunset on the cliffs, art by Vasily Fedorouk


and my pastel and charcoal drawing:  Pensive in Bologna:

original charcoal and pastel drawing of man sitting alone under Italian architecture
Pensive in Bologna, drawing of lone man sitting in architecture in Bologna, shown framed of wall in dining room


     Have a wonderful new year celebration.  Please contact me if you would like to enhance your home or office with original fine art, or even prints.

Thank you for another wonderful year! 


Kelly Borsheim, artist


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