Augsburg: Lederhosen, Wheat Beer, and Old World Attitude
Augsburg, Germany: Bavaria’s Finest City
By Melissa Santley
In the Southern part of Germany lies Bavaria, where most things associated with Germany originated.
Munich, the largest city in Bavaria, holds one of the most renowned festivals in the world — Oktoberfest. Lederhosen, wheat beer (or weiss beer), and the pragmatic conservative nature of Germans are prevalent here in Bavaria. Early in December, I visited the third largest city in Bavaria – Augsburg.
A Little History
As the second oldest city in Germany (after Trier) Augsburg’s immortality is undeniable. Augsburg is a city that has abided to a higher standard since Emperor Augustus reign in 15 B.C.
The Romans invested enough money and time into the area next to the River Lech to make Augsburg the most powerful military camp in the new empire under Augustus. The seed of Italian influence was planted during this time and gave Augsburg the tools to bear some of its global contributions.
Old world values and a stubborn dismissal of turning into a contemporary city create a serious demeanor amongst the community. Much of the city is subsidized by lineages living in Augsburg since the medieval times and their family coat of arms are stamped on their investments.
In between the Augsburgers stern staccato dialect, you will sense a genuine expression of pride when they describe Augsburg‘s uniqueness. Everything about the city was explained to me in a simple matter of fact style. Visually Augsburg was impressive with grand cathedrals and ornate Renaissance architecture.
Old World Style Cuisine Meets Modern Brewery
Restaurants in Augsburg were consistent in catering to the Bavarian cuisine. Again it’s their sense of pride in their traditions that would not deter them from serving the various types of Schnitzel, Kase Spaetzle, and Bavarian White Sausage.
Schnitzel can either be cuts of veal, pork or beef breaded and fried, whereas kase spaetzle is thick homemade noodles in cheese garnished with dried onions. I chose to have some kase spaetzle at the Konig von Flandern, a restaurant and brewery.
Instantly I was overwhelmed with the smell of the brewing beer permeating the restaurant. This would make sense since you can watch the brewing process over dinner, the tables and brewery share the same large open space.
Most of the clientele came in large groups, sharing 3-liter containers of beer. Entrees were just under $10- and bring a German/English dictionary. They don’t have a menu in English.
The Joke’s on Us
There is a little known secret about Augsburg that newcomers will certainly discover for themselves when lost. The endless amount of side streets and alleyways will confuse most people. This is a private joke amongst the Augsburgers and it is the source of much laughter when they witness countless tourists struggling over the City Map.
I joined the brunt of this joke myself and was quite confused amid the maze of Augsburg’s streets. Luckily, an English speaking tour guide clued me in after the third time I asked her to how get back to my accommodation at the Augsburg Hof.
The tour guide was also really helpful in showing me the streetcar, or tram, system enabling me to associate different stops with landmarks. The Tram is only $5 for a 24-hour pass and I suggest this method of travel so you don’t end up wasting your time staring at the map.
The Augsburger Hof is not for the budget traveler, prices range from $80 – $140 a night. However, its luxurious atmosphere complimented the lifestyle of Augsburg.
Conveniently it is located across from the Mozarthaus, my frequented tram stop, and a stone’s throw away from the Dom of the Holy Virgin.
Some Beautiful Sites One Should Not Miss
The Dome of the Holy Virgin is a beautiful cathedral that any visitor to Augsburg should see. The oldest part of the cathedral dates back to 823 AD. Inside you will see original paintings by Hans Holbein the Elder depicting St. Mary’s Visitation. Art historians flock to this cathedral to view the oldest stained glass windows (Dating as far back as 1140 AD) illustrating prophets Jonas, Hosea, and Moses.
One of the most sought after attractions in Augsburg is the world’s oldest social settlement, the Fuggerei. This estate is named after an innovative yet profitable businessman, Jakob Fugger, whose wealth is comparable to Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates.
The Fuggeri houses 200 impoverished Catholic tenants who pay a symbolic rate of one Euro annually to live in the estate. Rows of quaint yellow flats embraced by vines have stood on this street since 1523. My visit was during the Advent season so I saw rows of Christmas trees along the immaculate streets of the Fuggeri, as well as their annual Christmas Market.
Focused on selling Christmas trees and themed holiday ornaments, arts and crafts vendors sip Gluehwein, a mulled wine, while awaiting customers. My curiosities to see what lay behind the short green entrances of the flats were satisfied by the Fuggeri Museum. House No. 13 of the Fuggeri allows you to experience the small dimensions of the kitchen, bedroom, and living room contained in the famed social housing.
Greeted By Hercules on Maximilian Street
Flashy with a grandiosity of Renaissance architecture and art, Maximilian Street is a sight to behold. Once a part of the Imperial Mile leading to Rome, this street proves to be your usual tourist haunt with cafes and shopping. Replica fountains of Hercules and Mercury greet you on Maximilian Street, while the sun casts a shadow behind St. Ulrich Church at its far end.
The original fountains of Mercury and Hercules created by Adrian De Vries can be found in the Maximilian Museum. The original Augustus statue by Hubert Gerhard is also exhibited here, while the imposter points to Rome in front of the City Hall. The Maximilian Museum focuses on the silver and goldsmiths of the medieval period.
The Fugger family coat of arms grace many of the buildings along this Imperial Mile, one in particular is the Damenhof or Ladies Courtyard. Built by Jakob Fugger in 1515 this Renaissance courtyard is unimpressive without any furnishings. While it was winter during my visit, my imagination couldn’t help but picture how it would look amongst lush greenery, sunlight and café patrons during a summer afternoon.
St. Ulrich and Afra at the end of Maximilian Street demonstrate the peaceful existence of two religions exercising their beliefs in the same space. Built in 1474, this former Benedictine Monastery reaches 93 meters with its impressive tower. The iron gates you pass through upon entering the Catholic basilica give a new perspective on the late Gothic interior.
Seeing the City From Atop the Perlach Tower
With St. Ulrich at your back and walking down Maximillian Street, you will have passed Hercules and Mercury only to stumble upon Augustus guarding Augsburg’s two important landmarks- the Perlach Tower and City Hall. Both were designed by Elias Holl who served as the city’s architect from 1615-1620. City Hall is considered to be the most important secular Renaissance building north of the Alps, and is popular with the tourists.
The Golden Seal inside City Hall is absolutely astonishing. An array of golden artistry, murals of past rulers, and mythical figures adorn the ceiling and walls. The Perlach Tower, once a watchtower, offers stunning views of the city atop its 70 meter ascend.
From Mozart to Brecht
History and architecture aside, my visit to Augsburg included a tour of the homes of two creative dignitaries. The first was the home of Leopold Mozart, father of Wolfgang Amadeus. His house is now a museum called Mozarthaus. It features his life work which was also in music. While Leopold’s son certainly overshadowed his own music career, this museum shows us where Wolfgang Amadeus inherited his talent from. While impersonal in its simplicity, Mozarthaus showcases original home furnishings, historic documents, and paintings of the Mozart family.
Hidden in the folds of the Lech District and a few steps away from the Mozarthaus, is the home of a more contemporary and rebellious artist. Bertolt Brecht, writer and playwright was born in the house on Auf dem Rain 7. Marxist in his writing philosophies, Brecht has inspired many and caused controversy per his involvement with the HUAC trials in the U.S.
Brecht’s house is now a museum focusing on the life work of one of Germany ’s most influential writers of the 20th century. The Brechthaus can be found like most buildings in the Lech District by walking along a series of bridges over the canals directing the Lech River. This museum is a spectacle in itself collaborating carefully designed lighting, strong color themes, and modern exhibitions of his work to form an intimate impression of Brecht.
The Pinecone of Immortality, Fertility and Unity
A solid stone pinecone has been the symbol of Augsburg as far back as anyone can remember. The oldest relic discovered was 2000 years old. This symbol has deeply etched intersections engraved into its bottom-heavy conical shape. The pinecone, which is seen sporadically over the city today, became a part of Augsburg’s coat of arms in 1275. Augsburg, as the pinecone symbolically represents, is a city of immortality, fertility and unity.
I thought this was one of the best articles I have read about Augsburg, Germany which is my home town. I was born there and my roots are there. I even lived at the Fuggeri as a small child and remembered it to be a little spooky. So as an adult to see it again, sure brought back many memories. I am always amazed when I read great articles and learn even more about my home city.
I plan on visiting my family members again in December of 2008 during the Christmas holidays which will be the first visit ever during the winter season and am very excited about it. I just love the Spa’s in Germany and in Konig’s Brun (a small village near Augsburg) where my cousin lives and whom I stay with. Also have a brother, uncle, nephews, niece scattered throughout the Augsburg area. I feel like a young child whenever I visit there and hope once I am retired, I can live there parttime. Thanks again for your good reading material of my home city.
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