Where else besides this old Roman city can you sit in the Fuggerkeller, a handsome subterranean restaurant, and wash down a Swabian rostbraten with a Fuggerbier made by the Fuggerbrewerie?
If the bill comes high, you can slip next door and negotiate a loan at the First Fugger Bank. Others have done as much, including Charles V and Emperor Maximilian, who lodged at the Fugger town house while dickering for an imperial touch.
What is a Fugger? I thought you would never ask.
A Fugger is a member of an immensely rich family, a mercantile clan that ran up an early fortune in Augsburg trading in silks and textiles, and working silver and gold mines across Europe. As far back as the 16th century, the Fugger saddle bags are said to have bulged with the equivalent of $17.5 million. No one really knows what the present-day Fuggers, several of whom are listed in the telephone directory, are worth.
The patriarch of this fulsome family was Jakob Fugger, known among his intimates, and those who would like to have been, as Jakob the Rich. His portrait, lean of face and unfettered by ornamentations, hangs in Augsburg's museum, the work, no less, of Albrecht Durer.
Aside from financing emperors, Jakob the Rich helped the poor. He founded the Fuggerei, a self-sustained village set aside for the aged and the indigent. It was perhaps the world's earliest social housing settlement. To snare one of the 150 apartments at the Fuggerei an applicant must be Catholic, married, poor and a citizen of Augsburg clear of criminal record. The rent for a year is one Rheinische gulden, at today's rate of exchange, 1.71 marks or about 95 cents American. A year!
In return for such preferred lodging, those admitted to the Fuggerei -- then as now -- are obliged to pray three times a day for the Fuggers. By this mass appeal to the Almighty, the Fuggers have hoped to assure themselves a front-row seat in heaven. Within the compound, whose gates are locked at night, is a Fugger church decorated handsomely with flowers and candles.
A restaurant known as -- what else? -- the Fuggerstube is outside the gates, but those residents who are thirsty after the 10 p.m. curfew hour can apply for a beer at the pass-through window to the stube cut through the wall near the church.
The Fuggerstube is otherwise open to the public who come here to dine on a Fuggerplatte (filets of beef on a skewer), or a Fuggertopfchen, the same filet cooked in a casserole with mushrooms and spatzle, a homemade noodle.
While the Fuggers amassed a fortune on dry land, the Welser family was performing as handsomely on the high seas. At one time they owned Venezuela, which they held for 40 years. Bartholomew Welser sailed south to be its viceroy.
Philippine, a beauteous daughter of the Welsers, married Archduke Ferdinand of Austria. This half-Habsburg connection was never fully accepted by the court, and Philippine passed the time dabbling in the gastronomic arts. She left a rare cookbook when she died in 1582. A private restaurant called the Welser Kuche, on the Maximilianstrasse, the old Roman road, now serves a four-hour medieval meal using Philippine's recipes.
And then there were the Schaezlers, who owned a splendid palace where the 14-year-old Marie Antionette stayed on her way to marry the 16-year-old Louis XVI. The palace was the home of the Schaezlers until 1958. After the Baron von Schaezler's two sons were killed during the last war, the mansion was given to the city to house a baroque gallery.
The magnificent Hall of Mirrors, with its chandeliers, paneled floor, and gilded moldings, is the setting for part of the Mozart festival held in Augsburg each summer. Then the ballroom is lighted with 365 candles, and the ancient walls that once rang with the laughter of young Marie Antionette echo to the strings of a chamber music ensemble.
On suitable weekends, summer or no, there are often concerts on the broad Rathausplatz, the city hall square. Tables are set up near the burbling fountain dedicated to Augustus, the Roman who founded the town 2,000 years ago. A museum houses assorted Roman relics, many of them discovered accidentally in 1911.
As for the Fuggers, they are buried in St. Anna's Church. It is a curious turn of fate for the Fuggers who always kept a family member -- usually a cardinal -- at the Vatican. It was to St. Anna's that Martin Luther, an Augustian monk, was ordered to answer to the papal legate for his religious declarations. During the trial, in October 1518, Luther stayed here in a modest cell.
In 1525, the first Protestant mass was celebrated at this church, which became and remains Protestant. The Fuggers left their dead (jakob included) in the tomb in the floor. But, threatening to remove the rich ornamentation including carvings designed by Durer -- all part of their private collection -- they laid down one request. And so once a year in this Fugger-flavored city, a Catholic mass is celebrated in this Protestant church to pray for the souls of Jakob and all the Fuggers.
In most places rich is better, but in Augsburg it is heavenly.