This is my favorite way to travel. I love to find a long-term (at least a few weeks) home base to explore, and to use it as a hub to see some of the region. This trip has been too much of a whirlwind – with too many location changes – to do much of that, but here in Munich for my last few weeks in Germany, I finally have the chance to board a small regional train and get out of town for a day trip. Today, I am exploring the city of Augsburg.
Augsburg is 30-45 minutes by train from Munich, depending on if one catches the faster ICE or slower regional train. Either way, trains run several times an hour, dropping one off in the walkable center of Augsburg, and back to Munich’s central station. Total cost, roughly €30 round trip, making it not the cheapest day trip out there, but certainly affordable.
Augsburg is cute. More importantly, it is historic, dating back to Roman times (with some Roman ruins still visible near the cathedral). The city was founded by Emperor Augustus (hence the name) in 15 BCE, and became the provincial capital of Raetia in 120 CE. It was sacked or conquered several times: by the Huns in the 5th century, by Charlemagne in the 8th century, and by the Duke of Bavaria in the 11th century.
From 1276 to 1803, it was a free imperial city, much like Frankfurt, directly under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor. This freedom made it a huge trading center. In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg protected religious rights (for Catholics and Protestants), extending to all imperial cities. In 1806, after the end of the Holy Roman Empire, Augsburg was absorbed by the Kingdom of Bavaria.
While sights in Augsburg range from the palace-turned-museum Schaezlerpalais to the home of Mozart’s father, my visit focused on three main attractions. The Cathedral of Augsburg dates back to the eleventh century. Relatively undamaged during World War Two – a rarity for German cathedrals in reasonably major cities – it is highlighted by stained glass and huge frescoes.
And don’t forget the Roman ruins out in front!
Moving forward in time, and about a fifteen minute walk from the cathedral, is something completely unique to Augsburg: the Fuggerei. Founded by Jakob Fugger, this claims to be the world’s oldest social housing project, with the original 52 units dating back to 1516-1523. The Fuggerei functioned as a separate town, with its own gates that locked at night, its own hospital, its own well, and chapel.
Over the centuries, the Fuggerei was expanded to its current size of 147 apartments. These are still available to the poor for a rent of 88 cents per year (not including utilities), but with a few conditions that remain unchanged since the earliest days of the complex. First, all residents must be local citizens of Augsburg who financially qualify. Second, they must be members in good standing of the Roman Catholic Church. Finally, they must pray three times per day while residents, ostensibly helping to keep the soul of Jakob Fuggar in heaven.
Conditions aside, it is a cool piece of history worth a visit, and tickets are cheap. Walk the streets, and pop into the museum, which includes an apartment with some original period furnishings. You might even find a plaque in the complex (I didn’t) that marks the apartment where Franz Mozart (Wolfgang Amadeus’ great-grandfather) lived from 1681 to 1694. (Mozart’s father Leopold also lived in Augsburg, and his home is a museum.)
Finally, make sure your day trip to Augsburg includes the old town hall. It still functions, so few rooms are open, but the main one that is easily gives value to the small admission fee: the Goldener Saal, or Golden Hall. While the town hall was completed in 1624, it took another twenty years – to 1643 – to finish this magnificent room of paintings, murals, and golden embellishments. (The building was badly damaged during World War Two bombing, so this is the refurbished version, reopened in 1996.)
It is overwhelming, and requires some serious time looking around, aided by an English card describing some of the features. Of note are the portraits of rulers from Roman times to the Holy Roman Empire and Bavaria, as it was in fashion to mark oneself the monarchical descendent of the Romans. (And since, as mentioned above, Augsburg was originally a Roman city, maybe here it holds true.) Most importantly, the room is stunningly shiny, aided by the rows of windows on two sides.
As far as day trips from Munich go, most guidebooks will suggest either Neuschwanstein Castle (although it is difficult to reach, requiring a guided tour or a car, and is both crowded and expensive) or Dachau (but I struggle with Holocaust memorials, let alone concentration camps). So if you want to get out of town for a fairly easy, and lovely, day, consider Augsburg.
(Alternatively, you can visit Landsberg am Lech, just south of Augsburg on the Lech River, but I hadn’t yet done that trip when writing this article. And while cute, Landsberg doesn’t have the historical significance of the much larger Augsburg.)
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