Augsburg, with its Mozart heritage, is one of the most historically significant cities in Germany – not to mention one of the prettiest. As you stroll through the city's ancient streets, it doesn't take much imagination to gain a sense of Augsburg's importance as a prominent financial centre, international trading hub and focal point for the fine arts in the days when the Fugger banking empire was at its peak.
Augsburg shaped the history of Germany and Europe over a long period, having always been a little richer, and more glamorous and imposing than other cities. Augsburg's superb fountains, grand old guildhouses, exquisite churches and, of course, the Town Hall – perhaps one of the most important secular Renaissance buildings north of the Alps – combine to form a cityscape of rare intensity. More recent periods have also left their mark, most notably the Baroque and Rococo eras and – much later – the art nouveau movement, all of which turn a stroll through the city into a very special experience. Since as long ago as the High Middle Ages travellers have been marvelling at Augsburg's stately churches, including the cathedral with its stunning bronze portal (now nearly 1,000 years old) and the Basilica of St. Ulrich and St. Afra, named after two patron saints of the city. Another marvel was the wealth of the Fugger dynasty, which emerged as a powerhouse of capitalism in the space of just three generations. The Fuggers' mercantile and banking empire stretched from the Adriatic up to the North Sea and from the Atlantic Ocean across to eastern Europe. Jakob Fugger and his brothers gave the city some of the earliest Renaissance buildings north of the Alps, including the Fuggerei, the world's first social housing project, and the Fugger chapel in St. Anna. Jakob Fugger soon gained a reputation as a man of unfathomable wealth, though this paled in comparison with his nephew's fortune: Anton Fugger was considered the world's richest man in the mid-16th century. For fear that this would make the city a likely target for attack, Augsburg surrounded itself with extensive fortifications and a continuous city wall, parts of which can still be seen today.
Numerous gold and silversmiths settled within the city walls, and over the centuries their guild established an excellent reputation. Their works are on display in various museums and exhibitions and are even sold in some of the many smaller stores still in existence today. There is a second family with close ties to the city: the Mozarts. Leopold Mozart, father to Wolfgang Amadeus and an influential composer in his own right, was born here. The Augsburg Mozart Festival, traditionally held every May, not only focuses on famous works by the father and son composers, but also offers a fascinating insight into their family, friends, fellow musicians, rival composers and the period in which they lived. Another great event in Augsburg is the annual Brecht Festival, a theatre festival in honour of the city's influential – if occasionally obstinate – son, Bertolt Brecht. Even in the eyes of the locals, the writer was for a long time a controversial and largely unpopular figure. However, the people of Augsburg have since made their peace with him and have dedicated a fascinating exhibition to his memory in the house where he was born. Other museums in the city turn attention to different periods of history, most notably the Schaezler Palais, a highlight of the rococo with its four eminent art collections. The Museum of the Augsburger Puppenkiste puts the spotlight on this adorable string puppet theatre, a fond childhood memory for generations of visitors. And in the evenings, in one of the many cosy bars in the old town, there will always be somebody who will happily discuss Augsburg's puppet theatre, Brecht or Mozart at length. Or you might want to ask them about the eighth of August, the world's only state-approved public holiday to be celebrated in just one city. The occasion? Augsburg's High Peace Festival.
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