|(image taken from the web)|
As beautiful as the castle is, the more that I read about it, the less appealing the excursion sounded to me. It is a two hour train ride and then a bus ride to the castle. Tickets should be purchased ahead of time because you are assigned a time slot. You are required to take a guided tour through the castle. With the hordes of tourists that descend upon Neuschwanstein, the tour groups are usually made up of about 60 people. You are herded through a few rooms of the castle on a 30 minute tour, and no photography is allowed inside. It sounded like too much of a hassle.
Before leaving on the trip I was looking for someplace else that would be a worthwhile excursion from Munich. The city of Augsburg, just a 30 minute train ride from Munich, is one of the oldest cities in Germany, and has a number of places of interest. So last Saturday morning, I walked over to the train station, and hopped on a train to Augsburg.
Augsburg is a pleasant city of over 300,000 people. It was founded in 15 B.C. as a Roman outpost. Throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was one of the most important trading and banking centers of Europe. It was at the forefront of the Protestant Reformation. (Augsburg was largely Protestant while nearby Munich was staunchly Catholic.) The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 guaranteed religious freedom in the city.
There were tourists in the city, but almost all of them were Germans. The level of tourism was manageable; I never felt as if I were engulfed in a crowd of visitors.
The number one attraction is its city hall which was built in the 1600's. It is considered one of the most important examples of secular Renaissance architecture north of the Alps.
It is certainly an attractive building, but it is the interior that makes it worth a visit. Upstairs the city fathers created a lavish assembly room called the "Golden Hall".
The ceiling, which is nearly 6000 square feet in size, is covered in mural paintings and gold gilt.
Number two on the list of places to see in Augsburg is an usual place called the "Fuggerei". The Fuggers were one of the wealthiest merchant and banking families in Europe. In fact, they were the bankers to the Holy Roman Emperors and the Popes.
The family patriarch Jakob Fugger constructed an enclosed settlement in 1516 for craftsmen and laborers who, through no fault of their own, had fallen on hard times. The rent for one of the row houses in the "Fuggerei" was one guilder per year. The only requirements were that the family be Catholic and pray three times a day for the Fugger family. It is still administered by members of the Fugger family, and it is the world's oldest social housing complex still in use. The residents, the majority of them today are senior citizens, still pay the equivalent of one guilder per year... about 88 cents.
Although people still live here, tourists may visit the "Fuggerei" and several of the rowhouses contain museum exhibits.
One of the houses is furnished the way it might have been back in the 1500's.
Another is furnished as a typical residence of today. Of course everything has been updated with modern conveniences. Not a bad place for 88 cents per year in rent!
The chapel of the "Fuggerei". I wonder if the residents today are still required to pray three times a day for the Fuggers?
On the main street of Augsburg, the former palace of the Fugger family still stands. It would seem that the Fuggers are still bankers because part of the ground floor contains the offices of the "Fugger Privatbank".
There are also numerous old churches that are worth visiting.
The Gothic Cathedral contains a number of medieval stained glass windows that survived the bombings in World War II.
I mentioned that Augsburg was on the border between Protestant Germany and Catholic Germany. That duality is exemplified by the Church of Saints Ulrich and Afra. One part of the church is Lutheran, the other is Catholic.
To top it off, I had a tasty lunch in the Ratskeller Restaurant in the basement of the city hall. My schnitzel was a cutlet marinated in mustard and horseradish, breaded with pretzel crumbs, and fried in butter.
I had a thoroughly enjoyable day in Augsburg, and I do not regret missing the tourist pandemonium of Neuschwanstein Castle. Ironically just a few days later I read an article encouraging travelers to shy away from the over-visited tourist sites and go to lesser known places.