In 1516, Jakob Fugger ‘the Rich,’ a wealthy merchant from Augsburg, Germany, decided to dedicate a place to his town’s needy, where they could live without the perpetual stress of paying rent from their low salaries. Fugger called the place ‘Fuggerei,’ and it went on to become a walled town within the city of Augsburg. While Fugger’s noble idea earned him many blessings at the time, the place still arouses ballyhoo even after 500 years of its establishment.
The town was first built under the direction of architect Thomas Krebs between 1514 and 1523. It was further developed in 1582 by Hans Holl, who added the St. Mark’s Church to the settlement. It was expanded more in the years 1880 and 1938, respectively. Today, the town of Fuggerei comprises 67 houses with 147 apartments, a well, and an administrative building.
Strict Rules of Fuggerei
Ever since the settlement was established, there have been some strict conditions that one must follow to become a part of Fuggerei’s community. The first and most important condition is that a person must have lived at least two years in Augsburg. If you satisfy this condition, you had to be with a ‘debt-free’ low-income Catholic to fulfill the second condition.
Furthermore, the residents of Fuggerei had to say three prayers a day for the Fugger family. The curfew time for people to return to their homes was set at 10 p.m. After the ton gates were locked, a penalty was levied for late entry into the town.
Fugger donated the complex to the city of Augsburg in 1521 and continued to run the city until his death. He once said that “the town is meant to last forever,”; and his prophecy still is true, at least till today. The town continues to be in existence with no changes to the initial rules and regulations. Even the rent has not been changed for 500 years.
The town charged just one Rheinischer Gulden (about 0.88 Euro today) per year, which was one month’s salary of laborers of the time. And to date, the town charges the same rent! It means that for rent of under $1, or around Rs 73, the city of Fuggerei lets you rent a well-built house for a year!
Fuggerei is home to 150 residents of all ages. With 67 buildings, neatly built streets, small squares, and a Catholic church, the town is the world’s oldest social housing complex that is still in use.
The Town & Community of Fuggerei
If you are wondering what one can even get for the sheer amount of Rs 73, well, then you haven’t been told that each apartment in the Fuggerei has a bedroom, a living room, a full kitchen, and a bathroom with a shower or tub altogether totaling about 60 square meters. This is what you can have for Rs 73.
All apartments are fitted with modern conveniences such as television and running water. The apartments on the ground floor come with a small garden, whereas upper floor apartments are equipped with attics. One ground-floor apartment is uninhabited and serves as a museum for the general public.
The doorbells for apartments are uniquely built with elaborate shapes dating back to the era before streetlights were used. Residents used to identify their door by feeling the uniquely created handle in the dark.
People of Fuggerei still have to say three prayers a day, which are the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and the Nicene Creed and work a part-time job in the community.
The town is supported by a charitable trust established in 1520 with an initial deposit of 10,000 Guilders by Fugger. According to the Wall Street Journal, the trust has been carefully managed over the centuries. Most of its income is generated from forestry holdings, which yield an annual post-inflation rate of about 0.5% to 2%.
The Fugger family initially established their wealth in the textile weaving and merchandising industry. Jakob Fugger ‘the Rich’, also known as Jakob the Younger, expanded the family’s business interests into silver mining and trading with Venice’s merchants.
The Fugger family later became one of the Habsburg royal family’s financial backers, and Jakob Fugger financed the successful election of Charles V as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1519.
Fugger’s wealth played a significant role in the initial years of the settlement. Five hundred years later, the Fugger Family Foundation is currently headed by Maria-Elisabeth Gräfin Thun-Fugger and née Gräfin Fugger von Kirchberg. Other members on the foundation’s board are Alexander Graf Fugger-Babenhausen and Maria-Theresia Gräfin Fugger-Glött, representing the three branches of the Fugger family tree in the foundation.
Just as the Fugger wanted, neither the rent nor the regulations have changed to date. The residents continue to abide by the conditions set in the 16th century, and the town continues to exist on the same note.