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The year is 1560. Picture three scenarios. (1) You are a young craftsman, supporting your widowed mother and one or two young siblings, and you have been injured, healing, and will be unable to work for more months than you have available savings to pay for your present rent and food. Or perhaps your employer no longer has the two small spare rooms available for your family. Or, (2) you are a widow with two children. You were supposed to marry a man who was a member of your late husband’s guild, but there was a fire. Most of your property was destroyed in the fire, and now the man will marry someone else. Or, (3) you are an apprentice, with two siblings too young to work. (Usually this meant less than five years old.) Your parents have just died, and then the master to whom you were apprenticed died before you received papers. You are therefore unable to find employment at wages to support and care for three people. What will you do?

During the fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries in Europe, there were several revolts by the less fortunate. Care for the poor was considered a local parish matter, whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. The political unrest and migrating population worried those in authority. In addition, the perception by authorities was that poverty, especially child poverty, was primarily due to lack of employment, not due to low wages. Therefore, the solution to poverty must be continual employment. If you were a member of the church, being poor and unemployed was allowed, occasionally expected. If you were a member of the nobility being unemployed was expected, and poverty was only embarrassment. If you were at the shopkeeper level or below, or in agriculture, being poor and unemployed was literally against the law.

In most places in Europe in 1560 (for example: England, France, Spain, the Netherlands), the newly or temporarily unemployed or impoverished might turn to family, possibly be sent to a workhouse, and probably lose custody of the children. Longer term unemployed might be whipped, imprisoned, indentured, enslaved, disfigured with boring holes through the ear or losing part or all of an ear, branded, transported to another city or even a different continent. Even lying about one’s birthplace might result in punishment, because of the local costs incurred after one was transported back there so that one was now “their” problem to support. Various later legal modifications in England allowed that repeated escapes and recapture could be met with a death penalty. Some localities made allowances for age, infirmity, recent release from military, death of a master, and so on, but these exceptions were not uniformly applied, even within one country. Simple begging often required obtaining and displaying a local begging license, similar to a taxicab owner medallion in some cities in the USA.

If lucky, one might find a place in a church shelter, fifty people to a room. Or one could become homeless, or turn to prostitution or theft. If one was lucky enough to be a citizen of Augsburg, and was a Roman Catholic, there was another option. A spot might be found in what was the first social housing project in Europe, the Fuggerei. It is called social housing because it is not run by the city of Augsburg, but by a charitable foundation trust set up by the Fugger family.

Fggr-jkbJakob “the Rich” Fugger, the youngest son, was sent by his prosperous business family to Venice, intending a career as a canon in the church and later, trained as a merchant. Brother Peter had died childless in 1473. Another brother who reached adulthood was Markus, a canon, who had died in 1478. Jakob was recalled from Venice in 1487 to participate in the business. Under his influence the family wealth grew greater. Still another elder brother, Georg, died in 1506. Eldest brother Ulrich died in 1510. The following year, in 1511, the Fugger family was elevated to nobility, and Jakob set up the Fuggerei Foundation.

The various relevant Wikipedia pages, Wall Street Journal articles, and the official Fugger family website agree on some facts, and disagree slightly on the timeline of other details. I will accept the official family version for the conflicts. Construction of a chapel in the St. Anna church began in 1509. Plans for a charitable foundation, including the Fuggerei, began in 1514. In 1514, Jakob Fugger bought up part of Augsburg and in 1516 came to an agreement with the city that he would build and provide a number of almshouses for needy citizens and began to build. A sum of 10,000 florins (worth about $1.6 million in 2014) was originally set aside by Jakob “the Rich” in an account to honor his late brothers Georg and Ulrich. Three projects were to be funded: the Fuggerei housing project, the Fugger Chapel in St. Anna Church, and a sermon endowment fund at St. Moritz. Jakob Fugger also designated the account in the name of Augsburg’s patron saint, St. Ulrich. The account could then receive direct interest from loans at higher than the customary 5% rate, bypassing the usury limitation for individuals. The account guaranteed 500 florins in interest yield annually for the foundations (about 70,000–80,000 in 2014 $US). The deed articles establishing the charitable foundation were written in 1521. Construction had begun several years earlier. By 1523, fifty-two two-dwelling houses had been built, and the Fuggerei had begun.

Jakob Fugger was very particular about who could become a beneficiary and resident. Dwellings were awarded only to those who were Roman Catholic citizens of Augsburg, having been there at least two years, honorable, needy, and willing to earn income. During the fifteenth century the Fugger wealth had mostly been earned in the mercantile sector, often as middlemen between producers and consumers. Jakob Fugger was well aware of the workers’ precarious financial position. He sought to serve craftsmen and laborers, with or without family, and to ensure that these citizens were not forced to beg or live in visible poverty. Residents of the Fuggerei paid rent of the sum of one Rhenish guilder per year, about the weekly wage of a craftsman. The rent has not changed in five hundred years, and today is worth less than one dollar. The admittance fee for visiting tourists is several times this. An additional burden was placed on the residents. They are required to recite three prayers daily for the souls of the Fugger family: an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and the Nicene Creed. These modest requirements were to offer the possibility of economic recovery from adversity through honest work.

There was another limitation. The poverty could not have resulted from debt. I propose that this restriction was placed because of his close familiarity with consequences of debt. His maternal grandfather went bankrupt in 1444. Jacob’s first cousin Lukas Fugger, second son of Andreas Fugger vom Reh (the first of that line) overextended and by 1499 had also made loans to the Habsburgs regarding a town in Belgium which were not repaid, causing his bankruptcy. His von der Lilie cousins helped pay off some debts before he and his family moved back to Graben, about twenty miles south of Augsburg, from whence his grandfather Johann had come in the middle of the previous century. In addition, by 1511 Jakob had personally witnessed or approved mounting loans to various members of the Habsburg royal families and church bishops for over thirty years. The Fugger enterprises had earned wealth, increasingly operating metal mines licensed from the governments or in lieu of loan repayments, and acquiring the county of Kirchberg and the estates in Weissenhorn from a mortgage default, while the royal families spent their wealth on armies, fighting, bribes, buildings, and extravagance, borrowing more and more, much of it from the Fuggers.

Fggr-strtThe original plans for the Fuggerei called for a city within a city. A wall surrounded the project, with the several entrance gates closing at 10 PM, then as now. There are two small grassy and wooded park areas and several lanes of buildings. Each residence was two floors and contained two apartments. The ground floor apartment has a small garden and a shed, while the upper has a small attic. Most of the residences have a functional and ample layout with several rooms, including a kitchen and a bathroom with running water, and are about sixty to seventy square meters in size. They have been updated with electricity and modern conveniences such as television. The doorbells have elaborate shapes, each being unique, dating back to before the installation of streetlights when residents could identify their unit by feeling the handle in the dark. Earlier, entire families lived in the Fuggerei units; today, the residents are predominantly singles or couples. There is also a so-called widow’s building. During the expansions after the Second World War, this building was oriented especially toward the needs of single individuals. The residences are unfurnished; residents provide their own furniture. The project has grown to one hundred forty-two apartments, completed in several phases. There is also a museum and an empty, model apartment for tourists.

Over time the Church of St. Mark, two museums and an administrative building were also built.

Originally Fuggerei had no church of its own. The residents visited the nearby St. James Church. During the Reformation that church, however, became Protestant when Augsburg turned against the emperor. Their side lost. Later, the Catholic Fuggers negotiated and received permission to build a new church on the Fuggerei property. On behalf of the administrators Markus (son of Anton Fugger (I)) and Philip Eduard Fugger (grandson of Raymund Fugger (I)), a new church was built from 1580, dedicated to St. Mark in 1582. The architect was probably Hans Holl.

The Waltenhausen Infirmary Foundation, started in 1548, emerged as another foundation under Anton Fugger to serve up to twenty-five needy male and female residents from Fugger properties. It is the only foundation set up to include the Fugger family members as possible beneficiaries. In the early-sixteenth century, sufferers of syphilis were often treated with a wooden or mercurial treatment. One of the buildings in the medical section, also established in 1548, was appropriately named the Wood and Smallpox House. Emperor Maximilian was once a patient in the medical section. The Foundation funded the houses, the means for treatment, doctors and nurses and even the aftercare. Around that time a charitable surgical building was established outside of, but not far from, the Fuggerei.

Further funds were placed in the foundation. The Fugger Chapel in St. Anna and the sermon endowment in St. Moritz were built in the original foundation charter of 1521. A portion of the family company trade surpluses, bequests, and other donations increased the endowments. Some of the money was donated from Fugger company employees. Income-producing manor property was purchased. During the sixteenth century, other foundations were added. After Anton Fugger’s death, both of his sons, Georg and Raymund, were joint administrators, with the leadership and a governing board passing down in similar inheritance. Currently there are nine foundations. In the seventeenth century, much of the foundation assets were transferred from higher-yielding investments into forested property, and this has been carefully managed. The annual return on the trust has ranged from an after inflation rate of 0.5% to 2%. According to the official website, currently 70% of the revenue is derived from forestry, 10% from real estate owned outside the Fuggerei, and 20% from entry fees. The trust is now administered by Wolf-Dietrich Graf von Hundt.

Fggr-bmbIn the seventeenth century, as a result of war, plague and hunger, Augsburg lost more than half of its residents and experienced destruction and hardship. In 1642, two buildings in the Fuggerei were completely destroyed; twenty-eight buildings were only partially inhabitable. The bombing raid on the night of the 25th to the 26th of February 1944 claimed seven hundred thirty lives in Augsburg. Two hundred Fuggerei residents escaped into the World War Bunker, which the Fugger Family Seniorat had the foresight to build in late 1943. Today, the bunker houses an exhibition that provides striking documentation of the attack, the extent of the destruction and the reconstruction of the Fuggerei. The settlement had to be significantly renovated. This task was predominantly carried out by the residents. Although the Fuggerei and the church were heavily damaged by the bombings of Augsburg during World War II, they have been rebuilt in its original style. Today there are several plaques on the grounds. One commemorates the Fugger Family, one records the residence of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s great-grandfather Franz Mozart from 1681–1694 during his time as a mason. It is a testament to the foresight of the Fugger family nearly five hundred years ago that the endowments were sufficient to repair and maintain this historic housing project.




Most of the information was obtained from:

The Fugger Family website,,

“Poor Relief”, and various other Wikipedia pages,,

Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society,,

“The Economic Condition of Spain in the Sixteenth Century”, by Bernard Moses , Journal of Political Economy, publ. by The University of Chicago Press, (Vol. 1, No. 4, Sep., 1893), pgs. 513-516.

Most other available Internet information on the Fuggerei advises travelers to Augsburg about sights and restaurants.