The oldest social housing project in Germany
The oldest social housing project in Germany: It looks like a small Medieval town within a town.
A walled community in the heart of Augsburg, Germany, the Fuggerei has stood for 500 years—offering shelter for the poor and a haven from inflation and stinging rent hikes.
Touted as the oldest social housing project in the world, the Fuggerei hasn’t raised its rent even once since it was founded in 1521.
The gated community consists of 57 brick houses, enclosing 142 apartments and sheltering 142 occupants, who were originally charged only 1 Rhenish gulden for rent annually. This amounted to one month’s salary at the time.
That’s 0.88 euros (about $1) translated into today’s currency.
And rent has remained the same all these centuries thanks to the legacy of the Fugger family, who made their vast wealth trading textiles, and the Medieval merchant Jakob Fugger, fondly known as “Jakob Fugger the Rich.”
A wealthy financier and philanthropist, Jakob Fugger envisioned a community for needy Augsburgians who had fallen on hard times due to no fault. Provided they had no debt, they would be given an affordable living space from which to better their lives.
A precursor to today’s social career building, the nearly 50,000-square-foot complex was also equipped with workspaces where occupants could produce goods to support themselves and their families.
There were a few conditions, of course:
First, you had to have lived in Augsburg for at least two years.
You also had to be of the Catholic denomination.
Last, but certainly not least, you had to pray three times each day for the family of your benefactor, Jakob Fugger—a rule that remains in effect today.
While church registers are checked during candidate screenings, praying for the Fuggers could hardly be enforced so, reportedly, the matter was left solely between the occupant and Jakob Fugger in Heaven.
Despite seemingly antiquated rules, a community contact person told CBC Radio in 2021 that some 80 people were on the waiting list to stay in the complex.
“More people want to have an apartment on the ground floor, so they have to wait a long time for an apartment—maybe five, six, or seven years,” Doris Herzog, a social worker, told the station.
There are second-floor apartments as well, which have the added benefit of an attic.
On moving in, good community members will abide by established rules. For instance, one must be inside by 10 p.m. when the gates are locked for the night. Failing this a person must pay one euro to be admitted. Members must also contribute by volunteering as gardeners and nightwatchmen.
After the death of Jakob Fugger, the Fugger Foundation took the reins of the community, honoring his conditions and rent till now. It managed to stay ahead of inflation thanks to wise investments, mainly in forestry.
Over the centuries, the Fuggerei also endured setbacks. Its occupants once worshipped in a nearby church until it became Protestant during the Reformation, leading to the subsequent building of St. Mark’s Church onsite.
War also took its toll as the Fuggerei was damaged during the Thirty Years War and destroyed when Augsburg was bombed in World War II. But each time it was rebuilt according to the traditional style, as required.
Today, the community has become more than a haven from soaring rent prices, for tourists are welcome to visit, though they are asked to respect its inhabitants. One unit remains vacant, dedicated to public sightseeing. A modest entrance fee of 6.5 euros goes toward upkeep.
Among the attractions the Fuggerei has to offer, a stone plaque commemorates Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s great-grandfather, Franz Mozart, one among the many disadvantaged Germans who lived here.