Wednesday 21st May 2014, Augsburg
The campsite gave us train times and, as it was some way to the station at Illertissen, we packed up Modestine and found somewhere to park in good time for the 10.20 train. There was a queue in the ticket office with people making very complicated enquiries, so Ian found a ticket machine and puzzled his way through the complex procedures up to the point of paying for a group ticket to Ulm. The machine then refused to accept his card, and also two different 20 Euro notes he tried to insert. He returned to the ticket office to find the queue no shorter and the train about to arrive. So, we gave Ulm up as a bad job and decided to drive to Augsburg – a gap in our earlier itineraries.
The motorway was being widened from four to six lanes along most of its length, but the traffic flowed well and by twelve we has arrived at a campsite way out on the edge of town near the airfield where we left Modestine and caught the bus into Augsburg.
Augsburg is a city of 275,000 people, long a flourishing commercial centre, and the city that introduced Renaissance ideas to Germany. Most of the sights are conveniently strung along the main north-south axis formed by the Carolinastrasse and Maximilianstrasse. It is graced by three grand fountains, the first we saw being the Augustus fountain in the square in front of the City Hall, one of the most significant Renaissance public buildings north of the Alps, built between 1615 and 1620.
Next to it stands the Perlach Tower, dating from the same period. Southward from the City Hall the street was lined with Renaissance houses, one of them, the Capitollichtspiel, proving that a cinema does not have to be art deco to impress.
Further on we reached the Fugger City palace. The Fuggers are a pervasive presence in Augsburg. A leading mercantile and banking family, they could entertain the Emperors, Kings and Princes they bankrolled when they visited the imperial city. The building with its inner courtyards was built in Renaissance style for Jakob Fugger between 1512 and 1516; it still houses a private bank.
At the far end of the Maximilanstrasse are the Churches of Saint Ulrich and Afra, the larger one Catholic and smaller one Protestant. The Fuggers are present here as well, as they have a family vault below a chapel in the Catholic church.
The church of Sankt Anna is more decidedly protestant and houses a Luther exhibition – he came to Augsburg to defend his theses and there is a strong Lutheran tradition in the city. We noticed a monument to Salzburg emigrants to America and to the pastor of Sankt Anna's church Samuel Urlsperger who offered them support. Here too there is a Fugger chapel, which is reckoned to be one of the earliest Renaissance structures in Germany.
The Cathedral is a mixture of Romanesque and gothic, and is brick built. The windows seem to have been much damaged in the War but include 12th century images of saints - reputedly the oldest surviving stained glass in the world. Outside the Cathedral is a collection of fragments from the Roman city of Augusta, including an image, probably taken from the tomb of a merchant, showing workers packing up a large consignment of goods, indicating that Augsburg's importance as a trading centre extends back well beyond medieval times.
To the north of the Cathedral is the birth house of Leopold Mozart, a modest patrician residence where Wolfgang Amadeus's father spent his early years.
The last place we visited was the Fuggerei, perhaps the earliest social housing complex in Europe. It was established by the Fuggers in 1516 for those who were impoverished through no fault of their own – provided they were Catholic. Today the 160 occupants, who are housed in 150 apartments in 67 buildings, each pay a rent of 0.88 Euros a year – the current exchange rate for one Rhenish guilder, provided that they say three prayers a day for the soul of the founder – a sound investment in second life insurance by the canny Fuggers! It is a city within the city, covering several streets and with its own church. It even had its own hospital the so-called Holzhaus (Wood House). During the sixteenth century syphilis was treated here – another nice little earner for the Fuggers who used guaiacum wood, imported by them at great expense from South America. Among their clients were the Emperor Maximilian I and Cardinal Mattäus Lang. It is the last place in Augsburg to use gas lighting but the occupants today do enjoy all mod. cons.
Thursday, 22 May, Detwang
We continued northwards from Augsburg, following the Romantische Strasse. It was not very romantic at this point, being a busy four-lane highway, but the countryside was pleasant, sometimes indeed spectacular, as when we passed Harburg castle perched high above the road.
As he is so often chastised for being a Nörd (nerd in Anglo-Saxon) Ian was most insistent that we visit the town of Nördlingen, one of a series of jewels strung along the old imperial highway between Augsburg and Wurzburg. It proved to be an excellent locality to indulge in nördling as it has the only set of ramparts in Germany which it is possible to walk round in its entirety and we managed to complete a considerable proportion of the complete circuit, looking out across an ever-changing tiled roofscape and down into tidy gardens and cobbled streets. Houses were built backing onto the ramparts on both sides, with their gardens contriving to make the walls look charming rather than intimidating. They were pierced by impressive gates, including the Deininger gate, guarding the route from Regensburg and Vienna.
Imperial troops had occupied the tower during the Thirty Years War in 1634 and could only be driven out by setting fire to the tower which was rebuilt after peace had been re-established. We had a coffee at a table in the little square by the gabled market house (in which we later had a copious and cheap lunch) watching the world go by. There were many half-timbered and gabled houses, including one that was formerly a monastic foundation, now a hotel. Still busy nördling away Ian discovered the house of a printer, C. H. Beck, dating from 1765 – he can't wait to check it up on his many lists!
The present ramparts were in fact the second, larger set, constructed with five gates and eleven towers in 1327 under the orders of the Emperor Ludwig IV. Inside the town a circle of streets clearly outlines the older defences and at the heart of the town is the large church of St George, which has been continuously under renovation since 1971.
On the same day that the revamped Exeter Central Library was opened we visited the public library in Nördlingen and were delighted to discover a medieval curse calling down all types of horrors on book stealers and those who failed to return books, ending up with eternal hell-fires. Perhaps something similar could provide a cheap security system in Exeter!
The town hall had a wonderful gothic stair-case and Jill was delighted to discover a fellow spirit for Ian carved into the wall below it. Below the fool – or was it a Nörd - was inscribed "Now there are two of us". Good to know the medieval Germans had a sense of humour. We could have stayed longer at this delightful place but we were being called onward to the tourist honey-pot of Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
This evening we found a small and tranquil campsite in the little village of Detwang, nestling in the valley below the walls of Rothenburg which we hope to explore tomorrow.