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The Fuggerei: The World’s Oldest Housing Complex Where Rents Haven’t Gone Up For 500 Years

In the 15th and 16th centuries, a certain German family of merchants known as the Fuggers rose to become one of the richest and the most powerful bankers and venture capitalists of Europe. The family business included a huge empire of stockhouses, factories and banks, and later mines. At one point, the Fuggers family had a near monopoly on the European copper market, and a major influence on European economy as well as politics.

Much of the Fuggers’ growth can be attributed to the business acumen of Jakob Fugger, who amassed such an obscene amount of wealth that people called him “Jakob the Rich”. Today, he is considered to be the wealthiest person to ever live with a net worth of 400 billion USD (in today’s value) surpassing 20th century industrialists such as John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie.

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Photo credit: Yuri Turkov/Shutterstock

Beginning in 1514, Jakob Fugger began investing a part of his fortune in the construction of an almshouse in the city of Augsburg in Bavaria, that came to be called after him—the Fuggerei. Built as a walled-up neighborhood with individual housing units, the Fuggerei is considered to be the world’s first social housing complex. It was meant for those hardworking, honest but impoverished Catholic citizens who were in a difficult situation through no fault of their own. Such families could stay at the Fuggerei for a yearly rent of only one Rheinischer Gulden, equivalent to just 88 euro cents in today’s money. Fugger insisted that the rent should never change and it hasn’t, even after five hundred years. Even in Fugger’s time, the rent was more of a symbolic fee. A devout lifelong catholic, what Fugger really wanted in return was prayers to be said in the name of Fugger and his family by the residents three times a day. The conditions to live there remain the same as they were five hundred years ago—that one must be Catholic, must have lived at least two years in Augsburg, and have become indigent without debt. Daily recitation of The Lord’s Prayer for the founders remains part of the house rules.

The Fuggerei was completed between 1514 and 1523. It was expanded a few times in the next couple of centuries, the last one taking place in 1973. Before that, the complex had to be wholly rebuilt after it was damaged by bombing during World War II.

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Photo credit: travelview/Shutterstock

The building complex is surrounded by a wall and has several entrance gates, all of which are closed from 10 PM to 5 AM. During this time only residents may enter or exit the Fuggerei. Within this complex are rows of housing units facing the streets and aligned back to back. Each house has two apartments measuring 500 to 700 square foot with its own kitchen, a parlour, a bedroom and a tiny spare room. The steep roofs serve as attics for both families and there is no cellar. On the back of each house is a small garden.

One unique feature of the apartments are the door bells, each having their own unique shape so that they could be recognized in the dark by feeling. This was the time before street lights became common, and even the early oil lamp-based streetlights were woefully inadequate in penetrating darkness.

The Fuggerei’s most famous resident was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's great-grandfather, the mason Franz Mozart, who lived in the Fuggerei between 1681 and 1694, and was commemorated posthumously by a stone plaque. About 150 people live in the society today, still paying an annual rent of the equivalent of one guilder. Even the fee for a tour into the Fuggerei costs over four times the annual rent.

However, there are other fees involved. Residents have to pay another 88 cents for the upkeep of the local church as well as €85 for maintenance and heating bills.

The Fuggerei is still administered by the descendants of the Fugger family and financed through a foundation.

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Photo credit: Tiia Monto/Wikimedia

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A plaque commemorating Mozart's grandfather's house in the Fuggerei. Photo credit: Jennifer Boyer/Flickr

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One of the apartments was converted into a museum. Here we can see a medieval kitchen with table, chair, stove and stone block floor. Photo credit: PlusONE/Shutterstock

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Photo credit: travelview/Shutterstock

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Photo credit: PlusONE/Shutterstock

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