Our Munich-based reporter, Nick Selby, visits Augsburg where, amid the venerable buildings and cobbled streets, he finds a few decent hotels and a surprising number of good restaurants.
At first glance, Augsburg seems a rather meek little city, with a medieval skyline, a lovely walled town center and a couple of brightly sparkling canals. But beneath that mild-mannered exterior lies the heart and spirit of a lion. Straddling two of Germany's wealthiest states, Augsburg has long been prosperous and decidedly independent.
About 15 years before the birth of Christ a bevy of Romans first settled here, at the convergence of the Lech and Wertach Rivers. As it grew and the first incarnation of the stunning Dom Maria Heimsuchung cathedral was erected, the town evolved into a walled fortress and eventually one of Europe's most important trading centers.
A Walk Through History
The Old City's cobblestone streets are a pleasure to explore. Lanes and alleys twist and swerve and become impossibly narrow passageways in a manner more Anadalusian than Germanic. The city's architecture not just the palaces but even ordinary buildings clearly reflects the international influence.
By the 11th century the town had already established itself as a major trade post, and by 1530 had bred its own Middle Ages version of Donald Trump: Jakob Fugger.
In the late 1300s, a weaver named Hans Fugger established a flourishing textile business, later taken over by sons Jakob and Andreas, who eventually became goldsmiths.
Jakob married the daughter of the owner of the Roman mint and by the late 1400's he and his sons, carrying on the family tradition, were, well, minting money.
The Fugger monopoly became powerful enough to include them on the list of Europe's wealthiest traders. They had their hands in just about everything, and Augsburg, as the seat of their operations, enjoyed a Renaissance some would argue has never really ended.
In 1516, the family established the Fuggerei, touted as the first low income housing project in Europe and certainly worth a visit.
What to See
Augsburg's focal point is its delightful and airy central square, the Rathausplatz, which is packed every spring and summer weekend with café society Augsburgians watching the world swirl past the statue of Emperor Augustus.
The square's pride and joy is the onion-domed Rathaus, whose treasure is its third-floor Goldener Saal. Standing in this enormous baroque salon and gawking at the 100-foot long ceiling painted in gold, it's hard to believe this is a restoration the entire Rathaus was demolished and reconstructed after the war. For a look at the layout of the ancient city, stop at the wooden model in the lobby. Right next door is the Perlachturm, formerly a guard tower.
Leave the Rathaus, turning left and then left again, down the stone staircase to peaceful Elias Holl-Platz, home to both the 16th-century St. Maria Stern Kloster and my favorite restaurant in town, Die Ecke. Go right at the end of the square and navigate the maze of narrow, cobblestone, canal-lined streets which will eventually lead you to one of the entrances to the Fuggerei.
Designed to assist Catholics in hock through no fault of their own, the Fuggerei complex is a collection of little three-room homes and one-room "widows flats" the annual rent being roughly five US dollars, for which is still a rather fair, plus a daily prayer and the occasional fine for coming home after midnight. One of the Fuggerei's most famous residents was Franz Mozart, Wolfie's great grandfather, who lived here for a dozen years. Right next to his house is the fascinating Fuggerei Museum.
Exiting the north gate, stroll up towards the center and turn right on teeny Schmiedgasse, where you'll pass the lovely home where poet/dramatist Bertolt Brecht was born in 1898. Now it's a museum dedicated to the playwright's life and work.
From here you have a choice; keep walking or stop and eat. My recommendation is to take Augsburg slowly and get to know it through its restaurants. Enjoy a long lunch or even a picnic, and afterwards, take on opulent Maximilianstrasse. This grand boulevard is home to the astoundingly ornate Schaezler Palais, in which an afternoon is easily killed amidst the offerings of the Bavarian Baroque Art Gallery, including works by Drer, Holbein, and Cranach. Nearby is the Fugger Haus, a former family residence.
Places of Worship
The Romantic Road has many great churches and Augsburg which stands at its geographical center seems to have more than its fair share of them. Aside from the St. Ulrich and Afra Basilika, whose tower is visible throughout the city, and the Art Nouveau Synagogue, now open as an important Jewish Cultural Center, the ecclesiastic star of the show here is the Dom Maria Heimsuchung, a Gothic and Romanesque gem. You can visit with a walking tour, but leave at least an hour to view the grounds—replete with Roman ruins—the absolutely amazing bronze doors at the south, and several panels by Hans Holbein the Elder.
Another important church is St Anne's, the tomb chapel of the Fugger family, which also boasts works by Cranach the Elder.
Augsburg's hotels seem to run to extremes, either very luxurious or somewhat Spartan. In two hotels we only recommend some of the rooms.
One thing to keep in mind; prices at all of them rise during Oktoberfest, but not as much as hotels in Munich, so they are good options to consider for those attending the famous beer festival. Augsburg is only a 30-minute train ride away from the tents, and it's a lot quieter at night.
This unique family run hotel housed in the former brewery of an adjacent Benedictine Kloster is, on weekends, anyway, Augsburg's best deal. Okay, it's not really in Augsburg, rather 25 kilometers north, but you'll soon see why on weekends at least it's worth the drive.
The 17th century building has been painstakingly renovated by the Riss family over a period of five years. They've retained the wood floors and wonderful vaulted ceilings while straightening out lines and adding modern furniture.
Guestrooms are stylishly furnished and all have showers. There's one wheelchair-accessible single, and a lift in the new wing but not the old. The former also has a sauna and solarium.
The restaurant features an impressive wine list and traditional Swabian and Bavarian food, but is not worth a special trip. You'll have a nice traditional meal but Augsburg's offerings are superior.
- Daily Rates: Singles $86, Doubles $128,
- Rating: Quality 13/20 Value 16/20
Steigenberger Drei Mohren
Augsburg's leading hotel, Drei Mohren is five-star with excellent service and comfortable, spotlessly clean guestrooms, all of which face posh Maximilianstrasse. And on weekends the prices come down significantly.
Downstairs are two restaurants, the signature Maximilians and the Bistro, a comfortable spot for coffee or a light snack.
Request a renovated room, they're much nicer than the older ones. The hotel's four suites are recently renovated and, though on the small side, are well appointed and very comfortable. On weekends they're even a good value.
- Daily Rates: Singles ~ $128 to $156, Doubles~ $190 to $216
- Contact: Steigenberger Drei Mohren Augsburg, Maximillianstrasse 40, 86150 Augsburg tel. +49/821/503 60 fax: 49/821/157864, web: steigenberger.com/en/hotels/all-hotels/germany/augsburg/steigenberger-drei-mohren
- Rating: Quality 14/20 Value 11/20
Dom Hotel Augsburg
In the shadow of the great cathedral sits the Dom Hotel Augsburg, a pleasant family-run place once you get past the YMCA-styled lobby.
Staff is helpful and friendly, and the rooms clean and adequate, though those at the top of the hotel, with the views of the Dom and a terrace, are the best value. The less expensive rooms are not altogether recommendable. The lift doesn't serve the hotels small indoor swimming pool; to get to that you'll have to navigate a narrow spiral staircase. The pool and sauna are available to guests at no charge.
- Daily Rates: Singles: $93 to $148, Doubles: $106 to $168
- Rating: Quality 14/20 Value 14/20
Romantik Hotel Augsburger Hof
What to do about this place? Here's a family-operated hotel in a nice location, minutes walk from the Dom and with one of the city's best restaurants (see below), and yet we only recommend a certain type of room, the Romantikzimmer
After the cozy, warm lobby, and the helpful staff, it's a surprise to discover that many of the rooms are just not up to snuff. Standard singles and doubles are cramped, and many furnishings are in need of replacement. The carpeting is drab and in the hallways room numbers have been spray painted with a stencil. Many rooms facing the street are noisy.
The Romantikzimmers, on the other hand, are truly that: well lit, attractively furnished and with comfortable, spacious bathrooms; precisely what one would expect given the hotels reputation.
- Daily Rates: Singles: $114 to $141, Romantikzimmer Single: $155; Doubles: $121 to $133, Romantikzimmer Double: $188.
- Rating: Quality 10/20 Value 9/20
Top City Hotel Ost am Kö
The buildings not pretty, but downright excellent service makes up for it. The location, on the edge of the old town, is perfect.
This is a typical business-class hotel, very clean and with reasonably new furniture. Guestrooms are comfortable without being extraordinary. The roomy Anna Suite is colorfully furnished and, like most of the rest of the rooms, offers good value.
- Daily Rates: Weekdays: singles $93 to $147, doubles $118 to $215. Weekend Special: rates upon request.
- Rating: Quality 12/20 Value 13/20
Another value hotel geared more to business travelers but still offering good service and pleasant amenities is the nicely renovated 32-room Ulrich, with modern, clean, comfortable rooms. There are no suites and few frills, but it's very friendly.
- Daily Rates: Singles: $80 to $100 Doubles: $121 to $148.
- Contact: Altstadthotel Augsburg Kapuzinergasse 6, 86150 Augsburg, tel. +49 0821/34 61 0, +49 0821/346 1346
- Rating: Quality 15/20 Value 14/20
You can tell a lot about a city from its food, and Augsburg's cuisine is a wonderful fusion of Bavarian and Swabian, with a surprising variety of seafood offerings. Of course, fresh game is also a local favorite, but each of the city's fine restaurants has its own interpretation of "Augsburg dining."
The most delightful of these interpretations is that of Restaurant Die Ecke. If you were to shake me awake in the middle of the night and demand a definition of gemütlichkeit I'd describe this restaurant. From outside it's not much to look at, but inside the work of local artist's graces the walls and the ambiance is so cozy and warm we were immediately won over. Low-ceilinged and wood furnished, the decor is soft, glowing and welcoming. Fresh flowers are scattered throughout and in summer there is seating in the back garden. Service is exquisite.
Reservations are essential and it's common for customers to arrive at 7-ish and stay til 11-ish. We spent a recent evening there determined to sample as many as we could of the restaurants outstanding dishes. Encouraged in our quest by Die Ecke's manager, Joseph Mack, we warmed up with two kinds of warm, yeasty, freshly baked bread and glasses of Tuscan wine from an extensive list.
What followed was so sensational and so remarkable, and we ate so much that...well, lets just say I've got a tailoring bill for Herr Mack.
We began with a simple beef consommé with veal strudel a ravioli-like phenomenon while discussing the house speciality, game. "We have our own land, so most of the game we serve is specifically hunted for us by family or friends," said Herr Mack.
His personal interpretation of Augsburg cuisine includes such appetizers as tuna carpaccio; exquisite, thinly-sliced raw tuna served with wasabi (fiery Japanese horseradish); and Chinese cabbage over a bed of glass noodles. A more traditional German offering is home-cured salmon with miniature potato puffs and creme frache.
Main courses are fresh game when available, such as rare roasted venison fillet with fresh juniper berries, Brussels sprouts and Spätzle; or what I couldn't get enough of, poached heavenly beef fillet, tender enough to cut with a spoon, with mixed crushed peppercorns in a simple red wine sauce, served with polenta, sugar glazed winter vegetables including snow peas, sliced beetroot, a ratatouille and perfectly steamed broccoli.
For dessert, I secretly lusted after the chocolate ravioli with mascarpone and marzipan filling, but Herr Mack insisted I try the house speciality, Apfelkuchle; deep-fried, thinly-sliced golden apples dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with walnut ice cream and freshly whipped cream. As I staggered out, barely able to carry my notebook, I made a foggy mental note to have my trousers let out, and to recommend Die Ecke as an Editors Choice.
You'll spend about $40 to $80 per person, without beverages.
- Contact: Die Ecke, Elias-Holl-Place 2, 86150 Augsburg, tel: +49/0821/510 600, fax:+49/0821/ 311/992, Web: www.restaurantdieecke.de
Next to the city market, in a 60s building that should be arrested for architectural crimes, is Feinkost Kahn, a restaurant which fills several culinary bills. On the ground floor is the bistro, where light snacks and salads can be had in a hurry. A lunch here will cost no more than $15 and allows one to graze the finest olives, cheeses, and fresh seafood such as poached salmon, fish roulades and other light, tasty and healthy snacks.
One floor above is the Café, which we ignored to get to the restaurant yet another floor up. Though the atmosphere is a turn-off, the service is all it should be and the food is fabulous. The professorial-looking proprietor, Herr Kahn, runs around the place with boundless energy, fussing over customers.
The menu, while featuring traditional Bavarian and Swabian specialities, offers a number of light, fresh Mediterranean dishes.
The daily menu began with a sensational carpaccio of Bavarian beef, so tender I could have used a paper fork. It had a marvelous peppery crunch and came with extra-virgin olive oil, flakes of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a scoop of salmon caviar. This was followed by a divine tomato-carrot-cream soup topped with fresh dill and then a fresh fish roulade in a light cream sauce served on a bed of broad egg noodles. The main course was riesling-steamed, corn-fed chicken breast with fennel-flavored fresh vegetables and a dollop of a rich onion mousse.
- Contact: Feinkost Kahn Anna route 16 86150 Augsburg, tel: 0821/31 20 31, Fax:0821/51 62 16, closed Sundays and holidays
Restaurant Augsburger Hof
Entering the Augsburger Hof, whose interior somehow manages to look like an Alpine cottage in the middle of the city, I took a deep sniff and instantly thought: Home. "We specialize in Grandma's recipes cooked to perfection," claims Chef Fassl and he seems to have got it right the place seems always packed.
Take the "romantic menu." It includes guinea fowl roulade with fresh truffle and mango, a fresh seafood stew with tomato and fresh basil, and pan-fried venison medallions with fresh mushrooms. An unusual dessert is red wine ice cream served with fresh figs.
No less appealing is the daily menu, which when we visited, featured a terrine of pike perch on cucumber, savory duck consommé with a liver Strudel, and venison dumplings in a luscious cream sauce followed by semolina cream with cherry ragout.
A la carte highlights include Schwbische Festtagesuppe, a savory broth with sliced Maultaschen dumplings and several veal dishes ranging from poached veal slices with apple horseradish sauce, boiled potatoes and spinach to, so they tell me, braised calf cheek in Madeira sauce.
Augsburg's market, is one of southern Germany's finest, with all the gourmet offerings of a big-city market but without the bustle, pushiness and cost. It's a wonderful place to local-watch and a perfect inexpensive, delicious lunch stop. Try the Viktualien Halle for a picnic fit for royalty. Here are at least half a dozen cheese stands, several Greek and Mediterranean vegetable and speciality stands, and a stunning array of salads, pickled vegetables, smoked fish and a variety of cold meats. Against the back wall you'll find Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese and Greek specialities, plus a wine bar.
This cozy bistro offers plain old Swabian specialities cooked well and for not a lot of money. It's more comfortable in winter than in summer and service is iffy and sometimes a little snappy. But the food, while not excellent, is truly authentic, family-style Swabian with little pretense, and you're likely to be the only tourists in the place. If you're up for a simple meat dish with a nice glass of wine, Fuggereistube is worth considering. There's always a vegetarian main course offered and the special when I last went was a Swabian mixed plate: Maultaschen (Swabian ravioli), Schupfnudeln, krautkrapfen, Kasespätzle, Fleischkchle, Rostbraten and Schwammerl, all $25 for two. It's right next to the north gate of the Fuggerei.
- Contact: Fuggereistube, Jakobstrasse 26, 86152 Augsburg, tel. +49 0821/30870, fax: +49 0821/159023, closed Monday