During the 15th and 16th centuries, Augsburg became one of Europe’s wealthiest communities, mainly because of its textile industry and the political and financial clout of its two banking families, the Welsers and the Fuggers. The Welsers have long since faded away, but the Fuggers are remembered by an unusual legacy, the Fuggerei, set up in 1519, by Jakob Fugger the Rich, to house poorer Augsburgers.

The basic tenants of Europe’s oldest welfare housing, laid down in 1521, are still in force today. The nominal rent of 1€ per annum (formerly one Rhenish guilder) has not changed in more than 450 years (the city council determines who gets the break—it’s based on need). The only obligation is that tenants pray daily for the souls of the founders. The Fuggerei is a miniature, self-contained town with 67 identical cottages containing 147 small apartments, a church, a fountain, and a park, surrounded by walls and gates, which are shut from 10pm to 5am and guarded by a night watchman. Franz Mozart—great-grandfather of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—once lived here at Mittlere Gasse 14. The house next door is now the Fuggerei Museum, where rough 16th- and 17th-century furniture, wood-paneled ceilings and walls, cast-iron stove, and bric a brac of everyday life suggest that life here might have been cheap but not luxurious.