Come on, where are the posts from Turkmenistan, I’m hearing frequently these days. Coming. I promise. And Uzbekistan, too. But see, I’m left with so many impressions, it’s going to take a while to sort it all. So for something a little easier, I’m having a look through the new additions to UNESCO’s World Heritage list, a whopping 29 of them.
You may have noticed that the water system of Augsburg has now found its way onto the list. I ask myself – or rather, I ask Augsburg – is the water management system your biggest pride and joy? I would have thought the Fuggerei would have been even more interesting; the world’s oldest social housing project, still in operation and where people in need can live and pay less than €0.88 per year for a flat of 60 m2! Got your attention, didn’t I? Well, we’ll just have to talk more about the Fuggerei later.
For now, water management system it is. And there is something about water in motion, isn’t it? Makes a city come to life somehow.
Beware of Greeks bearing water
My Latin is… well, it isn’t much of anything. So I asked the mostly unreliable Google Translate.”Do not trust the water of August. I fear Greeks carrying water,” Google replied.
Is it a warning? Beware of Greeks carrying water in August? (Augsburg’s first name was Augusta Vindelicorum, after Caesar Augustus, on whose order the city was founded in 15 BCE).
Whatever the potentially ominous sign means, water is everywhere in Augsburg and it has been systematically managed since the 14th century. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to go anywhere in Augsburg and not encounter the city’s ingenious water operating system. There are medieval water towers, fountains, and millwheels. Ancient hydroelectric power stations still in operation tell us Augsburg has been a trailblazer in hydraulic engineering.
The Augustus fountain in the city centre – marble, bronze, wrought-iron and erotic details – was created by Dutch sculptor Hubert Gerhard in 1594. There’s Augustus high up on the pillar there, all 2.5 metres of him. This Prachtbrunn (Grand Fountain) is one of three massive fountains (the other two are named for Mercury and Hercules), all symbolising the city’s pride in their abundant water resources.
My favourite feature, though, is the canals in the old city that have provided water for Augsburg’s residents for more than a millennium.
Augsburg is at the confluence of Wertach and Lech rivers. In medieval times, the system was set up so the water from these two rivers were channeled through what is now the old town through a network of waterways. The waterways were used not only as a source of hydropower, but also for cooling, for local tanners and other craftsmen, and as a defensive measure (think moats).
The canals are mostly in the Lechviertel, a residential area, and remain largely in their original condition. A cinema is housed in what was once a pumping house, and there are a number of little restaurants around here.
Here’s the one running past Brechthaus at Auf dem Rain 7, the childhood home of one of the all-time great playwrights, Bertholt Brecht:
And here’s a part of the Lower Waterworks ensemble, Augsburg’s second oldest and second largest waterworks:
If you’re not all that into industrial World Heritage sites, Augsburg will still be worth your while. It’s a pleasant city, and makes a nice daytrip from Munich. Spending a night is even better, and if, like me, you like unusual accoms, I recommend staying at (or at least visiting) the quirky, multipurpose Grandhotel Cosmopolis, a hotel/home for refugees/artists’ studios/open work-spaces/venue for all sorts of interesting artistic performances.