top of page
  • Writer's pictureMeirion Harries

DAY SEVENTY NINE A Child's Development

I am writing this post over a late breakfast in a neo-brutalist cafe watching trams run past. It feels more like lunchtime because we were up at 4.30am to try and capture a taste of medieval life. The aim, partially successful, was to be at the gates of a walled enclave at the moment they were unlocked.

The enclave comprises 67 houses divided into flats. The flats are not large, around 600 square feet but they are self-contained: the ground floor flats have a small garden, the upper floor flats an attic. All the buildings are identical and, in the nights without street lighting, residents could only know that they had arrived at the right house by feeling the doorbell, uniquely shaped for each house.

The Fuggerei (c)wikicommons

Jakob Fugger started building these houses in 1516 to provide for indigent Catholics. One of the first inhabitants was Mozart's grandfather, Johann Georg Mozart, a bookbinder; his son, Leopold was also born in Augsburg, but not Wolfgang. Rents were extremely low, and they remain so today, if you qualify: aged over 55, without debt and resident in Augsburg for two years. These days the Fuggerei, as it is known, is hailed as the first example of social housing in the world - but then we're looking with modern eyes.

In Jakob Fugger's world, on the eve of the Reformation, society was different. It was perfectly acceptable for families to seek to accumulate wealth – Eigennutz (self-interest). But of more importance was gemeiner Nutz – the common good, the welfare of the general public. The burgeoning wealth of the Fuggers made balancing these two societal norms problematic and, with wealth flooding in from all quarters, they were publicly criticised for too much Eigennutz. Their response was to spend a great deal of money on the arts and charitable enterprises – like the Fuggerei. The Fuggerei Foundation has continued uninterrupted since Jakob's day – as has the level of rents charged. But there was a further purpose to the Fuggerie: Jakob made the rule (continuing to this day) that residents must offer up three prayers every day for his family - the Lord's Prayer, Hail Mary, and the Nicene Creed.

As we walked round the quiet little roads, we couldn't help wondering what Bertolt Brecht had made of it all. He was born in Augsburg in 1898 and lived here until he headed off to nearby Munich to start medical school in 1917. He was a bit like John Lennon – not quite admitting that he had a middle class upbringing – though literary critics tell us that the "dangerous image of the self-denying woman" comes from his mother.

Bertolt Brecht (c)wikicommons

It is not clear whether there were tensions at home stemming from religious differences, his father being Roman Catholic and his mother Protestant. There is no city more central to this schism: this being the city of the Augsburg Confession – the Lutheran articles of faith presented to the Diet of Augsburg on 25 June 1530. A decade before, Luther and Cardinal Cajetan had debated Luther's Theses here, and now the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was hoping that debating the Confession would restore unity to a Germany increasingly divided along religious lines, so that the nation could meet meet the approaching threat of a Turkish invasion.

Twenty five years later Charles V achieved his objective, again at Augsburg, when Catholic and Protestants were given equal status in the Empire and rulers of the individual states comprising the Empire were allowed to choose which profession of faith to follow. One of the most fascinating aspects of modern Augsburg is the proximity of Roman Catholic and Protestant churches throughout the city.

There were so many important lessons for Brecht growing up here. Medieval Augsburg is a theatre of extreme wealth: the historic mansions of the Fuggers and Welsers stand in stark contrast to the Fuggerei's modesty. Brecht would have witnessed Rudolf Diesel's opulent lifestyle and the price paid by his workers. And he would have understood power. In 1803 his hero Napoleon Bonaparte had terminated the self-rule which the Free Imperial City of Augsburg had enjoyed since 1276; at a stroke, Augsburg became subject to the King of Bavaria.

Surprisingly, given the widespread attention paid to Corbusier's Athens Charter on town planning, little research has been done on how the built environment affects a child's development. So we can only guess at the lasting influence of Augsburg on the young Brecht: he certainly had a profound commitment to change and his childhood in Augsburg would have taught him both that change was necessary and that it was possible.

If it was those early years which bred the Marxist strain that would eventually take Brecht to East Berlin, it was already showing by 1915. While his country was still blinded by patriotic fervour, he understood the consequences of war. He saw his classmates enlist and die and he wanted no part of it. When they asked him in school for an essay on the line from Horace, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (how sweet it is to die for one's homeland), he wrote simply that it was Zweckpropaganda.

Man with camera tours the Fuggerei -

The Augsburg Confession -

An odd one-hander based on Brecht's theories -

The National Theatre's introduction to Brechtian theatre -

Brecht himself singing Mack the Knife -

Louis Armstrong also sings Mack the Knife -

Threepenny Opera (1954 original recording, 54 minutes) with Lotte Lenya -

Leopold Mozart's Trumpet Concerto played by Niklas Eklund -

55 views3 comments

Recent Posts

See All



Surely there must have been more than 2 generations of Mozarts between the construction of the Fuggerei in 1516 and Wolfgang, born in 1756?



Threepenny Opera is part of my life and I think your comparison of Brecht with Lennon (Marx Bros. and Lennon forever!) works on several levels, although of course John L.’s exposure to World War came at a VERY young age.



It had never occurred to me to look at Wilfred Owen and Brecht through the same lens!

bottom of page