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Augsburg Turns 2,000

January 13, 1985|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

AUGSBURG, West Germany — Whatever joys and deeper meanings you'd like to experience in a trip to Europe this year, you'll find many of them here during this Bavarian city's 2,000th anniversary celebration.

Founded by the Roman Emperor Augustus 20 centuries ago, Augsburg is also 2,000 years young. It has managed to preserve the essence of the ideas that helped to shape its history, while more than keeping up with contemporary times.

Great music? The Mozart family is part of the Augsburg story, and there is always the Augsburg Mozart Summer, with concerts and operas on the open-air stage at the Rotes Tor (Red Door). This year a special Week of Mozart is scheduled for May 12-19.

Drama and poetry? Bertolt Brecht, presented by Oxford University Press in a recent biography as "the most influential playwright of the 20th Century," was born in Augsburg. Here his youth was textured by the genius and controversial ideas that were to mark his years in Los Angeles and Hollywood as a refugee from the Nazis. His plays and poems will be part of this anniversary year.

Great art? The painter Hans Holbein was also a native son of Augsburg and his paintings are on the altar of the 1,000-year-old Mary's Cathedral, also throughout the Schaezler Palace.

If you are looking for monumental architecture, the Augsburg City Hall, crated by the gifted architect Elias Holl in 1625, is still considered one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings north of the Alps. Renovated for this year at a cost of about $6 million, it will be the centerpiece of anniversary events.

Sports fans can follow Mozart in May with the European Acrobatics Championships, and then June 12-16 with the World Championships of Wild-Water Canoeing. This city of 245,000 people is at the junction of two Alpine rivers, the Lech and the Wertach, and less than an hour from Munich by train or car.

Scarcely 75 miles north of Augsburg, the city of Nuremberg is the center of events and exhibits celebrating the Year of the Railroad in Bavaria and all of Germany.

Working together with Nuremberg to spotlight Bavaria '85 for international tourism, Augsburg will give perspective to the coming of the railroad in 1835 with a House of Bavarian History exposition to depict the period between 1750 and 1850.

This exposition will begin with the story of the goldsmiths, weavers and other craftsmen in a pre-industrial society around 1750. It will carry on into the beginning of the Industrial Age and its impact on life styles. The German National Museum in Nuremberg wll complete the story from 1850 to the present.

'Romans in Swabia' Another Augsburg exhibition, "The Romans in Swabia," will present, May 25 to Sept. 29, a vivid retrospective of almost 400 years of Roman rule. It will include archeological discoveries as well as artifacts from daily life. This city became a provincial capital of the empire, on the Roman Road from Verona in Italy to Europe north of the Alps. For travelers of today, this road has become the Romantic Road, with Augsberg midway.

From March through October a large-scale historical pageant in city hall will bring to life the Golden Age of Augsberg beginning with medieval times, when the city was a central marketplace.

To relive the Golden Age, walk the wide medieval street, Maximilianstrasse, between elegant town houses and palaces of the Renaissance, decorated with sculptured fountains.

In the square in front of city hall is a fountain topped by a statue of Emperor Augustus, who reigned from 63 BC to AD 14. The bronze door and stained-glass paintings of the High Cathedral, as Mary's Cathedral is known, are nearly 1,000 years old.

Merchant Families For 500 years Augsberg was a free city. Emperors and kings were often guests, and Marie Antoinette once danced all night here. Wealthy and powerful merchant families like the Fuggers and Welsers founded shipping empires that covered much of the world. The Fuggers financed Emperor Charles V into power; the Welsers acquired Venezuela and its gold fields from the Spanish Crown.

The reforms of Martin Luther were defended in Augsburg, and the Confession of 1530 became important to centuries of Protestantism. After the Thirty Years' War, the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia granted the city religious freedom and founded a reputation for tolerance. Since then, every Aug. 8 has been a celebration of peace. Following the Nazi times, the Allied bombings of the city during World War II and then the restoration, this date has grown to have even more meaning.

A skyline of contemporary office buildings rises above the church spires and green copper domes, reminders that the diesel engine was invented here, the first Linde refrigerator and jet-propelled aircraft put into production here. Augsburg firms export a fifth of their production to many nations.

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