WEST GERMANY: Rent Bargain

In the late 15th century, the financial empire of the Fugger Brothers blanketed Europe as Fugger linen left to bleach in the sun once covered the meadows around the fortress city of Augsburg, where the family fortune began. Brother Jakob was the genius of the Fuggers, buying silver mines in the Tyrol, exporting textiles, metal and salt to lands beyond the seas, bringing back rare spices, furs and fruit. Almost one-third of Augsburg's 34,000 people were employed by the Fuggers, and kings and emperors knocked on Jakob's door for funds to wage a war or buy support in an election.

He...