A Visit to Historic Aachen
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Aachen, Germany — When choosing a city to visit, one criterion I consider is its place in history. Aachen surely fits the bill in terms of its place in history — especially its historic importance. As a kid, I always wanted to visit Aachen because of the man who made it famous, Charlemagne. And Charlemagne, with Aachen under his feet, gave rise to Europe.
Anyway, it’s a very long story. On to our visit to Aachen, the birthplace of Holy Roman Empire.
How Aachen Was Born
The story of the city goes way back, even further before Charlemagne and his predecessors. Sources point to Roman times when the place began as a spa town. Aachen was then Aquae Granni, or “Granni’s/Grenus’ Water”, and was under Roman rule until around the year 470. It soon became under Frankish rule. According to some sources, Charlemagne’s father Pepin the Short once had a castle in the area because of its close proximity to the hot springs. When Charlemagne took over the reigns of the Frankish kingdom, he built an octagon-shaped building called the Palatine Chapel (which is now part of the Aachen Cathedral). The chapel was allegedly part of his palace where he lived between 768 until his death in 814. The building of the chapel was one reason for Charlemagne himself to make Aachen his center of the Empire. He may have been an itinerant Emperor, but the soul of his governance was synonymous to the city he called home.
Today Aachen is the city known for its Cathedral, its Aachener Printen, Charlemagne, and its location as the westernmost city in Germany.
How We Got to Aachen
Aachen is located in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, one of the 16 states of the Federal Republic of Germany. The city itself is surrounded by the Netherlands on the northwest, and by Belgium on the southwest. Aachen can easily be reached by train from anywhere in Germany. In our case, we traveled by regional trains from Osnabrück to Aachen for almost five hours (including stops and wait times in between) for only 46€. We got off at Cologne to take a train to Aachen, which took us around 40 minutes.
We chose A&O Hotel and Hostel (hotel info) because it is close to the central station. We got our twin room for 85€ and it was just right for our three-day stay in Aachen.
Walking Around Aachen
Walking is the best way to get around a new town or city. My husband and I walked to the old part of Aachen from our hotel despite the winter weather — cold and wet. It wasn’t snowing but raining.
The Aachener Altstadt
The old town is always, personally, my main focus of my travels. The Altstadt is where the magic began; it is the nucleus of the present city. German old towns have their own kind of charm. In the case of Aachen, it boasts some kind of historical charm spanning more than a thousand years. In it, you will see cobblestone streets leading you to the world-famous Aachen Cathedral.
In the picture above, you can see quaint shops and on top is a portion of the Aachen Cathedral. When we were walking to the Cathedral and saw this view, I didn’t resist taking a shot of it. The quaintness is just fascinating.
Ah, yes. This 1223-year-old cathedral is right in the heart of the old town. It’s not difficult to miss, because the spire peeks out to everyone in greeting. The cathedral bells rang in a symphony as we walked towards it. It was magical.
The present iteration of the Rathaus or Town Hall was built around the fourteenth century. The townspeople who helped built it incorporated the old parts of the building that had been there since the time of Charlemagne. The Town Hall served as the venue of coronation feasts as part of the coronation events of kings.
The city museum of Aachen offers a time travel worthy of Doc Brown’s approval. As you start your museum tour, you will be greeted by a statue of Charlemagne that suspiciously reminded me of Poseidon in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid”. Also featured in the museum is an illuminated display “Je suis Charlemagne” (“I am Charlemagne” in French) in familiar Coca-Cola font.
The Cathedral Treasury
The 1223-year history of the Aachen Cathedral has provided a wealth of religious and historical art enjoyed by visitors yearly. I was able to see for the first time ever the renowned bust of Charlemagne. I used to see photos of this particular artifact in books many years ago and seeing it made me really happy.
Marschiertor and Ponttor
These city gates are two of the oldest city gates in Western Europe. Both north-facing gates stand where the original city walls were.
Another place of Interest: Dreiländerecke
Aachen is known as the westernmost city in Germany. This means that Aachen shares a border with two other countries — Belgium and the Netherlands. Sadly, we weren’t able to visit this marvelous place of interest due to bad weather. But a quick Google search will provide you with this:
The Three-Country-Point (called “Dreiländereck” in German and “Drielandenpunt” in Dutch) is a curious place surrounded by three countries because of historical implications. Standing by the little obelisk will put you in three countries at the same time without passport controls.
From Aachen, one can reach this interesting spot by bus. Or if you’re luckier than we were, you can walk to it on a sunny day.
Aachen, City of History
If you’re a history buff who loves to walk around, Aachen is the city for you. Like any other German city, Aachen has something for everyone, including museums, cafes, and parks. Or if you’re into shopping, Aachen has got it for you.