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marianne Aachen - A travel report by Marianne
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Aachen,  Germany - flag Germany -  Nordrhein-Westfalen
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marianne's travel reports

Day Trip to Aachen

  12 votes
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Aachen is just across the Dutch border and only two hours away from where I live. If I want to be 'away from home' for the day I hop on the train to Maastricht, from here a bus ride through Limburg's hilly countryside and I get off at Aachen Haubtbahnhof.

Aachen Townhall with Christmas Decoration
Aachen Townhall with Christmas Decoration
Aachen is in Germany and Vaals is in the Netherlands. The border splits Aachen and Vaals into two. The frontier is also the language border although the local accent, a mixture of German and Dutch, is understood on both sides.

The Veolia bus company has a frequent service from Aachen Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to Maastricht so that a visit to the two cities can easily be combined. Besides, the bus trip offers pleasant views of Limburg countryside, the only part of the Netherlands that is hilly.

The Vaalserberg (321m/1053ft) is close to both Aachen and Vaals. It is the place where three countries meet: Belgium – Germany - Netherlands. A border post marks the exact place. Childeren love it because it means that they can visit three foreign countries in less than a minute. If this is not exciting enough, a visit to Europe's largest labyrinth is certainly thrilling, and get lost between hedges and electronically controlled waterfalls. If you want to go there it is best to go to Vaals and take a bus from there.

Like most German cities Aachen has a lively Christmas market that starts mid-November. However, if you want to see the details of the Townhall's façade and the market square it is better to avoid this market as booths restrict the view. If you want to drink mulled wine November and December are the best times for a visit.

When the Romans were expanding their territory they found hot springs with a constant 74°C (163°F) and turned Aachen into a spa. They built luxurious thermal baths and Aachen became recreational centre. The ruins of the baths have long since diappeared, but Aachen still is a spa. In the 8th century the city became the capital of Charlemagne's Frankish Empire. His palace and cathedral are still there as are fragments of his body.

CHIO, the International Horseshow will take place from 27th June – 6 July 2008. It is a yearly event and means that during this period accommodation is difficult to find. (see my tips section)

Favourite spots:
Aachen is a compact city and a walk including the most important sights takes no more than two hours. This leaves plenty of time to visit some of the museums.

I started my city walk at the Tourist Information Centre in one of the pavillions of Elisenbrunnen (Elisa fountain) to get a city map.

Elisenbrunnen is a neo-classical white building surrounded by a park at the front of the building. At the back of the building, facing Friedrich Wilhelm Platz hot spring water flows into two marble basins. The water smells distictively of rotten eggs because it is sulphorous. Aachen's presentday spa moved away to the city's outskirts. The waters have healing capacity and are especially recommended for rheumatoid disorders.

What's really great:
Circulation of Money Fountain
Circulation of Money Fountain
Behind Elisenbrunnen at the corner of Ursulinerstrasse and Hartmannstrasse is 'Kreislauf des Geldes', the circulation of money, one of the 60 fountains in the city. The movement of the water shows how money circulates. The woman clutching her belongings symbolises thrift. The man tumbling almost into the water while snatching money from the man next to him stands for greed. A father counts his money and gives pocketmoney to his child.

Fountains are found all over Aachen. Companies often donate one to the city and they are usually placed in front of the company's offices.

Puppenbrunnen or Dolls' Fountain in Krämerstrasse is covered in puppets whose arms and legs can really move. Not only puppets there is also a horse and rider symbolising CHIO, the annual horseshow. The harlequin and masques stand for fun and carnival. A market woman symbolises mercantile spirit. Look at her closely; she has no teeth. Has she eaten too many 'Printen'? (those rock-hard Aachen culinary speciality)

Hof and Roman Arcade
Hof and Roman Arcade
Next I walked to Hof, a triangle between the Dom or cathedral and the townhall. The first thing that I saw was the Roman arcade but it is a copy. The original is in the Regional Museum in Bonn. The four houses at the far end show interesting architecture and date back to respectively 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

I turned left into Rommelgasse which leads to Hühner and Geflügelmarkt, in other words Fowl Market. The most striking building here is Couven House. This baroque villa was built in the late 18th century and is now a museum. Its interior is a showpiece of 18th and 19th century interior design. The pharmacy on the groundfloor is the original one. It was also a chocolate factury (Aachen is still known for its chocolate). The pharmacist met a chocolate confectioner in Italy. Together they travelled back to Aachen and manufactured chocolate which in those days was considered to be a remedy for diarrhoea.

Granus Tower
Granus Tower
The Granusturm is opposite Couven Museum and dates back to 8th century. It was part of Charlemagne's castle and served as watch and living tower and had three rooms on three floors. One of the rooms could be heated. Downstairs there was a water toilet, not like we know it today, but it was a modern feature.

Marktplatz is straight on. This is the spot where Charlemagne built his Aula Regia or King's Hall. Today, in the same spot, the mainly Gothic townhall overlooks the market square. The medieval façade adorned with 50 statues was built in imitation of buildings in Flandres. I have too agree the architect succeeded because it looks very much like buildings in Brussels and Ghent.

The Coronation hall on the 1st floor is decorated with 19th century frescoes depicting scenes from Charlemagne's life. In a glass case copies of regalia, orb, sword, crown, are on display. I especially liked the purse which looked like a miniature strong box and from which stipends were paid.

Christmas Market on Marktplatz
Christmas Market on Marktplatz
Right in front of the townhall is Charlemagne fountain. If you want to see it in all its glory you'd better not visit Aachen in November or December. Even though it is 2-m tall it is concealed by the multitude of Christmas booth in Marktplatz.

I wonder if the height of the fountain has anything to do with Charlesmagne himself. The man was extraorinarily tall for his days; 1,80 m. (almost 6 ft). he died at the age pf 72, another record in those days. I bet he had been drinking lots of healty Aachen spa water.

Aachen Dom
Aachen Dom
I now went to the cathedral which looks like three separate buildings. In fact that's what they are. The dome in the middle is the oldest part and is Charlemagne's chapel. The Gothic choir hall was added in 14th century. I looked especially at its tall stained glass windows. The tower is a 19th century addition.

I have seen the interiors of numerous cathedrals but was glad I went in, because it is absolutely magnificent. Charlemagne was buried here. Two hundred years after his death he was canonized. This resulted in a flow of pilgrims wishing to visit and see Charlemagne's tomb and the relics he supposedly gathered during his life.

Unfortunately, I missed the Aachen reliquary, because it is only opened once every 7 years. Next time will be in 2014.

Aachen travelogue picture
Aachen Printen are the local culinary delight. They are a hard type of gingerbread. The word 'printen' is the same as English 'print' because the bakers used carved wooden moulds to 'print' their product.

Each baker has his / her own recipe that's why there is hugh variety available: hard and less hard, with chocolate, herbs, nuts, all ingredient together or only one. They appear in all shapes and varieties, and are a good souvenir to take home.

Other recommendations:
Charlemagne next to his own Cathedral
Charlemagne next to his own Cathedral
Aachen was the centre of Charlemagne's empire and the third most popular pilgrimage destination in Europe during the Middle Ages after Rome and Santiago de Compostela.

In the Middle Ages, relics provided a link to the saint. Going on pilgrimage provided a way to have sins forgiven and shorten the time in purgatory. It was also a very good way to see foreign countries and in a way the beginning of tourism.

Aachen's relics are; Mary's dress, Jesus' swaddling clothes, a cloth used during John the Baptist's beheading, and the waistcloth Jesus wore during his crucifixion. Their authenticy is open to doubt but it has scientifically been proven that these textiles date back to the first or second century AD.


More pictures in my slide show: A Walk through Aachen

Opening hours and full addresses of sights and museums in my Travel Tip section

Published on Friday December 14th, 2007

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Fri, May 09 2008 - 09:36 AM rating by droz112

A very informative report w.t.r. to my "new" home base. I like it - the city AND the report!

Thu, Jan 17 2008 - 11:40 AM rating by bineba

I've driven past Aachen many a time when we were still making trips home to Germany by car (before it became too expensive!), but I've never stopped. Your report makes me sorry I dever did!

Wed, Dec 26 2007 - 02:58 PM rating by joe_schmidt

This one is comprehensive and I learned something about Germany. (Yes, its true...)

Mon, Dec 17 2007 - 04:04 AM rating by britman

Well written interesting report. Informative and well illustrated.

Fri, Dec 14 2007 - 03:11 PM rating by davidx

I went to many West German places during national service back in the 1950s but missed Aachen. You make me want to go.

Fri, Dec 14 2007 - 12:27 PM rating by rangutan

[4.4] Great, 5* in a class of "European Cities" but a bit long for us locals. Nevertheless, another fantastic contribution for those that are visiting from other continents :-)

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