We started our weekend with a day in Aachen, the capital of Charlemagne‘s empire. It’s a small city, but it’s lively, with a large student population and a nice old city in the center. It was the site of a major battle in World War II, being the first German city to be taken by the Allies. So, much of the city is new construction since the war, but they did a very good job of rebuilding the core and the most important buildings.
I spent most of the day Friday touring around the historic city center while Jenny worked. She splits her work time between Hamburg and Aachen, usually leaving me in Hamburg while she’s working in Aachen. However, this time we decided to make a weekend of it. So, we got to Aachen thanks to her company with the rest of the weekend to explore, but the downside was that she had to work while I played around the city. It means that I’ve now seen a lot more of Aachen than she has, and she’s been there about a dozen times.
The most important site in the city (and one Jenny really hasn’t seen yet from the inside) is the Cathedral. It was Charlemagne’s “Imperial Cathedral,” and it’s the oldest Cathedral in northern Europe. Since Charlemagne is buried there, it was a major pilgrimage site for centuries. It was also the place of coronation for 30 Holy Roman emperors. Lots of history is packed into that relatively small Cathedral.
The design of the building is unique. Originally, it was built for Charlemagne as an octagonal chapel. After the Cathedral became more important for pilgrims, they added a large, attractive Gothic choir and large cloisters. So, the building has an oddly misshapen look from the outside (the Gothic choir is too tall for the older nave, which is simply the old Octagon). Inside, though, it’s very beautiful. The stained glass windows in the choir are very beautiful, though hard to see from the main seating area in the Octagon. There is a lot of gold leaf on the pulpit, the chandeliers, and other artwork, which gives the interior a nice warmth. Additionally, the geek in me was excited because I was seeing part of the inspiration for the set design of The Return of the King: the alternating black and white in the arches of the Great Hall of Gondor was based on the arches in the Octagon of the Aachen Cathedral.
The other important building in town is the Rathaus (city hall). It also has a lot of history, as parts of it date from Charlemagne’s palace, when the Rathaus and the Cathedral’s Octagon were connected as part of a much larger structure. Remember the 30 emperors who were crowned in the Cathedral? Well, they had their coronation feasts in the large Imperial Room on the third floor of the Rathaus. It’s an impressively large room, but not very exciting in its decoration.
There were a lot of other quirky sights in Aachen, from a church one day short of its 1000-year birthday party to funky fountains to classically-trained street musicians (an advantage of having a university in town). It’s a good city to visit, but I really felt that I had seen everything that needed to be seen in my day of touring while Jenny worked.
Of course, before touring Aachen, we had to get to Aachen. That involved my first introduction to the Autobahn, the land of no speed limit. It had been a bit too long since I had driven (and there was too much traffic) for me to test out the high speeds, but there were quite a few drivers speeding past us a speeds that would have resulted in the revocation of a license in America. It was a lot of fun to be driving again with Jenny reading Lonely Planet descriptions of the cities we were passing.
Descriptions and pictures from the drive to and time in Luxembourg will be coming soon.