Aachen for the day
D and J took me in the car to Aachen (pronounced ah-hen) today. it was a day full of incredible things! starting even with the ride over. there aren’t speed limits in Germany like there are at home. people zoom past you at about 120 miles per hour! we were going so fast. to me at least, I think D and J were perfectly fine. I guess not driving for months and biking everywhere could have changed my perception of speed.
when they picked me up this morning J had a big surprise for me. she found one of her students at the university in Aachen (RWTH Aachen University) to give me a tour around the city. this is completely awesome because usually when I have visited cities in the past few weekends I kind of wander around aimlessly looking for things that intrigue me and just taking my sweet time, asking for directions all the way. but having someone who knows the area and what is most interesting or famous to see is a blessing! much more efficient sightseeing.
my tour guide (Mor) picked me up from J’s office and we headed out along one of the main rodes that had a lot of food on it. he picked up some breakfast/lunch and we hiked up this big hill to have a view of all of Aachen before we looked around on the street level. I was actually a little bit embarrassed because the hike up the hill (it was really much bigger than a hill sounds) put me seriously out of breath. but, in my defense, there were a ton of stairs. a ton! the hike up was worth it though. he showed me basically everything we were going to see once we went back into the city and also the beautiful countryside all around Aachen. we even saw giant clouds rolling in from the country with rain pouring out of them and blue sunny sky all at the same time. it was really cool.
back in the city Mor took me around to see the main market area next to the great city hall which was built like a basilican church with a main rectangular nave area and a rounded apse in the front. right next to the city hall is the cathedral that Charlemagne ordered to be built in 800 AD. Charlemagne loved Aachen and frequented it often. he actually declared it the center of his empire. this cathedral is very special because it was used for many German king and queen coronations and it supposedly houses the remains of Charlemagne himself! the cathedral is absolutely gorgeous because it is a combination of many different architectural styles. the original part (started in 800 AD) has an octagonal floor plan and was the largest dome built at its time. the additions to the cathedral are mainly Gothic with incredible stained glass windows that span nearly the entire height of the building. it was even more beautiful on the inside.
I also got to see the Elisenbrunnen, which is a large hall that covers some of the original fountains in Aachen. the city is very famous for its hot springs and the healing powers of the baths. J had told me about this previously and how people drink the water for good health. she also warned me about the high sulfur content. but not the smell! I could smell what she had been referring to even before we were near enough to see the water. since the water is coming from natural hot springs, it comes out quite warm. I wasn’t so sure about tasting it but Mor took a giant gulp and looked kind of expectantly at me and said that it tasted good so I tried a bit. oh man! it tasted so much like eggs. but I think I will be super healthy now.
I tried some of Aachen’s famous Printen! I got a small free sample at one of the stores. it is a delightful treat that most Germans only eat around Christmastime because it is hard bread that is made with cinnamon, aniseed, ginger and some other spices. J told me that Printen was originally created in Aachen as a response to Napoleon’s ban on sweetening with sugar since it is sweetened using honey. this was delicious.
I learned a lot about Aachen and really enjoyed the city. Mor kept telling me about how small it was and how sometimes there wasn’t enough to do but I really enjoyed it and thought it was a great size. like everywhere, very walkable. I hope I didn’t embarrass him with my stopping to take the typical tourist-y photographs every ten steps.
more photographs of Aachen here.