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.
this is a snapshot of Koln after WWII. J gave E and I postcards with this image (and another one for E). as you can see, almost all of Koln was destroyed during the war. they endured 262 air raids. the cathedral, though, remained safe because the bombers were using its tall spires as targets for the rest of Koln and they were instructed not to hit the cathedral and lose their target. lucky for the cathedral! D told me that.
D and J actually live in a building whose facade is the only thing that remains from before WWII. the basement (or another part of it) is remaining from Roman times so their building is very historic. it is so cool to have D and J explain so much of Koln’s history to us. they have lived here pretty much their whole lives so they are well versed in all the information.
J took us into the Koln cathedral today quickly after we got off the train. I have been near it a lot and use it as a point of reference constantly when we are getting lost or when we are on the train and I am not sure if it is our stop. but I had not been inside it yet. honestly I wasn’t really sure what the policy on entering cathedrals was. do you need to pay for a tour? can you just go in anytime or do you have to go when a mass is about to happen? is it public or private property? are they open 24 hours a day or only at some times? so you see, I had a lot of questions.
it was amazing inside! the photographs my architecture history classes have shown us of the interiors of cathedrals are completely inadequate to describe the size and beauty and oh! the intricacy of individually carved stones. it was incredible. and lucky for us J actually used to be a tour guide in the cathedral when she was growing up here so she told us a lot about the cathedral. it houses the oldest representation of Christ on a cross in history. the representation is also quite unique because He is depicted during His death on the cross, so he is wincing and in pain, instead of after. there is also a breathtaking modern pixelated stained glass window which has been supposedly quite controversial.
we also looked around the exterior again to see the difference between the north and south facades and their corresponding difference in wealth reflected in the quality of the stone work. one side is clearly more kept up and more decorated. J also showed us some of the stones she lay herself when she was a stone mason on the cathedral!! she also pointed out the tiny tiny ladders atop the two spires that she climbed once. she was the first woman to ever do that! she is incredible. the photograph shows the 148 meter tall spires and the little ladders she was on.
more photographs of the cathedral here.