"A Brief Afternoon Visit - Now Times Two!" Aachen by johngayton
Aachen Travel Guide: 502 reviews and 1,208 photos
My personal travel advisor in Maastricht (ie one of the guys I got chatting to in the excellently idiosyncratic Take One bar) recommended Cologne as my next beer tasting destination. He also explained that it would be cheaper to get the bus from Maastricht to Aachen and pick up the German regional train onwards to Cologne rather than get a Dutch international service.
Sounded good to me and so that was how I did it. I was in no rush and so decided to stop off at Aachen for the afternoon before continuing onwards and of course spent the money I'd saved on the train fare getting in my first tastes (yep plural!) of German beer on German soil.
Having breakfasted on coffee and cigarettes in Maastricht - well I suppose it was more brunch than breakfast given that I didn't get up until almost check-out time - the first thing I did on arrival at Aachen was look for lunch. Lunch of course needed an aperatif and hence my first Germanic beer at a little cafe opposite the train station (and where the bus stops).
UPDATE Dec 2012
Having now made a second afternoon/evening visit, for the Christmas Market, there'll be a few more beers and restaurants to be added soon as well as a mini VT meet TL - watch this space.
The beer was as good an introduction to Aachen as any, as too was my healthy light lunch (and the second beer), Then, suitably refuelled, it was time to discover the city.
I'd done no pre-planning and didn't know anything at all about Aachen but I'm a wanderer of cities and having consulted the useful street map outside the railway station headed off downhill towards the centre.
This proved to be not so good an introduction as the relaxing lunch I'd just had. The walk through the outer city centre presented an industrious hive of busy traffic, roadworks and city folk doing their city things. It was all a bit grimey, dusty and noisy with a total abscence of pedestrian-friendly signposting.
I'd been beginning to doubt the accuracy of my mentally-photographed map into the city centre but suddenly, having just passed the grey concrete of the main bus station, there I was - Charlemagne's city.
Aachen's rise to city status is due to its sulphurous hot springs. The ancient Celts had a temple here dedicated to their water god Grannus and the Romans built a military encampment around the springs even though they weren't on the main road - the Romans did love their bathing and having hot water without having to pay for it probably appealed to their sense of parsimony.
Both the Celtic and Roman settlements were relatively minor affairs and it wasn't until the reign of Charlemagne that the spa began developing into one of the most important European centres of that era.
Charlemagne, or Charles the Great as he is sometimes referred to, was crowned King of the Franks in 768 AD. His vision was to unite, or as some might say conquer, Europe as a Catholic fiefdom which to a certain extent he did.
He had a few setbacks, such as his defeat by the Muslim Basques in 778 which is celebrated by "Le Chanson de Roland"(An epic saga and one of the earliest remnant works of French Literature) but by 800 AD he had dominance over much of central Europe and in December that year was crowned "Imperator Augustus" by Pope Leo III (who probably had Charlemagne's sword to his neck at the time).
Charlemagne adopted Aachen as his favoured city, simply because of its hot spa, and built the first cathedral and adjoining celebration hall. This was the genesis of what is now known as the Holy Roman Empire (although a famous quote tells us that it was neither "Holy, Roman, nor an Empire) and firmly placed Aachen in the centre of Medieval Europe.
The city grew around the catherdral and for the next 600 hundred or so years all the Kings of Germany were crowned here.
The city's importance waned in the 16th century and a major fire devasted it in 1656. World War II did it no favours either as it was heavily bombed by the Allies, bombarded by them during its capture and the retreating Germans themselves mined and demolished many buildings. Interestingly though was the cathedral, the Dom, escaped relatively unscathed whilst its next door neighbour, the Diocesian (Bistum) church was almost obliterated by bombing.. This was similar to the situation of Cologne's cathedral in that that too was left standing and conjecture had it that this was done in order to use the spire as a bombing navigaton guide.
The historical centre has been faithfully restored, though you will note the presence of newer stone blended in with the old on some of the buildings. And even if you're not particularly interested in history it is certainly worth a visit for its characterful bars and restaurants.
- Pros:Very Interesting History
- Cons:Outside The Very Small Centre
- In a nutshell:Good Bars Tho'!!
Worth doing if you are staying a few days in Maastricht is to have a day out to the former capital city of the Holy... more travel advice
Having found the atmospheric and friendly Cafe Egmont for a few beers after our arduous afternoon of culture, history... more travel advice
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