Aachen - Imperial City
Cathedral, thermal springs and Aachener Printen
Charlemagne had good reason to make Aachen the centre of his empire: the cathedral city, imperial city and spa city inspires visitors with its culture and wellness even today.
The Imperial City of Aachen, charmingly located on the border of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, is a popular tourist destination, partly because of its convenient geographical location but also thanks to its long history, artistic treasures and elegant stores. However, the waters have most affected the city’s privileged location; the Volcanic Eifel heats the water, which springs from the ground at up to 74°C in many places. This makes the Aachen thermal springs some of the warmest in Central Europe, and they have been used by both the Celts and the Romans. Eventually these healing springs prompted Emperor Charlemagne to build his palace in Aachen, making it the centre of the great Frankish Empire.
The thermal springs’ soothing and healing powers helped Aachen begin its career as a spa town. Bad Aachen boasts more than 30 sulphurous hot springs and the Burtscheid and Monheimsallee spa gardens are two professional locations where guests can enjoy all the amenities a spa has to offer. Aquatic recreation is also at the fore in the Carolus Thermen, where the Roman bathing tradition lives on (www.bad-aachen.de).
The Cathedral and Rathaus bear witness to the Imperial City’s past
Dating back more than 2,000 years, the city is rich in history, a fact that can also be appreciated through its numerous monuments. Above all, Aachen Cathedral continues to enchant visitors today. Over the centuries, 30 different German kings have taken their place on the Archstool of the Whole Realm. The cathedral treasury is one of the most important examples north of the Alps and the cathedral as a whole is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from the city’s most important religious building – the cathedral – the Imperial City’s most important secular building is the Rathaus (Town Hall), which was built in the mid-14th century. It stands on the foundations of Charlemagne’s King’s Hall. It was here that Emperor Charlemagne once held opulent feasts. Later, kings and princes dined in the Coronation Hall. In this tradition, it is now where the important Aachen Charlemagne Prize is awarded every year to honour individuals who have rendered particular service to European unity. The town hall combines architectural styles from a variety of periods, including the Granus Tower from Charlemagne’s era.
Today the Imperial City presents itself as a cosmopolitan and modern metropolis with much to offer, where historical treasures stand side by side with a variety of museums, such as the Ludwig Forum for international art. Today the museum is completely committed to contemporary art, providing a good contrast to the city’s other well-known museums, which are largely dedicated to the past. This includes the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, which houses one of the most important medieval sculpture collections. The pieces found in the International Newspaper Museum, however, originate from very different eras. The unique collection presents some 200,000 international newspapers spanning five centuries. Along with several other museums, those mentioned above alternate in offering free admission on Sundays for young families.
What’s on in Aachen? Shopping, theatre, the Christmas market and more
Pedestrians are particularly welcome on the streets of Aachen: the city’s streets invite visitors to wander and enjoy extensive shopping trips. Its main shopping streets can be found near the cathedral, the market and the Elisenbrunnen. The city’s many theatres provide entertainment of an evening. A whole string of famous artists have begun great careers on the long-established stages of the Aachen theatre, including conductor Herbert von Karajan and actors Hans Jörg Felmy and Jürgen Prochnow. One special attraction is the city’s “Öcher Schängche” puppet theatre, where the puppet shows are performed entirely in the Aachen dialect.
Popular daytime activities and excursions especially tailored to families include a Stadtrallye (city rally), a trip to the Dreiländerpunkt, the point where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet, and following in the footsteps of Charlemagne with a stroll along the Route Charlemagne. The CHIO Aachen World Equestrian Festival is an annual highlight for horse lovers or simply fans of large hats and an elegant atmosphere. And of course at Christmas, the world-renowned Aachen Christmas market in the Old Town around the Aachen Cathedral is always a draw for visitors. Visitors can sample local specialities, such as Aachener Printen and Elisenlebkuchen gingerbread, or simply enjoy the peaceful yet bustling atmosphere.
Tip: Speaking of atmosphere, check out some extraordinary locations for breakfast in Aachen!