Aachen, also known historically by its French name Aix-la-Chapelle, is one of those picture-perfect towns where you want to stop and stare, and to take pictures of every building.
It has been famous as a spa since the eighth century. Emperor Charlemagne was crowned in Aachen as the king of Franks; he used to spend his winters there since probably 770 till his death in 814. The Cathedral was founded in 796. The old town was built concentrically, which means that if you turn in the wrong direction, you will still reach your destination eventually, as you would simply be going in circles. For those topographically challenged, like I am, it is a blessing. I knew that I had to pass the old Turm, Tower, to get to the university campus.
Then I turned right instead of left, found myself in a street whose name told me nothing, and that’s when the rain came. Now, sometimes it rains, other times it pours. It was one of the “other times”: it seemed to me for a moment that the sky fell down, like a waterfall. Here I was, soaked in a minute, with no idea where I was, and with all the doors around me firmly closed due to the early hour. Suddenly, a door opened, and a woman shouted, “Herein! Kommen Sie herein!” One doesn’t need to be a linguist to understand that. As it turned out, it was a small store. I saw the sign which said that it was to open in an hour, but the lady indicated that there was no need for me to wait outside in the rain. She showed me a large sign which said, “Back to School Sale, Alles 10 euro!” I went into a changing room, thankfully took off my wet clothes, put on a nice top, jeans, jacket, she tossed in a pair of wonderfully warm dry socks (1 euro a pair), and rather fancy sneakers. The lady cheerfully rang all my purchases on her machine. Smiling good-naturedly, she pointed at a heap of umbrellas sitting by her station, with the comment, “Es regnet oft!” Indeed.
Dom, the Cathedral, is huge. One has to walk around it to get a sense of the human achievement, and of the many centuries it took to build it. It is beautiful inside and outside. Next door to Dom there are many little shops where they sell a zillion varieties of amazing tasty Pfefferkuchen, gingerbreads, in all shapes, sizes and colors. The shop clerks are dressed in traditional German costumes, pretty white blouses with puffed sleeves, red bodices and long flaring skirts. One can see the Cathedral from almost anywhere in town. The Theater is also a landmark, a lovely building surrounded by flowerbeds, statues, and benches. Besides numerous bakeries, there are plenty of cafes and restaurants. There are also well-stocked bookstores with books in various languages. One can find international newspapers & magazines at the main railway station.
One can take a train and visit Koln, Cologne, which is famous for its huge cathedral. Aachen is close to the border, so one can also take a train or bus and go to Belgium or the Netherlands. If you find yourself in Aachen for a few days only, however, spend your free time just walking around. It is a feast for the eyes, and a thing of beauty which stays with you forever.