The ABCs of Cologne: Day 5 – Aachen

Next time I go to Germany, I really should check about bank holidays such as having the Monday after Pentecost off. I mean it’s the same in the Netherlands so it’s not like either my Dutch husband or myself were shocked by this, but it does make things that much more closed or infrequent. Lesson learned I guess. 

So with half the trains due to both engineering works and a Sunday timetable, we spent today in the nearby city of Aachen. As the city of Charlemagne, and the site of his burial and shrine, it is incredibly significant. Not that you would know it growing up in the UK where nothing related to him comes up in any sort of history class… because why would we learn things outside our borders. 

Anyway, aside from being the city of Charlemagne, Aachen has some significance to me as well. When I first started working on exam papers back in 2014, one of the first papers I was involved in was an ICT skills paper where Aachen was the central theme. So I have been weirdly looking forward to actually see the things from that paper in person. 

The walk from Aachen Central Station to the main area with all the historical joy was a bit far and windy (yes we took a few wrong turns) but we found our way and settled for some light breakfast in front of the Rathaus. Simple, but very nice to have to get you going. 

Rather than start at the Rathaus, we went north a bit to see one of the remaining original city gates, the Ponttor. It’s interesting to see how a city deals with these, like you see some (e.g. Freiburg or York) where they are integrated with the current buildings or exist as part of the original walls. But here, like in Cologne, it is very much standing alone an viewable at all angles. Shame we couldn’t go up, but probably wouldn’t have added too much I guess. 

We then made our way back to the Rathaus, at which time the weather had clearered up so much that, as we went up the staircase, I was able to take some really wonderful photos of the cathedral through the window. 

The interior of the Rathaus are grand and really reflect the status that the city, and therefore the mayors of the city enjoy. The red and white rooms downstairs were particularly beautiful and could have been plucked out of a noble’s palace. Going upstairs, we saw the coronation hall completely decked out with frescos honoring the deeds of Charlemagne. It’s a pretty beautiful hall, would love to be given an award here as they do every year. 

As it’s Pentecost, the cathedral was still closed for additional services. So, to keep ourselves occupied we went to the Treasury museum. Some of the stuff here is spellbinding. I talked yesterday about liking church art, well there was some things that went well beyond what I was expecting. 

Reliquaries have the chance to be spectacular as they try to be adequate vessels for the hair, bones or cloth fragments belonging to ‘saints’. Well, at least three of these amazing pieces have good provenance as they contain bones belonging to Charlemagne himself. Weird to look inside one of these gold artworks and think that you are face to face with a thousand year old king’s remains. 

Then it was time to go into the cathedral itself. Now yesterday I made some claims off the back of being a bit spoiled by Italian churches and maybe it’s a cultural thing that German ones don’t quite match up. First thing, I forgot about the rococo explosion of the Asamkirche in Munich. But also, I had forgotten that this was meant to be the better cathedral in terms of decoration (after all, Cologne Cathedral ran out of money during construction because it is so massive) 

The silver, blue and gold mosaic work in the aisles floored me when I first saw them, especially as they were glistening in the blazing sunlight. Then there was the golden artwork in the interior of the dome, again spectacular. Its a pity so many of the windows were blown out during World War Two though. As nice as these were, it would have been great to have seen the originals. 

Also here, at the front of they cathedral, is the Karsschein – Charlemagne’s current resting place. We’ll, for most of him anyway. Again, weird to have such an almost mythic figure just… there. I know I have seen the tombs of English kings and queens at Westminster Abbey, as well as Tutankhamen when I went to Egypt, but this feels a bit different. Maybe it’s the Saint thing I because I just saw his arm bones in a golden hand. 

For a late lunch we stayed and ate near the cathedral where we, once again, swapped dishes halfway through. This was a wurst place, and I am still not sick of these German sausages. First was the currywurst, which is something my husband is really enjoying whilst we’re over here. Then there was the Thuringer sausage with mashed potato and red cabbage. This was perfect fuel for, what would become, an unexpected hike. 

To end the day, we wanted to finish off at the Dreilanderpunkt – the tri-point where the borders of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet. To get there was a bit of a bus journey followed by a half hour uphill hike through German forest. I was able to enjoy this a lot more on the way down, you know, when I was expecting a forest hike to be on the cards and could enjoy the trees and wild flowers. 

Things like this tri-point are why I love Europe and the EU so much. This would have been almost unthinkable 60 years ago, now here you can skip a circle and be in three countries in a couple of seconds. Now this is nowhere near the only border meeting like this in Europe, but it is the most inspirational. 

Not content with just having the monument and flags, you have a full attraction here. On the Belgian area is a souvenir store, a frites stand and an observation tower (back to that in a moment). The German side is steep sloped forest… so there’s hiking trails and a restaurant where things are a bit more level as Germans are practical like that. The Dutch area is a full blown event with a maze, the parking lot, playground and so many food places – gotta love the Dutch and their entrepreneurial spirit. 

As we could, we had some frites in the Belgian area. I mean, I’ve been to three countries in one day. I deserve some fries. We then went up the observation tower, to truly get the scope of being able to see into three different nations as you move around the top floor. Like… this isn’t like seeing three different words, there is not a lot of clues which direction you are looking in – except for part of the German side being quite heavily industrialised. 

That was it for the day, we made our way back to Cologne and grabbed some sandwiches for dinner. Like we’d eaten a lot today, so some nice sandwiches are just the way to finish off. Tomorrow, I will be completing my ABC of NW Germany as we hop a train and see what it is like in Bonn. 

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