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Discover DE: The imperial city of Aachen

The series “Discover DE” goes on a journey across Germany. This winter to the imperial city of Aachen, once the home of Charlemagne.

picture-alliance/dpa - Aachen © picture-alliance/dpa - Aachen

Some people have had a hard time with them. Because real “printen”, if you ask an Aachener, are hard. Those who see the matter differently are well-advised to let the gingerbread specialities from the North Rhine-Westphalian city lie for a few weeks in the tin; or else dunk the rectangles tasting of honey and spices such as cinnamon, coriander, cardamom and cloves in tea or coffee. The first Aachen printen were baked in the nineteenth century. The Emperor Charlemagne (circa 747-814), the world’s most famous resident of the city, could therefore never have nibbled on a printe.

In the last twenty years of his life Charlemagne settled down in Aachen and built the city up into the imperial metropolis. The Church of St. Mary, one of the best preserved monuments of the Carolingian period, is particularly closely associated with him. Later there were additions and together they came to form the present Aachen Cathedral. More than thirty kings ascended the throne here. In 1978 the cathedral became the first German building to be enrolled in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

The Carolingian period and the following centuries were the heyday of today’s westernmost German city. But the history of Aachen goes even farther back. It began about the time of the birth of Christ. Roman settlers reputedly named the city Aquae granni, the source of the Celtic god of water and healing, Grannus. Because Aachen (its official name is Bad Aachen) is still rich in sulphur springs. They reach a temperature of up to 75 degrees: no other waters in all of Central Europe are warmer. And possibly none are more odourous. The bath-loving city father Charlemagne didn’t let this bother him. Not least for this reason the more than 240,000 residents of the city on the border to Holland and Belgium still honour him. Although Charlemagne died in Aachen 12,000 years ago, on 28 January 814, he is still present in many places here, particularly in the Old Town with its narrow streets and historical squares.

His name is on everyone’s lips at least once a year when the city awards the International Charlemagne Prize. The prize has been awarded since 1950 to people and institutions that have rendered outstanding services to the unification of Europe – among them political and social personages such as Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton, Pope John Paul II and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel. Aachen also attracts the scientific elite: the Rhenish-Westphalian Technical University (RWTH) of Aachen bears the title of “University of Excellence” conferred by the federal and state governments. With 260 institutes in nine faculties, it is one of the leading science and research facilities in Europe.