Feb 27, 2015

Quick city trips: Aachen

Is one morning enough to explore one of Europe's most historic cities?

Over Christmas we finally relieved my family in Germany of the bulk of stuff I'd been storing with them since I left for the UK, which means that we embarked on an epic car journey from Surrey to Berlin and back.

Nate had initially planned on powering through, but we stopped over in Duisburg en route there, and then in Aachen on our way back (we didn't see much of Berlin at all in our time there, though I did enjoy a Dr. Hauschka session – albeit not at the KaDeWe where they were sadly booked up).

Duisburg was...fine. We stayed at Ibis Budget Etap (because it was cheap) and the room was clean and spacially very efficient with a kids' bunk bed over the adult double; they also offered complimentary Wifi. For dinner we ventured into town (without any previous research on maps or restaurants because we were too lazy / hungry) and settled for a Maredo steak house. Though I haven't eaten meat (at least that I know of – though I'm sure I've unknowingly consumed the odd chicken-based broth) since I was 11, I normally find steakhouses quite satisfactory in terms of culinary offerings – baked potato + vegetable kebab and I'm set. Nate was delighted with his steak and Lee had some sort of children's menu of chicken nuggets, which Nate liked more than she did.

For the way back, I insisted on Aachen because of city of emperors and all that. Hotel-wise we decided to stick with what we knew – i.e. the local budget Ibis. This time we did research restaurants and decided to go for Thai on the night we arrived, specifically Sen. The owners had clearly put a lot of effort in the restaurant's decor, all red and black lacquery in an Orientalist way with a large liquor bar and close-up photos of flowers on the walls...but food-wise it wasn't especially inspirational. The vegetable curry was adequate, though it included a few too many potatoes and canned pineapple chunks for my liking, and Nate enjoyed a large platter of meat (beef, I think) with associated accruements.

The next morning we were all touristy, starting with the fact that we got up at 6:30 am as we had to leave noonish to catch our Channel tunnel train. First on our list was a cafe for breakfast. The morning was extremely crisp and we stumbled towards the Muensterplatz....

and went into the first cafe we saw - which turned out to be the Nobis (a major player in the printen industry it seems) flagship store.

Now I may be wrong, but it seems like trying to find the best printen (Aachen gingerbread) in Aachen is like trying to find the birthplace of New York pizza in that city...there are a lot of options to choose from. But I'm getting ahead of myself - cafe-wise, we were pleased with Nobis' amazing hot chocolate (seriously some of the best I've ever had, the secret likely being sugar and fat) and delicious raisin rolls, sandwiches, cheese rolls, and jam doughnuts (known as "Berliner" everywhere besides in Berlin, where they're called "Pfannkuchen" which means "pancakes / crepes" everywhere else in Germany, so true Berliners will call crepes "Eierkuchen"...anyhow). We then went on to the attached printen-store (printerie?), where we bought some gift-printen and the very friendly staff pushed samples on us.

I then wanted to go to the cathedral – a UNESCO world heritage site which looks just breathtaking from what I've seen photo-wise – but since services were being held and it didn't seem appropriate to join in for purely voyeuristic purposes. Especially since we're not Catholic. So we had to settle for the mini-cathedral outside.

We ambled around the historic city center for the next while, which was very pretty but so cold...

The dolls' fountain (Puppenbrunnen)

Plus a little naked dude holding two fish

Just before 10 am, the receptionist at the Centre Charlemagne museum took pity on us and let us in. 

We spent the next few hours looking at the sights, including plenty of Charlemagne paraphernalia.

Nate loves old photos so he really liked this part of the exhibit which allows you to explore selected images and provides the background story.

And a clever use of lights shows how Aachen's perimeter changed through the centuries.

I would have been interested to hear a little more honesty about the deportation of Aachen's Jewish population during the Holocaust, which the exhibit pretty much glosses over – somewhat surprising given that there's a synagogue right in the city center (the exhibit does acknowledge the original was destroyed in Kristallnacht). A quick search shows that in 1933, 1,345 people identifying as Jewish lived in Aachen – but only 62 after WWII. 

Overall, while I do wish we could have explored some of the other museums, our few hours gave us a pretty good opportunity to see the highlights of Aachen...

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