Enter Aachen – A Good Start to Germany
Yggdrasil the Hymer motorhome is sitting in a rapidly filling car park in Aachen, Germany. (50.7617, 6.07141). It is just a regular, rough ground car park, but it is free, and an easy walk into the historic city centre.
On the other side of the one way street is a lovely park, complete with open air swimming pool. Jay has taken Marley out for a morning walk and I wish I could join them. But I slept too late. There isn’t enough time to walk, swim, and also work for three hours before we leave. So Jay and Marley get the walk, and I get the work.
It’s only fair of course, as when we’re in Scotland Jay works twelve hours a day while I’m gadding about, walking with Marley and taking photographs. And I like the rhythm of my days on the road. Each day starts with three hours of writing. Then the van is packed up and we are on the road. Like…yesterday…
Yesterday my recovering cold, and the Retsina and Bubbles from the night before, had me sleeping far later than I should have. Waking to the knowledge that we needed to get on the road before the day got any older. But also that I needed to finish the blog post from Ghent and our visit with Chris & Peter. And I needed to finish that before we went anywhere new.
Painful experience had taught me that anything else would mean falling behind. And falling behind with a Travel Blog is not a good place to be. The road keeps rolling, and life keeps happening. If I didn’t write about it now then chances are I would just fall further and further behind.
I don’t like to write as we drive. Back to that bum-shuffling fear of missing something I guess. I prefer to watch the world roll by outside the window. Not read, not write, just watch. Watch the landscape unfolding around us. Watch the villages come and go. The arcitechture of the region reveal itself to my greedy eyes.
But once in a while I will make an exception, and this was one of those onces. If we didn’t go now it would be too late to do anything when we arrived. And as for missing the scenery? Well that was my own fault for not getting up sooner. Maybe it would teach myself a lesson for next time.
The heat was back up in the 30s as we drove through the busy roads of Belgium. The odd car and motorbike scaring us half to death as they quite literally flung themselves across the lanes directly in front of our wheels. As we ground to a halt in another traffic jam we felt, maybe, we could understand why so many people here drove this way.
Perhaps it was just that the roads were so full that they felt they had to take whatever small gap there was as it appeared. Goodness knows when, or if, there would be another one. Or maybe they were just so crazily full of confidence that they felt no fear. We didn’t know. But we really wished they’d give our bumpers a bit of a wider berth.
All good traffic jams come to an end though, and it was early evening when we eventually pulled into a corner spot in our Aachen parking space. After a long, hot day in the van we were out the door in no time. Breezing past our corridor of smiling sunflowers and heading for the much awaited Aachen city centre.
It was a pleasant walk into town. We stopped to admire a pretty church and I was in raptures over a beautifully old-fashioned Tailor shop. Even the cars were behaving themselves, and the roads were quiet anyway.
As usual we knew absolutely nothing about this place we had chosen to pass one evening of our lives in. We were just ships that pass in the night Aachen and us. But would we leave any lasting impression from our brief encounter? Would Aachen leave one on us?
And what was it about that name? I’m sure it seemed faintly familiar. Or maybe it was just from seeing it so many times as I scanned the maps.
Familiar or not, the historic centre, when we reached it, was an absolute delight. The road we took in became prettier, and more enticing. Beer houses sprung up around us with people sitting outside eating, drinking, chatting, smiling. It was my first ever visit to Germany, and everything, so far, was exactly as I had imagined it would be.
The atmosphere was… easy. Pleasant, friendly, relaxed. No sense of hurry. No feeling of stress. It was Friday, the sun was pleasant now, near the end of the day. And all around us, as we continued on to the Marktplatz, the most beautiful of buildings were surrounding us with their distinctive character.
The Marktplatz was huge. But it needed to be in order to fit in the enormous bulk of the Rathaus – German for Town Hall. It’s an almost impossible building to photograph, but of course I had to have a go… or three… or thirty…
The square is lined, like squares throughout Europe, with bars, and round the corners interesting looking side streets bend and twist out of sight. Enticing us to follow.
It would be rude not to accept the provocative invitation. And we’re hoping for somewhere a little less busy than the main square to grab ourselves a nice cold German beer. So we leave the marktplatz behind and wander on.
We knew nothing about Aachen before we arrived, and sadly only a little more by the time that we left. But it quickly became apparent it was a place of some importance. There were a good sprinkling of tourists in among wandering locals, and here and there we saw evidence that this had once been a Roman place.
There was also a liberal sprinkling of the name “Charlemagne” here and there. And I was fairly sure that fountain statue in the Marktplatz was none other than the mighty King and Emperor himself.
Eventually, as we wandered here and there, piecing together scraps of information from this thing and that thing, we discovered that Aachen was, in fact, a very important German city, and the burial place of the great King.
I felt a twinge of regret that we had arrived here so late today. And that our time here was to be so short. There are always so many things to see and learn in cities. Even in small ones like Aachen. And as the evening slowly unfolded we began to see more and more how much we would never even glimpse during our flying visit.
As always having the furry one does not help. Effectively barring us from most places that give us our lessons of history. Of the lives and deeds of our ancestors. It’s a strange feeling this exclusion we experience since we rescued Marley. And I find myself sometimes longing for cold days and evening opening hours. Just so I can participate in normal human society.
In the meantime we settle for spending our time in the open spaces. The streets and plazas and parks of our great towns. Our history books and museums are written on the fountains. Carved in stone and wooden lintels. Worn round and smooth on ancient cobbles that have seen the passage of generations upon generations of other feet.
We take our curiosity past the intricate bronze water sculptures decorating the city streets. Stopping here and there for Marley to lap up the cool water. Bark at the splashing dancing streams of it.
Eventually we find a Wursthaus we like the look of – nestled in a square on one edge of Charlemagne’s cathedral – and slip away an hour or so learning about the country through it’s food and beer. As good as a museum any day.
Dinner over we knew it was time to wander some more. The light was going fast now. The day had been long. And although we still felt fine, there was only so much time left to explore before we had to head back for Iggy.
We liked Aachen more and more as we trickled our way to and fro. It’s not a big city centre, but it’s a beautiful one. We found another set of Roman excavations and a lovely German family got chatting with us after saying hello to Marley.
They commiserated with us over Brexit. Said they loved Cambridgeshire. We told them we’d just been to Ely. “Ah!” exclaimed all three. One of their favourite places!
And they told us how, once upon a time, all the Kings of Germany were crowned here, in Aachen. A very important city indeed.
And now we must go. Back through the pretty back streets. Back past the fountains and cobbled squares. Say goodbye to the wonderful Hühnerdieb – the Chicken Thief and try not to linger at the softly lit pavement bars.
Don’t stop for the fire juggler! Thrilling crowds in the marktplatz. Just snap, quick, a shot or two, as you pass, smiling past.
Don’t look back as you wander. Or maybe glance, just a glance. And be glad as you’re leaving that you were so blessed to have this chance.
This moment. All these moments. Just like life. Rushing past.