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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Aachen (Part 1)

Aachen (17/6) (Part 1)

On Saturday 17/6, I went to Aachen. Originally I was going to go on Pinksteren Monday (the reason for choosing weekends or public holidays is I only get my 40% rail discount after 9am on weekdays, and the journey is 3 hours), but I read about the Roncalli’s Historical Fair in Kornelimünster and decided to go for that.

When I got to Heerlen (from which I'd take the train to Aachen) I had some time so I checked fares on the machine. I was quite upset to find that a return ticket from Utrecht to Aachen had cost me €36,60, but a return ticket from Utrecht to Heerlen would've cost me €21,40 and a return ticket from Heerlen to Aachen €9,50 - I'd have saved almost €6 buying 2 separate tickets (the reason being that international return tickets are valid for 2 months, but domestic returns for a day).

Travel in Europe must've a huge pain before Schengen. And I can't imagine how much they save by dismantling all these border controls.


Most cathedrals are situated in a square or otherwise have a lack of buildings around them, allowing them to stand out, rising from the ground. Aachen's cathedral, OTOH, has buildings clustered right next to it. Its unusual design, based around Charlemagne's palace chapel, probably also contributes to its diminished image. But then again it *is* smaller than other famous cathedrals, so.

Cathedral windows

I saw a gelato shop in Aachen near the cathedral selling scoops for €0,60, so I got one. I was amazed at how cheap it was, but maybe I'll find even lower prices in Italy.

Tourist dancing to music provided by buskers

Exterior carvings

Monument in the square

Model of the cathedral

Admission to Aachen cathedral was free, but there was a €2 photographing fee (honour system). They said tripods are disallowed, but said nothing about flash. Unfortunately I didn't have small change to drop this amount into one of the holes, but I had shelled out €0,50 for a guide booklet, so. I love their photo policy. The church with the worst policy is probably Westminster Abbey - 8 pounds admission and no photos.

When I arrived, there was a service going on. According to the timetable this wasn't supposed to be happening, but the service was special and so was taking longer than usual. After milling around outside for a while, I decided to go in and listen to the service, especially since the music sounded better than usual service music.

Inside, I found that the service was dedicated to the Malteser order ("Generalversammlung der Deutschen Assoziation des Souveränen Malteser-Ritterordens"), there were many people in Malteser polo shirts and uniforms and Malteser flags were being carried around. I also found out why the music sounded so good - it was mostly from Haydn's Missa Brevis in F, and there was a Mendelssohn psalm also.

'She-Wolf' (2nd century Roman female bear [Looks like the Dark Ages were really bad], now dated to Ancient Greece)

Lothringian Madonna with child, before 1400

The guide booklet said that Aachen pilgrimage was once equal to those of Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. Unfortunately it didn't say why it wasn't equal to those any more.

Barbarossian Chandelier, 1160

I then realised that it was almost 11:30, and the Rathaus (town hall) would be closed at 12pm until 1 or 2pm, so I rushed down. Unfortunately, there was no entry that day due to the Malteser order. You win some, you lose some.

Restaurant mascot on the square

Charlemagne fountain


Rathaus, and details

I think the only reason this spice garden was behind the cathedral was because it was mentioned in Charlemagne's 812 Capitulare de villis.

Back of the cathedral

I was hungry, so I went to explore the area behind the cathedral where they'd set up TV screens (for football viewing), a beer garden and food stalls.

20 types of fries. They looked good. I know this because they were cooking the fries Dutch-style - with a pile of thick-cut fries after their first fry standing above the frier. I should open a kiosk like this one day!
German - Sour grill sauce
Mexican - Chilli sauce
American - Ketchip
Portuguese - Jäger sauce (this seems to be a German sauce though!)
Belgian - Special (Mayonnaise, Curry and chopped onions - my favourite)
Dutch - Peanut sauce (???)
Hungarian - Zigeuner (Gypsy) sauce
Belgian - Mayonnaise
Spanish - Garlic-Mayonnaise
American - American sauce
German - Curry
Greek - Tzatziki
French - Bernaise
Swiss - Kräuter (?)
Dutch - Hollandaise
French - Mushroom-Rum
French - Remoulade
Chinese - Asian (?)
English - Vinegar
Spanish - Garlic

For lunch, I had Speissbraten (grilled pork) with sauce and onions for €3,75. It was expensive (no doubt the World Cup premium), but I'd been screwed so much lately that I just lay back and thought of England. Besides, I was out of the Netherlands and so was on a holiday account. In any case, the speissbraten was very good and very tender, though the roll I got with it was tiny.

I then had a godawful slush - paying €2 was one thing, but the Waldmeister flavour sucked (I always like to try new things, but I wasn't sure if this sucked because it was artificially flavoured, if the flavouring was lousy or Waldmeister is a horrible flavour). In any case, the marketing should've turned me off - the mascot was a blob with a bedsheet thrown over him, and he was in a very Malaysian pose (showing a thumbsup sign with his land hand and holding the slushee in his right), and there were also the Malaysian reassurances ("Das original. Die nr. 1"). All in all, it was the dubious aura which was also shared by this "Perfect Fried Chicken" joint I saw in London (predictably, a KFC ripoff).

Back of the cathedral. Short of going by air, this is probably the best point to view the cathedral from.

Nice dogs. European dogs are nice. Perhaps it's true, what they say of mad dogs and the midday sun.

Mosaic before the cupola

Ceiling of the cupola

Gnadenbild (Miraculous image), 'Our dear lady of Aachen', 'Essentially 14th century'
The qualifier makes me suspicious

Altar (Pala d'Oro), 1020

Pulpit of Emperor Henry II, before 1014, decorated with ancient and medieval drinking bowls and Egyptian ivory reliefs from the 6th century AD

The altar and beyond were off-limits to normal visitors, but I saw some groups going in on guided tours. I decided not to pay €3, since the tours left only at intervals (so I would waste time waiting) and they were in German, and admired the sights from afar.

Shrine of St Mary

Restricted area - in the background is the shrine with Charlemagne's remains, above the double-sided radiant Madonna (Strahnlenkranzmadonna), 1024 and the right the Shrine of St Mary (1220-30) which contains their relics

When I found out that access to the gallery (where the Throne of Charlemagne was, so I wouldn't even see it from afar) was also only with a guided tour, I got pissed off and finally decided to pay €3 for the guided tour (I was now happy I had not paid the photography fee). I asked if English was available and the man said I had to order a week in advance. He gave me a free translation of the most important points though. I wasted about 15 minutes waiting for the tour to start, but didn't have that much to do in Aachen anyway - the UNESCO World Heritage Site (what their website modestly proclaims is "The most famous monument of western architecture") was what I'd come to see, and though the museums sounded nice, I'd learnt how to decipher museum-speak already - if they don't mention famous/important works in the collection, it has nothing exceptional and however much they gush about their collection, it's probably nothing really good.

Ceiling of the cupola. The light kept changing so my 2 previous shooting sessions were awful. This was great though.

2nd storey of the cupola, with 9th century Carolingian bronze railings and Classical pillars cribbed from Rome and Ravenna.

Mosaics just below the dome
Unfortunately they're all 19th century mosaics (1880-1913), made in the era of the Prussian Emperors.

The major relics stored in the Shrine of St Mary are the dress of the Virgin Mary, the nappies of the infant Jesus (wth?! It's already a stretch of the imagination conceiving of how relics get saved, but who would save this?! Maybe it was non-biodegradable and lay on a trash heap till someone found it), the loin cloth of Christ and the decapitation cloth of St John the Baptist. Uhh. I wonder if anyone has tried carbon dating all these relics. But then, we have demonic interference and Science is Godless (and incidentally, also seditious), so. Either that or according to the fundies, the Catholics are satanic idolaters anyway.

In the same spirit as the relics, Wikipedia informs us: "In 1000, Otto III had Charlemagne's vault opened. It is said that the body was found in a remarkable state of preservation, seated on a marble throne, dressed in his imperial robes, with his crown on his head, the Gospels lying open in his lap, and his sceptre in his hand. A large picture representing Otto and his nobles gazing on the dead Emperor was painted on the wall of the great room in the Town Hall." Oh, what a fine thing it would've been to live in the Age of Miracles. A pity such things don't happen nowadays. This must be because we live in such a Godless, Fallen and Sinful world.

Shrine of Charlemagne, with his remains. Front: him flanked by Pope LeoIII and Archbishop Turpin of Reims. Side: 8 medieval rulers (another 8 on the other side)

Unfortunately the stained glass was damn ugly.

What later artists drew as the symbol of Charlemagne - the German eagle with the French fleur-de-lis. It was thought to be his symbol but that's bull.

Weathered paintings on the wall of the restricted area

The other side of the double-sided Madonna. Usually I'm loth to pump up the ISO but otherwise it was impossible, and a grainy image is better than a blurry one. Actually on 200 it's still kind of tolerable. Maybe I should try it more in Italy.

Eagle's stand - Choristers' stand from the 15th century

Shrine of Virgin Mary. This holds the 4 main relics. This side shows Charlemagne with 6 of the disciples

Throne of Charlemagne. Used by 30 kings in their coronation ceremonies from 936-1531

Entrance to the Cathedral

Entrance to the Domschatzkammer (treasury)

Bust of Charlemagne, 1349
This contains his cranium. Gross.

Arm reliquary, 1481

Horn oliphant of Charlemagne, c. 1000
Below is the Hunting Knife of Charlemagne, 8th century. Sheath 10th-11th century.
The astute reader will note that all of these are not from the time of Charlemagne. This is what happens when customary names are proven to be misnomers.

Reliquary of Charlemagne, mid-14th century

Christ in his Majesty, 1180 AD

Head of a Cantor's Staff. Eagle - 1470. Hexagonal boss - 1420.

Cross of Lothair, c. 1000
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