The thing Aachen has been most well know for for millenia are its
hot springs. These attracted the Romans as well as Charlemagne and
his father Pippin as well as the European high society in the 18th
and 19th century. Also Aachen got its name from them:
Aquae granni with Grannus being a local god. Everything else seems to
have stemmed from the springs:
The Romans came to build a military bath for the recreation
of their soldiers fighting those damned Teutons. They left a little
village with a rectangular street map oriented along a major hill of
Charlemagne and his father often visited Aachen at Christmas
and Eastern (too soothe their rheumatism as is said). Charlemagne
finally decided to have Aachen as a steady residence and therefore
a (small) palace and a (small) cathedral were build. The cathedral is one of the few
with an octagonal center, which is probably the reason why it was
made world cultural heritage.
Since Charles was a good Christian, church and palace were
oriented in east west direction which somehow conflicted with the
way the Romans had build. As a result Aachen's inner city has a lot
of triangular places and bending roads. Charles was buried in the
When about a hundred years later Otto I had some problems
with justifying his regency, he declared himself in the tradition of
Charlemagne. He was crowned in Aachen's cathedral and took his
coronation meal in the palace. This became the standard for the next
30 German kings or so, who left treasuries and attached chapels for the
cathedral and independent city rights for Aachen.
When in the 17th to 19th century travel
became somewhat easier Aachen made a fortune by people (e.g.
Friedrich the Great, Peter the Great) visiting for treatments with
the hot waters. Luckily already in the 16th century a
doctor from Aachen had started to distribute writings on the healthy
effects of Aachen's springs against all kinds of illnesses.
Alas, Aachen was the first German town the Allies tried to occupy
in the second world war, which lead to some heavy fighting. Many of
the old buildings are either destroyed or had to be rebuild after the
Aachen is now dominated by its university (RWTH Aachen) and
technical colleges. About a fifth of the populace is
made up of students. One of the results is that Aachen probably has
the highest density of pubs of all German towns in its inner city
(especially Pontstraße north of the market-place). Another one
is that a lot of startups (like Aixtron, Elsa or Parsytec) have joined the
ranks of more traditional industries (like Philips or Ericsson).
Aachen is located next to Belgium and the Netherlands and the
local dialect has a lot of similarities with Dutch. Also a lot of
commuting for work and shopping happens over the nowadays open borders. Therefore
some decades ago Aachen's city council started to issue the so called
"Karlspreis" (named after Charlemagne) each year to a
person which made himself merited for the European Unification. In
2000 strangely Bill Clinton was chosen (probably so the mayor could
shake hands with him).
Let me finally clear up two misconceptions of the above write ups:
It is unknown where Charlemagne was born and Aachen has no
higher probability than a lot of other towns.
Aachen is not only located on the Belgian border but also on
the Dutch. In fact, the "Dreiländereck" (Three
Country Corner) is ca. 5 kilometers from Aachen's center. The
"Dreiländereck" is also the highest point of the
Netherlands (ca. 310 m).