The Cathedral of Aachen, Germany

aachen cathedral windows unesco world heritage site germany
The extraordinary windows of the Cathedral of Aachen, luckily restored after being destroyed in World War II.

When it comes to the history of Europe, you have to admit that Aachen, which was Charlemagne‘s capital, plays a pretty important role. From the 9th Century to the sad events of the 20th Century, the Cathedral of Aachen, Germany has symbolized the complicated history of Europe.

Aachen was sort of an impromptu side trip, prompted by the fact we didn't want to spend 12 hours on a train from Amsterdam to Copenhagen all at once, and that I'd been reading the book The Monuments Men about the fight to preserve Europe's cultural heritage in the midst of World War II.

Aachen probably deserves a chapter by itself, because it was largely untouched by the war, until Hitler decided to make it a last ditch fortress as the Allies were pushing into Germany in the spring of 1945.

Aachen's location, right inside the German border was its undoing. Hitler decreed that his army must fight to the death to prevent Allied invasion of the homeland. Although his generals, and the Allied commanders, both tried to negotiate a retreat from Aachen to preserve the city from bombardment, Hitler refused to cede any German territory. (This policy also caused enormous destruction in the Alsace region of France, which Hitler considered part of Germany.)

Unfortunately, making Charlemagne's capital of the Holy Roman Empire into a battleground of 20th Century armies was not good for the city. Making a long story short, nearly everything in the old city but the Cathedral was destroyed, and the Cathedral lost all its windows as a result of proximate explosions. The reason the Cathedral survived at all was due to the good aim of Allied bombers, and the insistence by the Monuments Men and their commanders that it not be shelled or bombed.

As it was, the apse was damaged by bombs, and along with its extraordinary windows was rebuilt over a period of more than 30 years.

So, what you see here, is the structure which was started around the year 800, with a lot of alterations and additions, and all new windows installed in the 1980s. It's still a marvelous building, especially distinguished by the extreme height of its windows.

And, DNA testing has shown that the crypt behind the altar actually is that of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor.

The Cathedral of Aachen is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Click the link to see a list of all UNESCO World Heritage sites in Germany, with links to the sites we have visited.

Where to stay in Aachen

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