This is Aachen's major art museum, with a wide range of displays including paintings and sculpture from as far back as the 12th century, but up to and including the 20th.
While I was there they also had an impressive exhibition of paintings by the virtuoso Dutch artist Jacob Backer (1608/09-1651), a contemporary of Rembrandt and one of the most prominent and successful artists in Amsterdam in the 1640s. (No photos of this, sorry.)
The Suermondt-Ludwig Museum is open Tuesday-Friday from 12 noon to 6 pm (Wednesdays till 8 pm), Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm. Closed Mondays.
1. Entrance to the Suermondt-Ludwig Museum
2. Lot and his daughters by Otto Dix (1891-1969)
3. Suermondt-Ludwig Museum from the outside
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- Museum Visits
On Wings of Song
1. Stage with table and piano for the reading and recital
2. Members of the audience
3. Old Kurhaus from the outside
4. Inscription in the ballroom
5. Poster announcing the reading and recital
The building now known as the Old Kurhaus was built in 1782 as a casino, since Aachen was a very fashionable spa at that time and gambling was a major pastime for the rich but bored people who came here to take the waters.
The inscription in the historic ballroom (fourth photo) reads: "Built by Jakob Couven 1782, destroyed 1943, rebuilt 1967."
The ballroom is now often used for recitals and readings. When I arrived in Aachen in the pouring rain I bought one of the two local newspapers (yes, they still have two papers!) and found an announcement of a recital and reading that was being held that same evening.
Under the title "On Wings of Song", actress Daniela Ziegler read texts by or about the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (1820-1887) and particularly about her deep emotional relationship with the German composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847). Between sections of the reading, pianist Sebastian Knauer played some of Mendelssohn's compositions for the piano.
Jenny Lind and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy certainly had a close professional and personal relationship, but it seems to have been purely platonic. The composer was already married to someone else, which whom he had five children, and according to the program notes he did not do anything with Jenny Lind that might have jeopardized his marriage. Not that there is really any evidence one way or another.
The last public concert that Lind and Mendelssohn gave together -- with Mendelssohn at the piano -- was here in Aachen at a music festival in 1846.
Like some of the other most famous female opera singers of the nineteenth century, such as Maria Malibran (1808-1836) and Verdi's second wife Giuseppina Strepponi (1815-1897), Jenny Lind had a huge and very lucrative international singing career when she was in her twenties, but quickly wrecked her voice by singing too much too often -- like some singers today who have trouble saying no to enticing offers. (Though a lot of singers today are more careful and can go on singing professionally for many years.)
There are or course no recordings of Jenny Lind, since she stopped singing before the first recording apparatus was invented. (And the same goes for Malibran and Strepponi.)
- Arts and Culture
Aachen City Theater
1. Seating in Theater Aachen
2. Lower lobby
3. Upper lobby
4. Applause after Mozart's Lucio Silla
5. Stage door after the performance
The Aachen City Theater, officially known as "Theater Aachen", is located in the middle of a busy street, which in fact divides to go around the theater building.
This makes the building a bit cramped, since there is no room to expand to either side. (Photo on my Aachen Intro Page.)
Nonetheless, the theater puts on an extensive program of drama, dance, operetta and of course opera productions.
The opera I saw in Aachen, Mozart's Lucio Silla, was the fourth of a four-opera series called Mozarts Herrscherdramen (roughly "Mozart's Ruler Dramas"), a joint project of the theaters in Aachen and Freiburg im Breisgau.
The other three operas in the series were:
•La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart's twentieth opera, composed in 1791 for Prague shortly before the composer's death at age thirty-five.
•Idomeneo, Mozart's twelfth opera, composed for the court theater in Munich when he was twenty-five, in 1781.
•Mitridate, re di Ponto, his fifth opera, composed for Milan in 1770 when he was only fourteen.
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- Theater Travel
In Aachen and vicinity there are numerous hot mineral springs which have been crucial to the city’s development for the past two thousand years. The ancient Romans built bathhouses and used Aachen as a sort of R&R station for their troops starting in the first century A.D.
In the eighth century, Charlemagne’s choice of Aachen as his capital was partly because of the hot springs, so he could sooth his weary limbs between hard campaigns of forcibly converting large swaths of Europe to Christianity.
In the seventeenth century, Aachen was a fashionable place for royalty, aristocrats and celebrities to see and be seen while taking the waters.
Even today, the thermal springs seem to have retained some degree of importance for the local economy, though the “Kur” is no longer nearly as fashionable as it once was, and hot mineral baths are no longer financed as extravagantly by German health insurance companies as they used to be.
As I have noted elsewhere, I once asked my doctor in Frankfurt if he would prescribe a Kur for me, but he only laughed and said I was too healthy. I was somewhat miffed about this at the time, but have since decided that it wouldn't have been my scene in any case.
If for some reason you would like to read about life on the Kur, there is a short book by Hermann Hesse called Kurgast, published in 1923.
The building in my first two photos is the Elisenbrunnen (Elise’s spring or fountain or well). It was built in the 1820s and was named after a lady called Elise, whose official name was Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria (1801-1873). This might seem strange, since Aachen is nowhere near Bavaria, but in fact this Elise was married to the Crown Prince and later King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV (1795-1861), and Aachen had been placed under Prussian rule by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
Fourth and fifth photos: Archeologists digging in the Elisenpark have found remains of buildings from several epochs going back nearly two thousand years. A small section is open to the public in a roofed-over pavilion, with little signs telling which century each bit is from.
- Historical Travel
Around 792 A.D. Charlemagne ordered the building of the Palatine Chapel on this site, and the rest of the cathedral was gradually built up around it.
On Christmas Day of the year 800, Charlemagne was crowned “Emperor of the Romans” by Pope Leo III. This happened not in Aachen, but in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Many later emperors were crowned in Aachen, however. This was customary for several hundred years, until 1531.
Charlemagne was buried here when he died in the year 814.
Second photo: A modern statue of Saint Stephan, made in 1993 and set up just outside the cathedral. There are two saints called Stephan or Stephen, and this statue is of the second one, who was the first King of Hungary from about 1000 until his death in 1038.
A thousand years earlier there was another Saint Stephan who is generally regarded as the first Christian martyr. He was accused of blasphemy and was stoned to death in Jerusalem in about the year 34 A.D.
Fifth photo: The steeple of the cathedral sticking up from behind some nearby houses. The streets and houses in the immediate vicinity of the cathedral form a “buffer zone” known officially as a “Monument Protection Area”, to ensure that the surroundings remain appropriate to the character of the historic building.
- Historical Travel
In the cathedral
Since the Aachen Cathedral was built bit by bit over the past twelve centuries, it includes elements of different styles from various epochs of church architecture, which to an uninformed visitor (like me) can seem quite confusing.
I think I would have appreciated the cathedral a lot more if I had gone on the guided tour on the first morning of the VirtualTourist 2015 EuroMeet, but unfortunately I arrived too late in the day to take part.
VT member toonsarah has written a detailed review of this tour, which I highly recommend.
In 1978, the Aachen Cathedral became the first site in Germany to be inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Aachen’s theatre is an imposing building with its white walls really gleaming on a bright day, although as it faces north-west it is only late in the day that you can catch its frontage in sunlight. It was founded in 1822 in honour of the 25th Jubilee of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III, and in order to offer a cultural experience to visitors to the spa, but was unfortunately almost completely destroyed by a bomb in 1943, during the bombing raids of the Second World War. Following the end of the war it was rebuilt, reopening in 1951. It stages drama, ballet, opera and concerts.
In front of the theatre is a large statue of a horse. I have not been able to find out much about this, except that it is an allusion to the fact that Aachen is a famous city for equestrians, hosting the annual Concours Hippique International Officiel.
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- Theater Travel
Some other fountains
Aachen does not have the benefit, which enhances so many cities, of a waterside location. It is not on the coast and no rivers run through it. But beneath the surface there is plenty of water (see my Elisenbrunnen tip) and at street level this manifests itself in the many fountains to be found around the city. As well as those which I’ve covered in separate tips I also liked these:
The Fischpüddelchen, a little boy with two fishes, in the old fish market (“Püddelchen” means a small naked child) [main photo]
The Friedensbrunnen (Peace Fountain), a modern sculpture with water in Theaterstraße with all sorts of animals, birds and human figures which is designed to represent the ties of human friendship and the will to live in harmony with nature [photos 2 and 3]
There are also lots of sculptures, monuments and statues dotted around the town, such as the amusing chicken thief in the Hühnermarkt (Poultry Market) seen in my fourth photo, and the little girl in photo five who sits on a wall in Theaterstraße, not far from the Friedensbrunnen.
- Arts and Culture
The “Puppenbrunnen” or Puppet Fountain consists of a number of bronze figures with moving arms which depict the different characters who inhabited the town in Medieval times, among them a solemn bishop, a young girl, an old man and woman, a king. These all have meaning for the present-day city: the horse and rider symbolise the Aachen international equestrian tournament; the market woman = trade; the bishop = the church; the dressed-up girl or doll = the textile industry; the harlequin = the arts and culture. On top of the fountain is a figure of a cockerel as a reminder of the period of French occupation.
Our guide showed us (or persuaded willing volunteers from our group to demonstrate) how blocking some of the lower water outlets forces it to shoot out of the top, showering anyone nearby with water – see my little video of this experiment.
- Arts and Culture
Der Kreislauf des Geldes
The best known and most photographed of Aachen’s many fountains is perhaps this. It is certainly the one that got the most attention from our walking tour group of VTers. It was created in 1976 by a sculptor called Karl-Henning Seemann, as a commission from the Sparkasse Aachen (a local bank). A large basin holds the water which runs out through a hole at its centre. Around the basin various figures, almost life-size, depict different aspects of our relationship with money, largely negative – greed, meanness, begging. Perhaps to counter-balance these, a father also stands on the edge, explaining to his child how to handle money.
One figure appears to be throwing money into the water and visitors are encouraged to do likewise, aiming to toss it directly into the hole “for luck with money”. I don’t know if success in this endeavour does bring the participants good fortune, but it is certainly lucky for the bank who apparently receive all the coins thus thrown away! Or so we were told by our guide …
- Arts and Culture
Behind the Elisenbrunnen lies the garden that carries the same name, after the Crown Princess Elizabeth Ludovika of Bavaria (known as Elise), the daughter of King Maximilian I of Bavaria. Today this is a prettily planted park – I especially liked the delicate shades of mauve chosen for the various beds. But a striking modern glass structure in its centre hints at its past. There was once a small church here, the Chapel of St. Adelgundis, but of this nothing remains, nor of the medieval Ursuline convent which stood nearby, nor of the latter’s cloister garden which was the foundation of today’s park. This park, first created here in 1851, was renovated in 2008-2009 and it was then that this historic part of the city was properly studied, with archaeological excavations revealing both Roman and medieval foundations. Some of these have been left exposed after the park was re-established and are now on show here in this “Archaeological Showcase”. Information plaques (in German and English) explain the finds on display and present plans of this area at various points in Aachen’s history, from pre-Roman through to the late Middle Ages.
On the eastern side of the Elisengarten is a restaurant bearing the same name with a large terrace overlooking the gardens. My friend Isa and I enjoyed a pleasant half hour here, drinking coffee and watching the passers-by. It would make a lovely spot for lunch, although perhaps unsurprisingly given the location prices seemed higher than elsewhere in the city.
- Historical Travel
Although it doesn’t appear in the town’s name, as Bad Aachen (more on that later …), this is a spa town, founded in an area of natural hot springs. Even in Neolithic times, these hot springs were known and used, and naturally the Romans took full advantage of them, establishing their town around one of them here, at what is now the centre of Aachen.
Like every spa town, Aachen therefore has supposedly health-giving waters which visitors, in the past at least, flocked to try. And this was where many of them came, to the elegant pavilions and arcades of the Elisenbrunnen, built in 1827. Here visitors could see and be seen, meet their friends, and “take the waters”. Today the names of many of the most famous are engraved on marble plaques on the walls of the building, including Peter the Great of Russia, the composer Handel and Casanova, as well as the royalty of many European countries, and you can still drink from the fountains with their golden lion taps and marble bowls, which we were encouraged to do by our guide – although I did spot a sign indicating that this is “Kein Trinkwasser” – not drinking water.
And why are we not in “Bad Aachen”? Well, according to the city guide who led our tour, this would have meant sacrificing the alphabetical “top spot” that having a name starting with AA affords, something the town and its residents were not willing to do!
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Aachen's town hall, or in German its Rathaus, was built on the foundations of, and incorporating parts of, the royal palace of Charlemagne. It stands on the southern side of the market square, Markt, just to the north of the cathedral and is a very imposing structure. It was originally completed in 1349 in the Gothic style, but following the great Fire of Aachen in 1656 some parts were rebuilt in a Baroque style. Another fire in 1883 also badly damaged the Town Hall, as did bombing raids during World War Two. It was not until 1978 that the final elements of its reconstruction, the new tower caps at the east and west ends, were finished (designed, incidentally, by local architect Leo Hugot who was also responsible for the restoration of nearby St Foillan’s Church).
It is possible to go inside parts of the building but I didn’t have time to do so. It would be interesting to visit though I think – the website Route Charlemagne has a full description of what can be seen, including the Coronation Hall and Peace Hall, displays about the impact of WW2 on Aachen, and about the annual Charlemagne Prize awarded here to someone who has worked for the benefit of European peace and integration.
The 1879 relief on the exterior depicting the Adoration of the Magi (photo three) is a replica by Gottfried Götting of a former treasure of the Rathaus, a 14th century relief on four limestone blocks which stood above the stairs leading to the Coronation Hall. This was partly destroyed during French occupation in 1798 and, having been transferred to a museum after replacement with this replica, completely lost during the years of WW2.
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Church of St Foillan
My eye was initially caught by this church on my first evening in Aachen when, walking back to my hotel through the quiet streets, I mistook it for the cathedral. I realised my mistake the next morning but it was perhaps not surprising that I had made it, because the two buildings are very close and from a distance St Follian’s spire could easily be taken as being part of the same structure (see photo five).
The next day I visited the church with VT friends Isa and Mariel, after our walking tour of the old city. We found a surprisingly modern interior, owing to the near destruction of the church by Allied bombing in 1944. But there has been a church on this site since soon after the construction of the nearby cathedral. Ordinary citizens of Aachen were not permitted to worship in the latter so a new church was built very close to it for their use. That structure had already been mostly lost, to a succession of fires, even before the bombing raids of World War Two, and what stood then dated largely from the late 19th century.
Today’s church is the work of a local architect Leo Hugot, who in 1956-58 created a new modern church incorporating what little remained of the original Gothic. The stained glass is abstract in design and beautifully complements the simple light interior. My eye was caught by the octagonal tabernacle (photo four) which I have since found out dates from 1962 and was designed by Egino Weinert, with enamel work depicting scenes from the life of Jesus. The same artist also designed the bronze cross that hangs above the altar (photo three, bottom left) and his work is all the more remarkable when you learn, as I did when researching this tip, that he lost his right-hand in 1945 when a booby-trap bomb exploded in his parents’ house in Berlin.
Do pop inside St Foillan’s if you are here visiting the cathedral as its modern simplicity makes an interesting contrast to the rich splendours of the latter.
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Aachen Cathedral: interior
I have described the exterior of Aachen Cathedral in a separate tip. Now it is time to go inside. I visited the cathedral on a tour organised through the tourist office by our VT host Valentina, and I was very pleased that I did so, as I got far more out of the visit than if I had looked around alone and the tour also took us up into the gallery to see Charlemagne’s throne, an area not open to all. The guide was very informative and packed a lot into our short visit. The tour cost €4 and I paid an extra small amount (I forget the exact fee) once inside in order to be permitted to take photos – well worth doing as I hope you can see.
You enter through the great west door, with its lion door knockers. Our guide told us a legend about these involving a wolf and the devil, with the latter losing his thumb inside one of the lions’ mouths as he slammed the door on the former. We were encouraged to feel the “devil’s thumb bone”, a piece of metal hidden inside the right-hand lion’s mouth. Inside the porch she pointed out a sculpture of the wolf. You can read the full story here: http://www.aachen-emotion.com/en-professionals/places/the-devils-thumb-in-aachen-cathedral.
Once fully inside however the drama of the actual sight in front of you is likely to eclipse any legend. The main body of the cathedral consists of Charlemagne’s originally-conceived octagonal chapel. This was built between 796 and 805 to serve as the chapel of the Palace of Aachen, and modelled on similar structures in Ravenna (the Basilica of San Vitale) and Constantinople (the Little Hagia Sophia). Its relatively small floor area makes its height (over 100 feet) all the more striking, and on the domed ceiling above an ornate mosaic portrays Christ on Judgement Day – surely designed to awe the worshippers below. The walls consist of three tiers of arches separated by columns which our guide explained were taken by Charlemagne from various Ancient Roman sites, thus reinforcing his role as emperor of a new (and Holy) Roman Empire. These were removed to Paris during the French occupation of this area, to be displayed in the Louvre, but most have since been returned though a few of those we see here today are copies. Above you hangs the huge chandelier in the form of a wheel, over four metres in diameter. This is known as the Barbarossa Chandelier after its donor Emperor Frederick Barbarossa who presented it to the cathedral in around 1170. Its 48 candles are still lit for high feast days and must be a magnificent sight.
From here you can proceed to the choir beyond, though I noted that only those on a tour are allowed beyond the low rails that separate it from the octagon. This was added between 1355 and 1414, and is said to have been inspired by Sainte Chappelle in Paris. Here you are likely to be at first totally mesmerised by the amount of richly coloured stained glass. The choir was designed to have as large an area of glass as possible (over 1,000 square metres) in order to serve as a glass reliquary to protect the holy relics of Aachen and the body of Charlemagne. These latter lie in two ornate gold shrines here, one holding Charlemagne (see the photo in my tip about him) and one, the Marienschrein, holding the four relics – the cloak of St. Mary, the swaddling clothes and loincloth of Christ, and the cloth that held the head of St. John the Baptist after his beheading. These are displayed to the faithful only once every seven years. The stained glass, by the way, is relatively modern, as although the cathedral survived the bombs of World War Two relatively intact, the windows were blown out.
As well as visiting the main body of the cathedral do, if you get the chance (only on a tour I believe) climb the stairs to the gallery that runs around the octagon. Here you can see Charlemagne’s throne (again, see the photo in my tip about him). This is positioned, as it was in his day, directly opposite the high altar, giving the ruler a private but imposing location in which to participate in the Mass. But do not expect to see a grand and much-ornamented throne; it is, disappointingly at first glance, very plain indeed. It consists of four marble slabs held together with bronze clamps. But these slabs are unique, having been appropriated by Charlemagne from the floor of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Our guide pointed out on one side slab the markings where previously someone had played a sort of board game, a version of Nine Men’s Morris, on this floor. This was used as the coronation throne of the kings of Germany until 1531, used for a total of thirty-one coronations. Of course, Charlemagne himself was not crowned on this throne, having commissioned it after becoming Emperor.
Coming up to this gallery also affords you a closer view of the mosaic in the octagon’s dome and of the decorations of this part of the cathedral, so for this alone I think the cost of the tour was justified.
The website I’ve linked below is in German only but worth visiting even if you don’t speak that language for its wonderful 360 panorama of the octagonal Byzantine-style centrepiece of the cathedral. It also links to another site with three more panoramic views covering the main church, choir and the gallery with Charlemagne’s tomb: http://www.nrw-tourismus.de/panoramen/aachen_1_3/aachen.html.
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- Religious Travel