Located 50 mi/80 km west of Cologne, near the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands, Aachen, Germany, gained prominence as the capital of Charlemagne's empire. From 936 to 1531, it served as the coronation city for German kings, many of whom are depicted on the facade of the Town Hall.

The most impressive sight is the Aachener Dom, a beautiful cathedral. (Its oldest part, Charlemagne's octagonal domed palace chapel (Pfalzkapelle), was completed around 800 and is a splendid example of Carolingian architecture. Note the magnificent wheel-shaped chandelier, donated by Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa in the 12th century, and the copper pulpit decorated with precious stones and donated by Henry II (11th century). The high altar has a gilded panel relief depicting the Passion of Christ (around 1020). A hand-worked gold and silver reliquary called the Karlsschrein (1200-15) behind the altar contains Charlemagne's remains. The medieval marble throne in the upper gallery (guided tours only) was used as the coronation throne of 30 German kings. Highlights of the rich treasury (Domschatzkammer) include several major silver and gold reliquaries including the bust of Charlemagne (1349) and the Lothar Cross (c. 1100).

Today, Aachen is a lively university town. It's fun to spend a few hours strolling the streets of the Old Town and lingering in the shops, quaint restaurants and historical sights. Particularly enjoyable is the venerable Alte Aachener Cafe, which has superb printen (a locally made gingerbread) and an interior out of the Brothers Grimm.

Other attractions include mineral baths and year-round casino gambling. The Ludwig Forum, housed in a former umbrella factory, is an international art gallery and a performing-arts venue.

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