The Trials of October, 2022

Some months are good; some are bad, and some are mixed. For Kay and me October, 2022 falls in the third category. On the first day of the month, sitting on a plane from Istanbul, I experienced malaise and a scatchy throat, the beginning cold symptoms I knew only too well. By the time our plane touched down in Cologne, I was ill.

Aachen Cathedral

For years, I had wanted to visit Western Germany’s ancient city of  Aachen, whose thermal springs had once made it attractive to both Celts and Romans. It may have been the warmth of those springs that induced Charlemagne (Charles the Great) to make it the heart of his Frankish Empire in the late 8th century. It was because of my interest in Carlemagne, formed while a student in France years ago, that I wanted to see Aachen. Unfortunately, fatigue, among my other cold symptoms, kept me from fully enjoying the experience.

For two days, Kay and I walked twenty minutes from our Ibis hotel to Aachen’s  historic center along a route lined with attractive stores and restaurants. Our destination on that first day was its cathedral, a Unesco World Heritage Site and its principal attraction.

Casket Containing Charlemagne’s Remains

Among other treasures, the cathedral contains a gold coffin encased in glass, containing Charlemagne’s remains.


Aachen Cathedral

Entering the cathedral, Kay and I were surprised to find ourselves among low marble arches and striking mosaics that recalled the Byzantine religious monuments of Ravenna. This unique church was so unlike the great Gothic Cathedrals of Northern Europe. In fact, although some parts dated to the cathedral’s 9th-century foundation, others were added much later, some even in the early 20th century.

Cathedral Center

Most interesting to us was the cathedral’s center constructed around the eight-sided church Charlemagne commissioned about the time he had been crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day in the year 800. At its peak, Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire comprised most of what today are the countries of the European Union. On this trip I had hoped to learn much more about this remarkable medieval ruler. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel well enough to give my visit the attention it deserved.

That said, Kay especially was enamored by the cathedral’s precincts that make up the Old Town. We plan to return on a future visit, perhaps in conjunction with a trip to Alsace. As it was, on our second day, we sat comfortably on a cafe terrace in a lovely square drinking beer and snacking on fries from a large paper cornet while pretty autumn leaves drifted downward in the sunshine.