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Travel & Holiday

History meets high tech

A residence for royalty in the past, the culturally rich city of Aachen is today one of the most vibrant R&D hubs in Germany
The Sunday Times - April 8, 2012
By: Nicholas Yong
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History meets high tech The Marktplatz is a popular chill-out place in sunny weather. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZETTI SALEH ALI

For five centuries, German kings who became the Holy Roman Emperor were crowned in the city of Aachen. Located along the German border with Belgium and the Netherlands, the historic spa town was also a favoured residence of the mediaeval Frankish king Charlemagne, and eventually his burial place as well.

Today, the city of almost 260,000 has forged a place in Europe as a prominent R&D hub in the region. It is also known for RWTH Aachen University, one of Germany's Universities of Excellence.

Aachen has been home to entrepreneur Zetti Saleh Ali, 27, for the past five years. She met her husband Mesud Inan, 33, also an entrepreneur, while studying in Australia.


After getting married, the couple moved to Aachen so that Mr Inan could pursue his doctoral studies. They have a three-year-old daughter. The couple run INAC, a company which helps German students gain international experience overseas.

'I like the fact that Aachen is not as crowded as Singapore and that amenities are easily reachable in the city. The weather is really great from May till September, so we are able to enjoy a lot of outdoor activities.' says Ms Zetti. 'Furthermore, the pace of life here allows me to run my business and enjoy quality time with my family.'


Tell us one little known fact about the city.

As the western-most city of Germany, Aachen shares its border with Belgium and the Netherlands. A normal weekend could consist of breakfast in a quaint cafe in Aachen city, shopping in the district of Maastricht in the Netherlands and dinner at a traditional Belgian restaurant in Eupen.

The best time to visit is...

It really depends on what you would like to experience. If you are looking for warm or cool temperatures, April through to September would be the best months to plan a visit.

May and September are my favourite months as temperatures are generally between 12 and 18 deg C and they are sunny, great weather to hit the parks and simply laze in the sunshine.

June is a lovely month as well, mainly because it is the height of summer.

But as most shops and restaurants, and not to mention homes, do not have air- conditioning, it could be difficult to find relief from the heat.

You should never visit during...

October till February, the coldest period in the year. October is known to be the rainiest month, while January and February can see temperatures drop to minus 20 deg C.

But if you are keen to experience a typical European winter, this might be an interesting time. This is especially so, considering the traditional Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmarkt) in Germany and Belgium will be in full swing the whole of December.


The best way to explore the city is...

Aachen is a relatively compact city and most attractions are reachable by foot or bus.

A bus ride around the city costs just €1 (S$1.70) and you can hop on and off within the city limits for up to two hours on the same ticket. A day ticket for one person costs just over €5 and just over €7 for a group of five.

For first timers to Aachen, the Aachen Tourist Service provides an insightful 11/2-hour tour of the Altstadt (Old City) in English on Saturdays at 11am. You meet at the Aachen Tourist Office (Friedrich- Wilhelm-Platz, tel: +49-(0)241-180-2960, along Elisenbrunnen, and will be taken on foot to various sites such as the Rathaus (Town Hall), the Aachener Dom (Aachen Cathedral), which is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and the various historical fountains around the city. The tour costs €8 for adults and €4 for children under 14.

What's the weather like?

Aachen is a very typical European city, with the temperature range depending on the seasons. Summer can see temperatures go as high as 30 deg C and winters can bring on a temperature of minus 20 deg C.

Do you need to know the language to get around?

Although it is very useful to know some basic German, it is not a necessity as a visitor. Being a student city with a diverse range of nationalities, Aachen has many people who can speak English quite fluently.


Your favourite breakfast is...

Germany is known for its variety of bakeries. The morning air is filled with the smell of freshly baked bread from the numerous bakeries around town. This is rightfully so as the typical German breakfast consists of freshly baked brotchens (buns) with slices of cheese, salami, smoked salmon or a dollop of jam.

Your favourite eating place is...

Good Asian food is hard to come by in Aachen, but I am lucky enough to have found two nice Japanese/Thai restaurants which are around the corner from where I live. They are called Best Friends Sushi (Pontstrasse 77, tel: +49-241-401-7705) and Oishii (Pontstrase 83, 52062 Aachen, tel: +49-(0)241- 900-8360). Dishes at both restaurants range from €6.50 to €12, and drinks from €1.80 to €3.50.

For traditional German food, head down to the Im alten Zollhaus (Friedlandstra�e 22-24, tel: +49-(0)241- 404050). The restaurant serves some of the best German food in town. Located next to the main train station, it provides a perfect spot even for visitors on a quick stopover in Aachen. Main dishes start from €7.50 and drinks from €1.60.

Don't leave the place without trying...

Original Aachener Printen. Printen is a type of traditional Christmas treat that resembles gingerbread. Originating in Aachen, it is made from a variety of ingredients including cinnamon, aniseed, cloves, cardamom, coriander, allspice and ginger.

The exact mixture of ingredients is a closely kept secret of the individual Printen bakeries. I prefer the ones sold by the centrally located Printen Backerei Klein (Munsterplatz 15, tel: +49-(0)241-474350).

The coolest place to chill out is...

Take a trip down Pontstrasse, Aachen's most frequented culinary street. Popular with local residents because of its diverse array of restaurants and bars, Pontstrasse is the place to relax with friends and families.


What is a big no-no in your city?

Burping in public. It might be acceptable in Singapore but Germans will not be as understanding.

What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?

Friends and family who have visited me love the idea that Aachen is so near to other countries. Paris is a short two-hour train ride from Aachen with the Thalys and London is just 31/2 hours away with the Eurostar train. Tickets to these destinations can cost as little as €50 one-way.

What is one place you always take your friends to when they visit you?

Dreilandereck (Three Country Point), the area where the borders of Germany, France and Switzerland meet. What better experience than to have your guests be in three different countries at once?

What do the locals like to do on weekends?

Weekends are a relaxed affair as most shops close early on Saturdays and are shut on Sundays. It is common to spend lazy days picnicking at one of the many parks in Aachen.

Many people also like to take a quick drive up to Aachen's countryside, known as the Eifel Region. This area houses the Eifel National Park, which has numerous hiking opportunities for nature lovers.

The Rursee (Rur Lake) also offers watersport activities during the summer months. And for the bargain hunters, various open-air flea markets are organised weekly in many places in Aachen.


What is worth buying in your city and where is the best place to get it?

Chocolates. There are tonnes of chocolate from Lindt & Sprungli, which has one of its main production factories in Aachen. The chocolates range from €0.80 for a bar to almost €20 for the fancier packed chocolate items. But most of the chocolates will be at least 40 per cent below the retail price.


Are there any festivals that travellers should look out for?

Aachen is known for hosting many festivals throughout the year, the main ones being Karneval in February, the CHIO World Equestrian Championships in late June till early July and the annual music festival known as September Special.


Are there things to see or do outside the city?

Do visit the nearby cities. The easiest way to get around would be via the Deutsche Bahn ( shtml) train network. Saver fares are often available and cost between €30 and €50, depending on where you are headed. These specials should be booked at least three weeks in advance. You can also drive to the Dutch city of Maastricht, which is 20 minutes away. It is a great place to while away the day by the Meuse River. Shops are open in the Netherlands on Sundays.


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