Monday, July 28, 2008


Day 139
As soon as I was up I headed to the supermarket. It really kills me that everything is closed on Sundays. I had a nice fruit breakfast and packed myself a veggie sandwich lunch. I seem to be going through some sort of healthy eating faze. How odd.

I got the train station and was a bit dismayed to find that my train was late. My train the day before had been about 30 minutes late as well. I thought that Germany was a country that was basically alway on time. I was headed to Aachen. Aachen is the westernmost city in Germany and very close to Belgium. I picked it because of its relationship to Charlemagne. Charlemagne was born in 742 and was crowned king of the Franks in 768. In 800 he was made emperor of Rome. His kingdom was huge, it was most of modern day Germany, Benelux, France and Switzerland, and dipped into Italy and even as far east as Hungary. Aachen was a central point of all of this and where Charlemagne decided to build a massive palace. The palace is gone, but the church he built is still there. He was even buried in this cathedral in 814 when he died. Well, I guess it would have to have been when he died, kings aren´t often buried alive.

I don´t think that Charlemagne found much rest though. In 1474 he was canonized and his remains were dug up. This was about the third time he was exhumed. His body was picked apart for relics. The churches treasury, what I was visiting, was full of them. The first was said to be his hunting knife and his bugle. Problem was that they were both 11th century creations and he died in the 9th century. Something doesn´t seem to quite add up here.

Besides Charlemagne´s faux belongings several of his actual relics were here. There was a huge golden arm and hand with his right arm in it. Another golden bust of him contained his skull. You could see the arm bone, but not the skull. I would like some proof that it is actually there. Charlemagne was the patron saint of French kings and every few hundred years a king would go crazy making reliquaries for not just bits of the former king, but of other saints. These were pretty amazing and really shiny. One of a very large gold cross with tons of precious and semi precious jewels in it. I found it most attractive because it also used medalians from the Roman period. Charlemagne had considered himself a roman ruler and this associated not only him, but also the benefactor of the recluary with the Roman civilization.

The whole experience was made even better because I was given a really detailed book about the collection. It talked about almost ever single piece. The next room had some chalices and some tryptics, or three piece alters. They were all quite nice, it was really a pity that I couldn´t take pictures. Downstairs there was a bunch of pope clothes, these were boring and I didn´t stay long. Upstairs was much better. They had several paintings and wooden sculptures of the Madonna with baby Jesus. Some of them were quite good and centuries ahead of their time. There were also a few more relics, one had belts that had belonged to Mary and Jesus as well as a piece of the flagellation rope. As interesting as these types of relics are, most have never been dated. In fact, most appeared from basically no where in the middle ages. Throughout Europe there are enough pieces of the true cross, as they say, to put together 9 of them. Still, even with a grain of salt, I find these pieces to be fascinating. It makes me think about the devoted masses of 600 years ago. They couldn´t read and were wholly uneducated. Perhaps these relics, even if they are false, are what kept them tied to their religion more than brimstone sermons by priests.

When I had finished with the museum I went next door to check out the cathedral. It is undergoing heavy restoration and a lot of it was under plastic and scaffolding. Still, it was beautiful. I would have liked to take the tour, but it was all in German. I didn´t get to see Charlemagne´s throne by skipping this though. Perhaps I will learn German and come back some day.

I spent some time wandering the old town and found an old looking restaurant with a horse in a coat in front. No idea why. I also found a fountain that had movable metal puppets. I wanted to head back to the station a different way so that I could check out one of the remaining town gates. Due to this I was taking out my map quite a bit. A woman who had been talking to herself decided to help me out. I told her where I was going and she told me to walk straight and turn right. She said this in German and I understand (thumbs up for me). Then she asked me in English if I spoke English. I said yes. She then went off talking in a mile a minute German. I wasn´t really sure if it was directed to me or not. This cycle happened about three times before I just said danke and walked faster across the crosswalk than she did.

My plan was to get back to Cologne with enough time to take the afternoon cathedral tour. I had about an hour to kill and since my hostel was very close by I went back there to chill. I ended up falling asleep and missing the tour. I was a bit irritated with myself for this. Once again I simply wandered around for a few hours before heading back to the hostel to make myself some dinner. When I had finished eating I sat in the hostel bar for a bit writing. Nothing much seemed to be going on and I soon ran out of things to write and began to get a bit lonely. It´s so wonderful when I meet people that its sometimes very frustrating when I go days without meeting anyone. But, this is independent travel, and I am very happy so I don´t want to complain. I think I´m just looking for an excuse for being a bum and calling it an early night so many nights in a row.

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