Things We Are Not Taller Than: Aachen, Germany

Things We Are Not Taller Than: Aachen is part of a series. You can read about the origins of our travel tradition here.

Before I met Tim, I didn’t know anything about the city of Aachen. Even after I met him, I understood that it was a “study town”, home to one of the best technical universities in Germany. It wasn’t until I made my first trip to this small city near the Dutch border that I realized how historically important (and historically rich) Aachen—and specifically the Aachen Cathedral—truly is.

Things We Are Not Taller Than: Aachen, Germany

Aachen Cathedral – Aachen, Germany

Built in 796, the Aachen Cathedral was commissioned by none other than Emperor Charlemagne (or Charles the Great), the first king to rule a united Western Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire. Intended as Charlemagne’s palace chapel, the cathedral took roughly twenty years to complete. In 814, it took on additional historical importance when it became the burial site of the Emperor.

After Charlemagne’s death, the Aachen Cathedral became the coronation church of the German emperors (think of it as the Westminster Abbey of Germany). From Charlemagne’s time through 1531, thirty out of forty German kings were coronated there. And every king came to Aachen to be officially enthroned on Charlemagne’s throne, which is still inside the cathedral today.

Inside, the cathedral shines with gilded ceilings and intricate mosaics. The aptly named Glashaus has over 1000 square meters of stained glass and soars to a height of 27 meters. In fact, the overall height and span of the cathedral is something of note (hence why it became the foundation of our Things We Are Not Taller Than tradition). After it’s creation, it remained the tallest structure north of the Alps for over 200 years.

Over the years, the Aachen Cathedral suffered damage from Vikings raids and the Allied bombings during World War II. Luckily, most of the important historical relics were preserved, even if the structure suffered. After the war, the cathedral underwent massive restoration. By 1978, restoration was complete, and the cathedral became one of the first 12 sites on the UNESCO Heritage List.