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Aachen is a historic German city in the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. It is the westernmost city of the country, located 65 kilometres west of Cologne, close to the borders with the Netherlands and Belgium. It has well over 250,000 inhabitants. Apart from its medieval significance and a wealth of preserved artifacts, Aachen is also known for its springs, which have been attracting visitors since the Ancient Roman times and continue to do so today, with a number of historic baths and hotels sprinkled around the city. Contributing to the city's wealth and prominence is also the technical university, which made Aachen a hub for modern technologies and provides a sizeable student population (over 40,000). With all this, Aachen is now a multi-cultural, popular tourist destination. Historically this spa-town was a prominent city, the place where the German Kings were crowned, and a famously favoured residence of Charlemagne who still lies buried in the impressive cathedral he himself had built. The city is packed with historic sights that remind of those days, including medieval buildings, city gates and beautiful fountains.
Aachen's climate is comprable to the average climate of Germany. Summers last from June to early September when it is mostly between 20 and 25 °C during the day and between 12 and 14 °C at night, though highs over 35 °C have been recorded as well. Winters are from December to February when it's mostly a little above zero during the day and slightly under zero at night. Most winters see some snow, but it is usually not that much. Most of the precipitation falls during the months of October to March, though heavy showers in summer are possible, especially after hot weather.
The Maastricht Aachen Airport (MST) is shared with the Dutch city of Maastricht. Ryanair flies to/from Alicante, Pisa and Girona, Sky Airlines flies to/from Antalya, Transavia to/from Dalaman (Turkey), Faro, Heraklion (Crete), Kos, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca, Rhodes and Tenerife-South, and Amsterdam Airlines to/from Ankara and Kayseri. The airport is about 40 kilometres away from the city.
The nearest large airports are Düsseldorf (IATA: DUS) and Cologne-Bonn (IATA: CGN). Both airports can be reached by train, via the Düsseldorf and Cologne central stations respectively. Other small airports within reasonable distance are Weeze (IATA: NRN, trains) and "Brussels" South Charleroi Airport (IATA: CRL, trains). Also Liège (Lüttich) airport in Belgium is around 45min car journey away. Antwerp airport, also in Belgium, requires a 90 minute car ride. Finally, Eindhoven airport in the Netherlands is at 1 hour car ride distance. Probably Aachen is quite unique in having a total of 8 airports in 3 countries within 140 kilometres.
If for some reason none of the nearby airports are feasible or affordable, the airport in Frankfurt (IATA: FRA), Germany's main hub, has a direct ICE connection and offers a number of trains to Aachen with one interchange or less. For some airports the rail&fly programme the German railways offer together with several airlines might be an option.
Deutsche Bahn provides frequent services to Cologne, taking about 1 hour and also has other connections in the region, including cities in the Ruhr area, like Düsseldorf and Dortmund. ICE high speed trains from Brussels via Cologne to Frankfurt and Thalys trains from Paris to Cologne also stop at Aachen, and there are regional trains to Heerlen in the Netherlands and Liege in Belgium as well.
Aachen is easily reached by taking the A4 from Cologne or the A44 from Düsseldorf. The smaller A544 connects from the A4, almost reaching the city proper.
Eurolines travels to and from Aachen. There are direct journeys to London (approximately 10 hours), Brussels (3 hours), Paris (6.5 hours) and Prague (11.5 hours), among others. Coaches depart from Wilmersdorfer Straße, on the outskirts of the city. The selection of domestic routes is surprisingly less extensive, although Aachen is not far from Cologne, which is served by many more routes.
Bus line 50 from Maastricht serves Aachen every 15 minutes and passes through Margraten and Vaals. Bus line 44 runs between Heerlen and Aachen (45 min, €3.95) For €8 you can buy a ticket, which allows all-day travel on South Limburg bus routes, including those to local cities such as Heerlen, and selected train routes. It is 1 h 15 min from Maastricht.
Aachen at a whole is a fairly large city. A car can come in handy but parking can get expensive, especially in the center of town. Parking in the town centre costs around €2 per hour. There is also park and ride available around the outskirts of the town.
Bus tickets for travel within the city cost a flat €1.45. All of Aachen and the adjoining Dutch communities of Vaals and Kelmis can be covered with a Zone 1 ticket for €2 (day pass €5.50). Drivers sell tickets.
Whilst Aachen does not have an U-Bahn or S-Bahn network like many other large German cities, it is still possible to travel through the city by train. The euregio-Bahn is a local line that stops at the stations Aachen West (not far from RWTH Aachen University), Aachen-Schanz, Aachen Hauptbahnhof (the most convenient for the city centre) and Aachen-Rothe Erde. A single ticket for a journey within the city is €2.55; ticket machines are available at all stations.
The old town is best explored on foot and orientation signs can be found all around.
You can rent a bike at the "fahrrad station", in the central train station. Although it is not the most biker-friendly town in Germany, there are a number of bike routes and getting around on bike is increasingly popular.
Aachen offers many different cuisines, from traditional German food to exotic cuisines. The centre offers restaurants of all categories, prices being relatively cheap in comparison with other German cities. Students prefer the snack bars and light meals offered at Pontstraße.
There's no need to order your drinks at the bar when in Aachen - simply take a seat and a member of staff will come over to take your order. They'll write down what you've ordered on your coaster. When you've finished your drink, someone will soon come along and ask if you'd like to order another. When you're ready to pay, hand over your coaster to a member of staff. It's expected that you leave a small tip when paying; 5 - 10 % is expected, typically by rounding up to the nearest Euro.
The Pontstraße begins at Markt facing the historic city hall and ends at the Ponttor, part of the medieval city walls. Pontstraße is the main student hangout and offers a large variety of restaurants and bars, from pizzerias to late night hangout spots and a cinema. A special treat are public fiestas happening at Karneval and important football matches.
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achen is home to the highly regarded RWTH Aachen University, which is particularly strong in the field of mechanical engineering. While language courses during semester time are only available to students of the university, travellers may be interesting in applying for the Internationaler Sommerkurs (International summer course) which takes place annually in August. Alongside an intensive language course, participants can take advantage of the programme of cultural events offered. To apply, one must be at least 18 years old and have prior knowledge of German at level A1 (the lowest level, roughly equivalent of being able to write a post card) on the Common European Framework for Languages or above.
Internet cafes (rates €1.50 to €5 per hour) are starting to become less common due to widespread offers of free wifi by shops, restaurants or cafes. Sometimes it requires minimum consumption but usually it's free within the premises. Phone shops will often offer internet access, too. In general hotels offer internet access. In several cities, projects exist to provide free "community" hotspots for wireless networking. Passenger lounges at some airports and central railway stations also provide internet access to their customers.
Several pre-paid SIMs allow Internet access for a monthly flat fee, for example those available at Tchibo coffee stores (o2 network, €10/month limited to 500 MB, €20/month for 5 GB) or Aldi (E-Plus network). A regular O2 sim card, which can be used for calls and text messages, is €15 and another €15 buys 1GB of data valid for 1 month. Vodafone offers a prepaid sim card for €25 which includes €22.5 of credit, out of which you can get 300 MB of data for 2 days for €15 and be left with €7.5 of credit.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The international call prefix in Germany is 00. To dial out of Germany, dial 00, followed by country code, area code, and the telephone number (for example 00 44 1234 567890). If you're using a mobile phone, simply add the plus sign "+" before the country code to call out of Germany (for example +44 1234 567890). The general emergency number is 112 and the additional number for less emergent issues for police is 110.
Mobile phone coverage on the four networks (T-Mobile, Vodafone, E-Plus and o2) is excellent across the whole country. UMTS (3G data and HSDPA) and EDGE is also available. UMTS is still somewhat limited to urban areas. All mobile providers use GSM technology on the 900 and 1800 MHz frequency ranges. If you stay for a longer period of time, consider buying a prepaid phone card from one of the mobile phone companies; you won't have trouble finding a T-Mobile (in a "T-Punkt"), Vodafone, E-Plus or O2 store in any major shopping area. In most supermarket chains (for example ALDI), there are prepaid SIM cards from their own virtual providers available. These are normally quite cheap to buy, but expensive for international calls (around €1–2/min), but incoming calls are always free and SMS cost around €0.09–0.19. They are available at: Aldi, Lidl, Penny, Netto, Tchibo, Rewe, toom. A registration via Internet or (expensive) phone call is necessary after buying to activate the SIM card.
The cheapest way to call abroad from Germany is to use the internet cafés run by immigrants. They sell special calling cards that give the best rate to certain countries as well as offer cheap international calls from phone booths. It is also the cheapest way to call landlines in Germany.
Germany's postal system is very efficient, their logistics branch DHL is one of the best companies in this field world-wide, with domestic post or within a radius of 400 kilometres, send within a day. The website of Deutsche Post has an online calculator for postage fees as well as a post office finder. Stamps are available at post offices and sometimes at newsagents or shops selling postcards. Also stamp vending machines can be found at a lot of places around the cities. You can purchase every stamp you need from this machines. They are unique as they accept every coin from 1 cent to 2 euro but change is only given in stamps. It costs about €40 to send a small package to Australia and €1.70 to send an old-fashioned letter to any place in the world outside of Europe. Within Germany, sending postcards costs €0.45 and standard letters €0.55, within Europe it is €0.65 for a postcard, standard letters to places in Europe cost €0.75. Outside Europe, the prices for sending a postcard or standard letter are €1 and €1.70 respectively. Although you will find the old post offices (mainly in the city centre), most of the smaller neighbourhood post offices are part of a small tobacco shop or grocery store. For larger package, you might consider competitive private companies like UPS, DHL or TNT.
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