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Brief history of the area. The Franks were a Germanic people who invaded Roman-held Gaul (present-day France) in the 3rd and 5th centuries. They were converted to Christianity by about the 6th century. Their second ruling family was named the Carolingians. That family under the leadership of Pepin the Short took control in 751. Pepin's son was Charlemagne (742-814), who expanded the Frankish territories (western German area). He was crowned Emperor of the West by Pope Leo III, after conquering most of western Christendom. The papal connection was undoubtedly due to the religious interests of Charlemagne, among which were architectural ideas culminating in the designing of an "ideal" monastery, based on modular sizes. Actually, Charlemagne seemed to follow the near divine outlook espoused by Constantine. In the midst of construction of his Palace Chapel, 789 to be exact, he declared: "Under the everlasting reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, I, Charles, am by the grace of God and the gift of His mercy King and Ruler of the Frankish Empire and the devoted protector and humble helper of holy Christendom".

Charlemagne and his son Louis the Pious were patrons of learning and literacy throughout their empire. They fostered a cultural revival known as the Carolingian renaissance. Undoubtedly, Charlemagne viewed the accomplishments of law and order and cultural development of the Romans as models to emulate and became titular head of what future historians would call the Holy Roman Empire.

The kingdom was split into three parts, under the control of each of the three sons of Louis. The eastern part became Germany and remained in family hands until 911, with the western part eventually becoming present-day France; it remained in Carolingian control until 987.

German Romanesque churches were often planned on a large scale. Many of them are very high and have an apse or sanctuary at each end. Numerous round or octagonal towers create a picturesque silhouette.


The city today, site of Charlemagne's Palace and Chapel, in western Germany, is known as Aachen. When the area was under French control, it was known as Aix-la-Chapelle. Its history goes back at least to Stone Age times, when there was a flint stone mine nearby. Actually, a complete stone workshop has been excavated, dating back to about 2,900 B.C.E., making the site the oldest technical monument in Germany.

Hot springs in the area attracted whom else but the Romans. They were really into those mineral water spas - perhaps it's what kept their fighting spirit up - early versions of Gatorade.

A city of parks and open spaces (“platz” in Germany, “place” in France, “praka” in Greece, “plaza” in Spain, “piazza” in Italy – all seemingly sharing a similar root.).

A thriving commercial sector.

As in almost every Germany city – a pedestrian way, free of vehicular traffic.

Outdoor eating, drinking, snacking, typical of just about every European community, and the concept is picking up some converts in the United States.

Fruit and flowers prevail out of doors in all the warm months in Europe.

In the pedestrian way – an artist, sketching.

An interactive fountain. But what is most engrossing just before you get to the Charlemagne complex, is a grouping of sculptural pieces surrounding a fountain. Typical wry German humor, but so on the money (so to speak).

In Aachen there is this fountain (1977) by Karl-Henning Seemann, a German sculptor born in 1934, who has created public images throughout Germany. Titled: “circulation of money,” this fountain grouping is located in a park on the corner of Hart Street and Ursulinerstraße, in proximity to Charlemagne's Chapel. The following is a descriptive quote: “The six bronze figures on the edge of the fountain show how to handle money; the centrifugal movement of water is the steady flow of money.”

But a simple interpretation goes far beyond that benign description. This is public graft on the take, one behind-the-back handoff to another, around and around, beginning with a father showing his child a few coins, a child whose countenance bespeaks innocence of what is about to occur later in life. Then a grubby politician taking a few coins from a constituent (taxes?) and passing them behind his back to a crony. Unless, of course, the woman is taking the money from the politician's “stash,” in exchange for her vote.

Across the water, a looming money-grabber is seen begging for a piece of the pie. All in the eye of the beholder? You be the judge. Germany has quite a few symbolic sculptures on its urban landscape, infinitely more meaningful than pseudo-sophisticated gibberish found elsewhere.

Locals took over the ruined palace of Charlemagne in the early 14th century, and built a gothic town Hall on some of its foundations. The 17th and 18th centuries brought about Baroque “renovations” in keeping with the times. There had been a fire in 1656, and again in 1883. The building features 50 statues of German rulers on this, its north facade. Of those 50, 31 kaisers (kings) were crowned here in Aachen, in Charlemagne's Cathedral.

© Architecture Past Present & Future - Edward D. Levinson, 2009

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