Aachen: Regal education in the heart of Europe

Aachen is international, student-oriented and always open to new ideas. It is also the westernmost city in Germany, located on the Belgian and Dutch border. Its prestigious technical college, central location in Europe and agreeable size have made Aachen a magnet for international students.

by Marlene Bauz

View of Aachen Cathedral in the heart of the student city. © Andreas Herrmann
Aachen cathedral . © Andreas Herrmann

Facts & Figures

Monthly rent:
330 €
Watch the famous crime series “Tatort” at "zuhause", a café and bar in one!

Welcome to Aachen

Aachen was well-loved even by the Romans. They knew how to take advantage of its hot springs and constructed public baths there. The water is said to have healing properties. Today, real thermal water still flows from the Elisenbrunnen located in the centre of town in front of the stunning backdrop of the cathedral.

The Roman pillars of the Aachen Elisenbrunnen, in summer shading for students. © Bauz/DAAD
Elisenbrunnen . © Bauz/DAAD

Emperor Charlemagne chose Aachen as the centre of his empire in the 8th century. It was he who commissioned the construction of the city’s massive cathedral and beautiful city hall. The cathedral is situated right downtown and contains the remains of Charlemagne. Aachen’s cathedral was the first German landmark recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

The city hall used to be part of Charlemagne’s former palace. Today, this is where the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen is presented each year. The prize honours individuals who dedicate themselves to promoting European unity. German chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the many former prize winners.

View of Aachen Cathedral from the bottom up. © Bauz/DAAD
Aachen cathedral . © Bauz/DAAD

Aachen is one of the most important centres for students who are interested in science and technology. The RWTH Aachen University, established in 1870, has an excellent international reputation. Currently, the RWTH Aachen Campus is cooperating with industrial partners to build one of the largest science parks in Europe.

Aachen lies directly on the border to Belgium and the Netherlands – a so-called “three-way border”. That means you could easily visit three countries in one day!

Another highlight is the annual Christmas market around the Aachen cathedral and city hall. This is where you can enjoy the holiday atmosphere and try the famous Aachener Printen, a delicious gingerbread biscuit.

More pictures

Living in Aachen

Everyday life in Aachen is shaped by its many students to a large degree. There is a wide variety of sports courses for every interest. The University Sport Centre also organises numerous sport events each semester, such as the popular Lousberg marathon. The runners have to complete a 5,555-metre zigzagging course over the Lousberg, the largest hill in Aachen.

My tip

The crime series “Tatort” (Crime Scene) on Sunday nights is a real jewel of German culture. I recommend watching an episode of the famous crime series at "zuhause" where you can ring out the weekend in a relaxing atmosphere and feel a little more like a local Sunday after Sunday!

Sporting events are also held at the “Tivoli”, the stadium where the local football team “Alemannia Aachen” plays. Every time there’s a home game, several thousand people show up to root for their team. Nothing compares to the atmosphere in the stadium!

When the weather’s nice, students especially enjoy going to the Westpark. In the middle of the city, there’s a pond, large meadow and grills for barbecuing – perfect for a sunny afternoon. You can also relax or take a walk on the Lousberg which offers a nice view of the city.

Pontstrasse is where most students like to hang out. There are numerous restaurants, pubs and nightclubs which are affordable and very popular among students. "Café Egmont", for example, is a great place to listen to live music on Saturdays during the summer. A bit farther away from the “Ponte”, as local students call Pontstrasse, you can enjoy the cosy atmosphere of the "Domkeller" or the "Guinness House" – a real Irish pub.

Interview with Anas from the Palestinian territories

Anas Abdelrazeq is 27 years old and is working on his doctorate in Aachen. He already earned his master’s at the RWTH Aachen after completing the international master’s programme in Software Systems Engineering. His studies were financed through a DAAD scholarship.

Portrait of DAAD scholarship holder Anas from the Palestinian territories in Aachen. © Anas Abdelrazeq
Anas from the Palestinian territories . © Anas Abdelrazeq

What made you choose Aachen?

I chose Aachen especially for its university. First I looked at the university rankings in Germany for my degree programme and found that Aachen was equal to the TU Munich. I had a few friends in Aachen who encouraged me to come here.

Did you have any expectations about what life would be like in Germany? And were they confirmed?

I imagined that Germans would be very precise and unfriendly. Their penchant for being precise turned out to be true. Punctuality, for example, is not so important in our culture. But as for the second thing, I found people to be extremely friendly. I initially lived with a German family and they showed me everything. I’ve moved out in the meantime, but we still have a very good relationship.

Aachener Printen . © Bauz/DAAD

What was difficult for you in the beginning?

The teaching system at university is different than what I was used to in Palestine. Here students have to learn to take responsibility for themselves. In Palestine, somebody tells you what you have to do almost every day. Here there’s only one examination at the end of the semester. With the system at home, there are several exams spread out over the whole semester. For me, the first exam phase was a little difficult because I didn’t know exactly how to revise for it.

Did you have a part-time job while you were working toward your master’s? And if so, how did you find it?

Yes, starting in the second month. You can check the job ads, for example, on the “Schwarzes Brett” (university message board). At the time, I wasn’t thinking about earning money. I just wanted to gain more experience during my studies. It’s a good opportunity to become better acquainted with research teams, because you can participate in the projects yourself.

The idyllic Westpark in Aachen, which many students use to relax. © Bauz/DAAD
Westpark . © Bauz/DAAD

What do you like best about Aachen?

What I really like about Aachen is its size. It’s not too big, and not too small, and if you want to go out with friends, you can meet up in five minutes. Aachen is a student town. But as cities go, it’s large enough for you to get everything you need.

I’m also involved in a student organisation. When I first came to Aachen, they helped me out. In my free time, I can now help other students who are new to Aachen. We organise numerous events which many Germans also attend.

Do you have any advice on how to deal with Germans? What’s the best way to come in contact with them?

Germans need a little time to open up to people, but when they do, they are really good friends. There are lots of definitions of friendship in German mentality – “he’s my colleague, he’s my friend, my neighbour…” It takes time to move from one category to another. Once you get used to it, you can really make friends.

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