The name Aachen comes from Roman times. The Roman name, aquis grana, means salty water and has been modified through the centuries. Aachen was founded in the ninth century by the emperor Charlemagne. It has 250,000 residents and is a medium-sized town with a historic centre. The cultural programmes and social activities correspond to the large young population of the city. There is a wide choice of musical, theatrical, and literary events and a lively formal and informal arts scene.
Aachen is the most western town in Germany. The city border is the border of the republic as well. The closest French-speaking community lives seven kilometres away from the city centre, the closest Dutch one only four. The town is thus full of people who speak different languages, the only language which the inhabitants of the Dutch/Belgian/German border region share being a regional dialect which nobody else can understand. Aachen has many long-standing cultural and economic relations with the neighbouring communities in Belgium and the Netherlands. Liege and Maastricht, both on the river Meuse (or Maas), form together with Aachen a triangle of cities which makes up what is called the Euregio Rhein-Maas, not forgetting Eupen, the capital of the small German-speaking Belgian community, which is situated 20 kilometres away from Aachen in the beautiful countryside of the Ardennes. Aachen is also an important stop on many international rail connections, with the capital cities such as Amsterdam, Brussels, London and Paris.
There is no doubt that Emperor Charlemagne was the most prominent citizen of Aachen and that this was the residence which he used most frequently. Nevertheless, Charlemagne was a restless traveller and his long-gone empire had no capital. He died in 814 and, were it not for the golden shrine containing his real bones in the old chapel, as well as the various Europe-related activities of the city, other European cities would have long since laid claim to the privilege of being Charlemagne's city and thus truly European.
Although masters of later times tried hard to improve Charlemagnes chapel by adding parts in styles of their period, they did not raise it to the dizzy heights of Cologne cathedral (situated 70 km from Aachen). However, the beauty and uniqueness of the cathedral were not lost on the UNESCO - they put it on their list of the worlds most important monuments. Together with the ancient gothic town hall, which had to be rebuilt after serious war damage, it forms today a perfect backdrop for the annual award of the Charlemagne Prize (Karlspreis), a trophy that is handed to public figures who have contributed to closer European integration. Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl are two of the few Germans who met the criteria of the selection committee - of which the rector of RWTH is a member. Others include: Winston Churchill, Juan Carlos I., Francois Mitterand, Vaclav Havel, Felipe Gonzales, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Franz Vranitzky. The most original prize-winner was the entire population of Luxemburg, 400.000 people who, luckily, did not all attend the award ceremony! Annual events in Aachen include the carnival, which is an ancient celebration from former times typical to the Rhineland, and the Concours Hippique International Officiel (CHIO), which is a horse-riding championship. Together with numerous street markets and a summer music festival, these all make an essential contribution to Aachens lively and colourful image.
Compared to the city itself, the various institutions of higher education (Hochschulen) in Aachen are relatively young. Students make up an enormous part of the citys younger population. There are approximately 40,000 students enrolled at RWTH, the two Fachhochschulen (FH) and the School of Music. This figure also reflects the economic importance of these institutions to the city. RWTH is the largest employer in the region, and together with the smaller FH, it also generates employment by attracting national and international firms to work in the vicinity of its research facilities.