Thinking European History and Culture

Modern Times in Aachen: the impact of a border region

Modern times in Aachen, meaning 1750 until now, was characterized bye some important wars: the conquests of Europe by Napoleon, the French-Prussian war of 1870/71 and the two World Wars. The area of Aachen was since the times of the Roman Empire a border region. It is still obvious visible or hearable: in the region south east of Aachen the people speak French, a roman language, whereas in regions north west of Aachen German or Dutch is spoken, both germanic languages. And different languages belong to different cultures.

Charlemagne united Europe, in the beginning by force and war, later with his Carolingian Renaissance, a common culture. When he died, his empire was divided several times, again at the same borderlines the Roman Empire had some hundert years before. And the fights and wars between the rulers of the different regions kept on. 1000 years after Charlemagnes Empire, Napoleon Bonaparte succeeded in conquering Europe again, but his Empire exists not very long. Modern communication, long distance alliances and pride let to its collapse.

For the citizens of Aachen and other occupied regions, Napoleons Empire had good and bad results. The modern law system, the administration and other improvements are still in use. But on the other hand, citizens of Aachen had to join the french army and fight for Napoleon all over Europe.

During the French-Prussian war and the both World wars, Aachen, as a city in a border region was involved into war actions. For example during World War I, some 21 hospitals where situated in the city of Aachen, to deal with the many injured soldiers. Even if there was not much fighting during the years of war in town, everyone could see the results.

With the idea of Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet to found the European Coal and Steel Community with France and Germany together, just five years after World War II, peace started in Europe. While the nationalistic thoughts of imperial europe led to war, the ECSC and the following communities opened the way to discuss and to peace, the latest result is the European Union. For Aachen and the people living in the area, the European Union with the common currency Euro, the Schengen Agreement and other improvements, is positive. No border controls, no different money, the security of a common law makes visiting the neighbors very relaxed. The cultural differences are still obvious, but not a problem. For people in Aachen, holiday in foreign countries and cultures is just around the corner.