History & Background

Why Visit Aachen …

Why Charlemagne and the Devil?

Aachen is a spa city near Germany’s borders with Belgium and the Netherlands. Aachen Cathedral was founded around 800 A.D. and a Gothic chancel was added later. Its Domschatzkammer (treasury) has medieval artifacts including the shrine of Charlemagne, who was buried here in 814 A.D. Nearby is the baroque town hall, Aachener Rathaus (city hall), with 19th-century frescoes. Sulfurous water fills the fountains of Elisenbrunnen.


Charlemagne was the first medieval emperor to rule from Western Europe. After the death of his father and brother, he became the sole ruler of the Franks. In the first decades of his reign, he concentrated on securing and expanding his empire.

In numerous campaigns he extended his empire’s borders ever further. He eventually ruled over a territory that, at the time of its greatest expansion, extended from Spain to Saxony and from Denmark to Central Italy. Motivated by his deep faith, he Christianized the pagan Saxons, not shying away from violence.

As the culmination of his political ambitions, he was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III in Rome at Christmas in the year 800.

The Devil and Aachen

Way back when the cathedral was being constructed, Aachen’s city coffers ran dry and the townsfolk were looking around for a quick injection of cash. The devil saw an opportunity and offered them the cash they needed to complete the cathedral. In return, he demanded the soul of the first living being that entered the cathedral upon its completion.

The Aachen townspeople huddled together and came up with a plan to outwit Old Nick. They agreed to the deal, took the cash and finished construction. Then they went to the surrounding forest and captured a wolf, released him in front of the cathedral and chased him through the front door. The devil, so excited his deal was paying off, grabbed the wolf’s soul before he realized he had been tricked. Noticing he’d been had, the poor old devil flew into a rage and stormed out of the cathedral, slamming the doors behind him with such force he tore off one of his thumbs.

Aachen got its cathedral and the wolf lost his soul, but he is forever memorialized by that statue in the entryway of the cathedral, with the pine cone representing his stolen soul. Poor old wolf.

How was the Lousberg hill made?

The devil and the market woman are a reminder…

…of the legend behind the hill. Anyone climbing up to the highest point in the Aachen city area will pass the devil and the market woman. The two sculptures refer to the legend of the creation of the Lousberg hill, according to which the devil wanted to fill Aachen up with sand. After losing his thumb in the cathedral door after a trick was played on him by the people of Aachen, he vowed to get his revenge. However, the deed was prevented by the clever market woman, and the sand the devil was carrying in his sack spilled out before he reached the city valley. This is the sand out of which the Lousberg hill in Aachen is made.