David Rinses Hands in
Spout from Thermal Spring
AACHEN, Germany
AKEN, Duitsland
July 29, 2012

Aix marks the spot. Aachen, Aken, Aix-la-Chapelle, Aqvis Granum. German, Dutch, French, Latin. Whichever name you call this city by, it's Friederike's hometown.

Friederike and I bought a cheapo shared ticket (48€) on the regional trains to come here from Berlin. Visiting with a local has given me a much fuller appreciation of this area. For example, I now finally understand the naming convention of cities such as Aix-la-Chapelle and Aix-en-Provence. I always wondered why those places started with the French name for the letter "X".

Born here and with nine years of Latin from her schooldays to-boot, Friederike was able to explain to me that "Aix" appears in the names of cities founded by the Romans near thermal springs. It's simply an abbreviation for the Latin word for water, "AQVA". The latter part of this city's Latin name, GRANUM, was evidently the name of some local Celtic deity.

The ancient name for this town is not the only connection with the Roman Empire I've found here. Before retirement, both of Friederike's parents were teachers of the classical subjects, Latin included. Her parents still attend Mass weekly, occasionally leading the readings at the central cathedral commissioned by Charlemagne in A.D. 790. I'm slightly starstruck by meeting Friederike's mother who--along with Latin as one of her subjects--was also a student of religion in Muenster several decades ago. One of her teachers from that time has risen to the top of that field and is currently known as Pope Benedict XVI. One degree of separation between me and the Pope!

Right Foot in Germany,
Left Foot in Holland,
David Straddles Belgium
I don't know how territory here was drawn when this area was part of Rome, but present-day Aachen is located just five minutes from today's Dutch border and ten minutes from present-day Belgium. Friederike's father drove us one afternoon to a point where all three borders converge. Imaginary, intangible lines they may be, there's something I find compelling about any border zone.

Though Friederike's English is probably as good as mine, communication with the rest of her family has been more difficult. I speak no German. Her parents are fully familiar with English--but in a bookish way with little conversational ability. I've found that the French I've been studying back in Québec City has really helped. When I lapse into French with Friederike's mother both parties can communicate and comprehend far more than we can in our limited German/English conversations.

Though I was reluctant to follow my footsteps from one year ago, I'm glad I've returned to Aachen. I have such a better appreciation of this town. I've finally had a chance to meet Friederike's family. Today, I'll continue along the same route I took exactly one year ago. Local bus route 14 will bring me to Eupen in Belgium. The Belgian railways are offering that same cheap summer ticket fare special they had on last year. So, I'm about to carry on to call on the same Belgian friends I saw last year.

Next stop: Antwerp