Study in Germany: RWTH Aachen University

Where to Study in Germany

4th of a Series on German Universities

Officially, it’s the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule, but, since that’s quite a mouthful, we’ll call it Aachen University.  It is the intellectual descendant of the Royal Rhenish-Westphalian Polytechnic, begun by King Wilhelm I as a result of a donation from the Aachen and Munich Fire Insurance Company.  The university opened its doors on 10 October 1870 and was the first Prussian university.  Within five years, more than 450 students attended the university.  In 1899, Kaiser Wilhelm II granted the university the right to award doctoral degrees.  In 1923, the university appointed its first female professor.  In 1960, the university expanded from its pre-war size of 33,000 m2 to 88,000 m2 and, within six years, the university had added an Electrical Engineering School, a Faculty of Philosophy, and a Medical School.  In 1970, the student population expanded greatly to more than 10,000 students and, in 1980, the university added the Pedagogical University Rheinland as the Faculty of Education.  By 1986, it added the School of Economic Sciences and dismantled the Faculty of Education and the Faculty of Philosophy.

The Numbers

der Dom – the cathedral // © Image via Pixabay

Aachen University is located next to the Belgian and Netherlands tri-border.  It’s only 90 minutes from Brussels, an hour from Cologne, two hours from Antwerp and Luxembourg City, and three hours from Frankfurt and from Rotterdam.  It is certainly centrally located in Europe.  Nowadays, the student body (undergraduate and graduate) is almost 45,000 strong (ca. 32% female), with almost 550 professors and more than 5,200 additional academic staff, and ca. 3,500 non-faculty staff, trainees, and interns.  The academic structure comprises 10 departments which include mathematics; computer science; physics; chemistry; biology; architecture; civil engineering; mechanical engineering; mining, metallurgy, & geosciences; electrical engineering; information technology; philosophy; economics, education; and medicine.

Partners of RWTH

The university has partnered with 563 major universities worldwide to promote international studies on a professional scale.  Partnerships include the Beijing Institute of Technology and 17 other universities in China; Israel Institute of Technology; Nara Institute of Science and Technology and 11 other universities in Japan; the University of Waterloo and four other universities in Canada; UCLA Berkeley and 11 other universities in the United States.  For the full list of partnered universities worldwide, click here.

Aachen University is one of the largest research university campuses, not only in Germany, but also in Europe.  It is also among the leading European scientific and research universities.  The university is quite proud that its facilities developed the first all-metal aircraft and the diesel-soot filter and it established the first wind tunnel and the first particle accelerator.  Aachen University prides itself as having the greatest density of business start-ups, university spin-offs, and engineering offices in Germany.  It is routinely referred to as the “silicon valley” of Europe.

Aachen University is Pretty International

Aachen University hosts almost 10,000 international students from 125 countries and the university encourages the strong participation of students at all levels in the university’s policies and procedures.  As its website emphasizes, the ‘Aachen Way’ requires that, “. . . for each individual topic and process under consideration, the right people are identified and brought together.  The successful governance of the university is characterized by the interplay of bottom-up processes and top-down coördination, together with an appreciation of engagement, collaboration, and pragmatism.  This progressive form of strategic decision-making is not at all typical of how universities are governed.  So, according to RWTH Rector Ernst Schmachtenberg, ‘it deserves the quite fitting designation of the Aachen Way.’”

The City of Aachen

What about the city of Aachen?  For openers, it was the principle coronation site for the Holy Roman emperors and German kings from the Middle Ages to the Reformation.  How livable is it for students?  It is eminently livable!  Charlemagne liked it so much that he’s still there—why wouldn’t you like it?  The Aachen cathedral contains the Palatine Chapel, the best surviving example of the original Palatine Chapel built in the 12th century by the Sicilian king, Roger II, in Palermo, Italy.

Do you like museums?  The nearby Suermondt Ludwig Museum, open since 1877, displays German sculptures from the 12th to the 16th centuries and includes works by Tilman Riemenschneider, Hendrik Douvermann, and Arndt van Tricht.  Paintings include works by Cranach the Elder, Cornelis Engebrechtsz, and Aelbrecht Bouts.  It also proudly displays works by the Spanish artists Francisco de Zurbarán, Luis de Morales, and Jusepe de Ribera and the Italian artist Bartolomeo Manfredi.  The museum’s holdings include major works from Netherlands and Flanders by Willem Claeszoon Heda, Anthony van Dyck, Frans Snyders, Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael, Jacob Jordaens, Frans Hals, Joseph de Bray, Willem Kalf, and Jan Boeckhorst.  The Suermondt Ludwig Museum is worth a visit on its own; for anyone living and studying in Aachen, it is indeed a bonus.

Need to kick back and relax?  Check out the Schwertbad-Quelle in Burtscheid, an Aachen suburb.  It has the warmest natural spring in Germany (76° C.).  Worked up an appetite?  Let me recommend the Turkish/Italian Restaurant Pont Pascha at Pontstraße 116, Aachen.  It offers pizza, salads, pasta, baked pasta dishes, and baked vegetable dishes.  All in all, it offers good food and value for money.  For a light snack, try a printen from a local bakery.  It’s an engraved pastry unique to Aachen, somewhat similar to an elongated gingerbread biscuit, and the European Union has awarded it a so-called “protected designation of origin,” i.e., only accredited Aachen bakers may bake and sell them.  It’s a treat, it’s not expensive, and, once you’ve eaten one, you’ve got bragging rights over folks back home who haven’t had one.  Each printen is baked in a form that leaves the imprint of a person on the length of the pastry.  While the precise recipe is a secret, the ingredients allegedly include cinnamon, aniseed, clove, cardamom, coriander, allspice, and ginger—all sweetened with sugar-beet syrup.

Be sure to consider Aachen University in your evaluation of Germany universities to begin, continue, or complete your university education and visit Aachen before you decide on any other university.  You owe that to yourself.  Good luck!