My name is Claire, I am French and I am a Geosciences Engineer. I am living for almost 10 years in Aachen and I am happy to have the opportunity share my experience in living in the Euregio which I hope would be useful for people who want to settle in this beautiful region.
Two hours to about everywhere
Before having kids my husband was working in Paris and the Thalys is super convenient, you can spend the weekend in Paris and take the first train on Monday to be in the office before 10h. When my husband moved in Aachen, we changed our travel pattern for the weekend, and in less than 2 hours we could visit nice cities likes The Hague, Maastricht, Köln, Düsseldorf, Liège and Bruxelles. Now, with the kids we prefer now exploring the nature in the Eifel (Germany) and the Haute Fagnes (Belgium), the Dutch and Belgian seaside and also all the forests around Aachen [read more in the section on public transport]
Hiking and little mountain challenges
This brings me to the topic of sports. I come from the French Pyrenees, you can imagine my needs for mountains is not really satisfied here. We have the triple point, highest point of Netherlands, which I consider as a big hill [find a video on how to climb this peak] So we had to adapt ourselves and find alternatives. As mentioned previously hiking in forest takes a big part of our weekend, but we do also climbing in the Ardennes in Belgium or just in a boulder hall in Aachen when the weather is really bad. We also enjoy road cycling especially in the area of Maastricht and the Dutch Limburg. This is a beautiful place and you have bike tracks everywhere! Sometimes, when we feel like skiing and we want to teach the kids how to ski we go to Landgraaf, the artificial ski resort, which is better than nothing also there is Winterberg at three hours drive from Aachen for fresh snow [read more on natural skiing in the Hautes Fagnes / Eifel “mountains”]
Climate - unlike southern France
Let’s talk about the climate in Aachen. I think this is important to mention my mood is really influenced by the climate since I am living here. Coming from the South of France, where most of the time warm and sunny, the wintertime is always really hard here and after 10 years living here this has never changed. This is a cycle during Spring and Summer I love Aachen. But when we reach Autumn and especially November, Aachen becomes to be grey and cold that makes me gloomy and homesick. This is probably the reason the Aachener have a nice Christmas market and Carnival to sparkle joy and light between November and February [read more in the section on free time activities, with or despite the weather]
Food, restaurants & shopping
I always miss the French food and hopefully there are some alternatives to get some French delicatessen. You can drive to Liège and you will find French products. There is also in the center of Aachen some stores which sell some French and Italian delicatessen. But to be honest I still miss my French bread, croissant and pickles (this would never change, also German would argue for the bread). Another advantage living in the Euregio, if you forget to do your grocery during the week you can always go to Netherland on Sunday. If you search for Asian food Netherland grocery stores offer lots of choices. I have Portuguese friends who go to Dusseldorf to find Portuguese delicatessen and one of the big German grocery shop brand delivers Spanish food. As you see there is many options for food!
We also enjoy going to restaurants and ordering food (our alternative during covid time), this is really cheap in Germany compare to other country and you can find diverse type of food. What we also like is the concept of Biergarten and restaurant in the forest or countryside, with playgrounds for children. We recently discover in the Dutch and Belgian Limburg farms selling ice cream, perfect place to spend the afternoon with the children [find more inspiration in the section on gastronomy]
Health, Children and Education
For everything related to the health of the family and emergency we always go to Uniklinik, the public hospital of the Euregio, most of the doctors speak English and even French which is easier for us to communicate and the quality of the services is relatively good. In addition, many of the doctors in Aachen speak English and sometimes French that is really helpful for us as our German even after 10 years is still not great.
Children’s education is a complicated subject for non-German people. My husband and I are both working fulltime and our company is not a German company and we feel the German system is not always fit for working women. It is really difficult to find a place in a Kindergarten, and there are not many full time places available. So parental leave or working part-time are the solutions. My advice, start searching as early as possible, when you find a Kindergarten you like, don’t just trust the registration system and call them directly. If you look for a bilingual Kindergarten there are few options in Aachen, some of them are private with more schedule flexibility.
For the primary school (Grundschule), in the center of Aachen the number of places in school is limited and depending on the location of the Kindergarten you may not have the place in the school close to where you live. Eventually, we decided to go for a private school which also offers our children a bilingual education. But we know from other expats they are very satisfied with the public schools too, so planning ahead is really the advice in any way [read more in the section on children]
Formalities - and road trips
Language learning beyond Catalan
German learning is our weakness in the family, my husband is Catalan and speaks Catalan, Spanish, French and English I am French and I speak French, Spanish and English. We both work in a company, where we only speak English. Our initial plan was to stay a few years in Aachen, so we never spent time learning properly German. I would encourage the people who plan to settle in Aachen and the area to learn the local language as soon as possible. This would help you to integrate faster and better [read more in the section on language learning]
Meeting other expats and internationals
There are plenty of groups for expat people on Facebook, for students, workers with no kids, families… Personally, we met most of our expat friends and built our network in Aachen thanks to those groups but also with the bilingual Kindergarten and School [read more in the section on community]