der Karlspreis (The Charlemagne Prize)
Since 1950 the standing of Aachen and Charlemagne in European history has been commemorated in the award each year of the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen (“Karlspreis”). It is one of the most important political awards in Europe and recognises outstanding services to Europe in political, economic and intellectual ways. British recipients include Prime Ministers Sir Winston Churchill (1955), Edward Heath (1963), Tony Blair (1999) and Roy Jenkins, President of the European Commission (1972).
The prize medal is presented at a very special ceremony in the Town Hall. There, in the Coronation Hall, a splendid vaulted room where German kings were crowned, a bronze life-size statue of Charlemagne watches the proceedings carefully!
Representatives of Calderdale Council and of the Halifax Aachen Society have been privileged to attend the ceremony on a number of occasions. It has always been considered a great honour to be invited.
The ceremony day begins with a special church service in the Cathedral. This is followed by a colourful procession of church dignitaries and guests from various European countries, as well as the prize-winner and any previous prize-winners who can be there.
In the Katschhof (the square between the Town Hall and the Cathedral) Aachen’s seven twin town associations organise displays in small marquees. It is an opportunity to publicise Halifax and Calderdale – handing out information on tourist attractions – plus a chance to taste some local specialities such as Quality Street and parkin!
The country of origin of the year’s prize winner is also represented by musicians who perform on stage in front of the gathered crowds. When Tony Blair was awarded the prize the invited British musicians were the Halifax Young Singers – chosen because of the twin town connection. Their singing was well appreciated and the young people had an eye-opening and enjoyable few days in Aachen.
The Karlspreis does indeed celebrate great achievement but also enables people of different nationalities to meet and develop friendships and understanding.