Life as Sweet as Chocolate
Many people associate the German city of Cologne with its famous cathedral, the High Cathedral of Saints Peter and Mary, also known as Cologne Cathedral or the Kölner Dom. However, just two hundred metres from this UNES CO world heritage site, there is another fascinating place to visit – a chocolate museum where you can learn all about the production and history of this incredibly popular treat.
The Chocolate Museum in Cologne combines a botanical garden and exhibition rooms with a working factory that allows visitors to observe and participate in every stage of production, including tasting the results. You will be offered chocolate as soon as you have bought your entrance ticket and you can eat as much as you like.
The museum is located in a futuristic building on the banks of the Rhine, and because of its location, it is also known as ‘the chocolate harbour’. A visit to the museum begins with a tour of the greenhouse, which replicates the tropical environment in which the chocolate trees thrive, including all the temperature fluctuations that occur between night and day and the tropical rain that falls every hour. The chocolate trees, called Theobromacocao, grow in the greenhouse alongside 60 different types of tropical plants, including coffee trees, banana palms and vanilla plants. If you time it right, you will get to watch the staff harvest the cocoa beans with their special machetes.
The so-called Treasure House is located on the second floor of the museum. It displays unique and extremely rare exhibits relating to the history of chocolate. For instance, in pre-Columbian America when the secrets of the chocolate tree were discovered by Olmecs, Mayas and Aztecs, cacao beans served as currency and were used in ritual ceremonies. Today chocolate is a common gift, but four millenniums ago the cacao beverage was considered to be a ‘ feast for the gods’ and only the elite — pagan priests, chiefs and kings – could drink it. The collection includes pestles and mortars used for grinding beans and luxurious goblets for drinking the divine beverage, as well as the expensive chinaware that was used to serve chocolate in the houses of the rich in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. Even in the 19th century, chocolate was an expensive luxury, and one of the rooms in the museum recreates the richly decorated interior of a chocolate shop from that time. Later on, the world experienced a boom in chocolate production and there is a separate exhibition dedicated to the advertising and marketing of this new sweet for the masses. Chocolate sellers and producers made every effort to impress consumers, attracting their attention with beautiful wrapping, enamelled boxes and labels, and by using posters to advertise their brands. There are around 30 magnificent vending machines on display, which sold chocolate bars at the end of the 19th century in New York, at the alpine resort of Zugspitze (located on the border between Germany and Austria) and on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. This was the period of the famous advertisement boards with their now classic designs. On the second floor, there is a studio where professional chocolatiers reveal their secrets and give you an opportunity to try your hand at producing chocolate yourself. If you are tired of walking, you can head off to the cinema and enjoy a screening of chocolate advertisements made for television from 1926 to the present day.
Show behind glass
The most entertaining part of a visit to the museum is, of course, the production of chocolate and everything related to it. You will not want to miss the sight of the famous chocolate fountain under a three-metre tree decorated with golden cacao beans; 200 kilogrammes of melted chocolate pours in a continuous stream from its base into the stand below. The heady aroma spreads all through the museum and a member of staff treats everyone to waffles dipped in the molten chocolate. You can also taste the chocolate in a mini-factory on the site where you can watch the automated process of production. Here, however, you will be separated from the machines by a glass partition. A computer system controls the process and monitors the mixing, heating and pouring of the hot chocolate mixture into special moulds, and when they are cooled, the chocolate bars are then wrapped by hand. At the end of your visit you will be offered a seat at a tasting table. The museum also offers a service that allows you to customise your order and buy whatever chocolate you prefer. Once you have filled in the form, your selection of chocolate type, shape and filling will be produced for you while you watch; this service costs only €5.
The museum has a shop with a huge range of chocolaterelated items. Let go of all your preconceptions and choose from chocolate pasta, chocolate beer, white chocolate with berries, an infinite variety of pralines, Christmas chocolate with caramelised apples or chocolate liquors in different strengths — the list goes on forever.
The keeper of the chocolate kingdom
Hans Imhoff is a huge fan of chocolate and the owner of Stollwerck, the famous German chocolate manufacturer. In his childhood, Hans lived near a chocolate factory and the wonderful smells that emanated from it gave him a life-long passion for it. After the war, Hans established his own factory in Bullay, but it was his acquisition of Stollwerck in 1972 that made him one of the leading chocolate producers in the country. In 1993, Hans Imhoff fulfilled his dream by investing a fortune in the creation of his Chocolate Museum. This decision was based on practicality: when the Stollwerck company moved into new buildings, many items became unnecessary and out of date. Hans saw this as an unthinkable waste, especially since after exploring the items left behind he found many real treasures relating to the cultural and industrial history of chocolate. So a new position was created at the factory, that of art historian, whose job was to establish a museum collection.