Cologne Chocolate Museum:
A Chocolate Adventure From Bean to Bar

The fragrance of chocolate greets you when you walk through the door,
and it only gets better from there.

By Erika Wright



 
 


One of the reasons I love Germany is because I love the chocolate. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting one of Cologne's most famous attractions, the Imhoff-Stollwerck Museum, or as it is generally known, the Chocolate Museum. Although the museum was founded just 12 years ago, it has acquired a worldwide celebrity. Every person I asked for directions (and I had to ask a few, although the museum is quite easy to find) whether locals or tourists had no problem telling me exactly where the museum is located and how to get there. In fact locals seemed proud of their museum, and I don’t blame them one bit. The fragrance of chocolate greets you when you walk through the door, and it only gets better from there.

The museum sits on the Rhine in an impressive ship shaped construction of glass and metal. It is very open and airy and modern inside. I was fortunate enough to receive a personal tour from Martin van Almsick, director of marketing. Martin knows his museum and he knows chocolate. It was quite evident that he enjoys working in this magical place where, he is proud to mention, people leave with smiles on their faces. Martin describes chocolate as a “luxurious” beverage that leaves one “in a nice mood,” as opposed to coffee which he says is a “violent way to begin the day.”

While we sipped a very tasty cocoa on the terrace overlooking the Rhine, Martin told me that Cologne is Germany’s chocolate capital. The Stollwerck chocolate company was based in Cologne. It was an enormous company which was, at one time, the second largest supplier of chocolate to the US. Because it was so large, and Cologne is actually quite small, most of the people of Cologne know, or are related to someone who once worked in the chocolate factory. This is part of why Cologne residents feel connected to chocolate. The other reason? Well, chocolate just has that something special about it, don’t you think?

The chocolate museum started as an exhibit meant to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Stollwerk. The exhibit was so successful, that the idea of a full-scale museum quickly grew from it and the Chocolate Museum opened its doors on October 31st, 1993. This self-financed museum now welcomes more than 5 million visitors a year with an average of 2,000 visitors a day. The purpose of the museum is to “speak about the quality of chocolate,” says Martin. He wants people to understand the difference between the more expensive, finely crafted chocolates and the cheaper versions sold in the grocery store so that consumers can make a more informed decision and will know why it is worthwhile to reach for the expensive stuff.

The museum was set up to be an interactive experience. The layout starts with pictures of cacao plants and takes the visitor through the entire production process from bean to bar. Large color photos are accompanied by explanations in German and English about cultivation and harvest, different kinds of cocoa, and fermentation. Visitors next walk through a small greenhouse where they actually feel the tropical conditions and see growing cocoa plants. A fellow visitor pointed out that, considering how much chocolate the average person consumes, it is funny how few actually know what the plant looks like. There is even a chocolate school which offers hands-on experience with each stage of chocolate production. I was interested to find out how a raw cocoa bean actually tastes – much like a bitter chocolate baking bar, but without the smoothness.

The museum next takes the visitor through industrialization and the invention of the machines which allowed chocolate to become the silky texture we are accustomed to. Martin says that 140 years ago, chocolate meant drinking chocolate. This is because before the grinding machines were invented, every other chocolate product had a rough and sandy texture. The machines are each unique and cannot be easily exchanged. The slightest alteration can cause a detectible difference in the finished product. Visitors are invited to look into the machines and see how each process is completed. One of my favorite moments at the museum was when I was handed a wafer dripping with hot liquid chocolate from the “chocolate fountain.” Delicious! 

Although the museum does make chocolate, it does so only for demonstration purposes, producing only 400 kilograms a day. The mission of the museum is to explain the little known facts of how this favorite treat is made and there were some surprises along the way. For example, do you know how those hollow forms are made? You’ll have to visit to find out, but I’ll give you a hint … think centrifugal force. Martin also told me that   chocolate should never be refrigerated because that kills the natural aromas and degrades the quality.

As well as the technical and historical aspects of chocolate, the museum also goes into the social aspect of the 3000 years of chocolate’s cultural history. The museum pays homage to the South American origins of chocolate and the role it played in South American society. In Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, chocolate was expensive and therefore only enjoyed by the wealthy. The museum displays various types of porcelain created specifically for drinking chocolate. Finally quite a bit of attention is given to advertising and commercials. It is interesting to look back in time to see how chocolate was packaged and marketed. There is even an advertisement that lauds the high number of calories in a chocolate bar, back when calories were something to be sought after.

On the way out, don’t forget to visit the shop for postcards, books, truffles and souvenirs or enjoy a snack in the cafe. Not everything is chocolate; they have salads and sandwiches, too! Guided tours, parties, conferences, and even a guided walk through the city are available by booking in advance. Three-hour workshops during which visitors can learn to make pralines are also offered

 

Admission:
Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last admission at 5 pm).
Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (last admission at 6 pm).

Imhoff-Stollwerck-Musuem
Rheinauhafen 1a
D-50678 Cologne, +49-221/93 18 88-0

www.schokoladenmuseum.de

 


Erika Wright is a freelance editor and writer who contributes to travellady.com and chocolateatles.com.

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