By Marilyn Heimburger
Photos by Don and Marilyn Heimburger
Display of everything chocolate: cups and saucers, tins,
packaging and ads
As spring approaches, thoughts of chocolate come to mind, just because we’re always looking for an excuse to eat chocolate! As the saying goes, “Chocolate–it’s not just for breakfast anymore!”
After a recent trip to Cologne, Germany, and after visiting the Cathedral and Roman ruins, I added a trip to the Chocolate Museum to my itinerary. You’ll learn all there is to know about this treat and have the opportunity to taste and see why the ancients called chocolate the “food of the gods.”
Opened on Halloween Day in 1993, the museum was the idea of Dr. Hans Imhoff, an entrepreneur who was the head of the Stollwerck Chocolate Company of Cologne. The three-story museum is located on the banks of the Rhine, within sight of the Cologne Cathedral.
Astrid Hage (left), Public Relations Director for the Cologne Schokolade Museum, and Marilyn Heimburger, Assistant Publisher and Senior Writer for European Traveler magazine, investigate the chocolate highlights of the museum.
Designed to look like a ship in the harbor, its modern glass and metal architecture surrounds the historic central customs office, which was built in the 1890’s. The museum welcomes an average of 1,700 visitors a day and about 650,000 per year.
As you walk through the three-story museum, you’ll see exhibits covering the 3,000-year history of chocolate. Growing and harvesting raw cocoa is shown with photographs, harvesting tools and a full size log boat from Ghana. Next is a 100-square-meter tropical greenhouse containing real cocoa plants and more than 60 other rainforest species. You’ll learn that the flowers of the cocoa plant grow directly on the trunk of the tree, so that pollinating insects can find them more easily in the thick jungle!
Chocolate’s popularity began as a luxury drink. An extensive exhibit brings you through the pre-Columbian Olmec, Aztec and Mayan culture, where cocoa was the drink of the gods, and was sometimes used as currency, or “brown gold.”
Next you’ll see the beautiful porcelain and silver cups and pitchers that were crafted to serve this luxury item in 17th and 18th century Europe. The chocolate culture of the 19th and 20th centuries is depicted in a full-sized shop, with
chocolate tins and boxes on display, as if you had stepped back in time.
Chocolate rabbit mold Christmas Santa chocolate mold
Beautifully preserved chocolate vending machines and advertising posters give insight into the popularity of chocolate. A film room continuously shows old television ads for chocolate. Chocolate packaging from apparently any brand of chocolate that ever existed is on display. Even American brands of chocolate are represented, although Astrid Hage, press representative of the museum, admitted that it was difficult to find someone willing to eat the American-made chocolate in order to empty the packaging. She explained that the Europeans follow a different standard in their chocolate production, and that their formula produces a superior taste.
Chocolate advertising materials
DECIDE FOR YOURSELF
You’ll have the chance to decide that for yourself in another part of the museum, where, thanks to the Lindt and Spruengli Company, a two-floor exhibit demonstrates the production of chocolate today. From the processing, roasting, grinding of the bean to the pouring of hollow molded chocolate figures and a truffle production line, this small-scale system makes about 400 kg of chocolate every day for visitors to see, smell and finally, to taste.
A nearly 10-foot tall chocolate fountain stands on the production floor, and a museum staff member stands ready to offer a waffle cookie dipped in the warm melted chocolate that pours from the spouts.
THERE’S MORE, TOO
Do you want more of the “food of the gods?” A gift shop offering chocolate, souvenirs and gifts is ready to serve you. The museum also has a restaurant with a view of the Rhine.
Admission fees are 6.50 EUR for adults. Children under six or visiting on their birthdays are free. All exhibit texts are in both German and English.
The museum is closed on Mondays. Check their web page for information on hours, tours and special events: www.schokoladenmuseum.de