ABOARD THE AMADEUS SILVER II – The woman behind me said she feels as though Willy Wonka might pop up any moment and that the Oompa Loompas will come traipsing out singing their strange song. I know what she means.
The Chocolate Museum in Cologne or Köln, as the Germans call this city, is definitely an unusual sweet treat. Made of glass and steel, the futuristic-looking Chocolate Museum seems like a ship floating on the Rhine River, close to where the Silver II is docked.
The museum was not part of an organized shore excursion on my Amadeus Silver II cruise so I went on my own. I also went on my own to the Farina Eau de Cologne Museum but I’ll write about that in a separate blog because it has a great tale to tell.
I headed to the one-of-a-kind Chocolate Museum to see if the inside of the building is as interesting as the outside. It certainly is an education in the history of chocolate and how the popular candy is produced.
Founded in 1993, the Cologne Chocolate Museum was financed by Dr. Hans Imhoff who saved many of the items on display from the old Cologne chocolate manufacturer Stollwerck. The treasures were headed to the trash heap until Imhoff – then chairman of the governing body of Stollwerck – saw their value for a museum.
At one time, Stollwerck was the second-largest supplier of chocolate to the United States so, most likely, many of us have eaten the chocolate and thus have a personal connection to the museum. The museum was packed when I was there. An estimated 5 million visitors a year find their way to the museum.
Entering the museum, we are given a tiny candy bar and then we can follow the process of creating the candy from beans to bars in the small on-site factory. The chocolate journey starts from the very beginning with the Aztecs and Mayans “drink of the gods” and takes visitors through the entire production process. Explanation signs are printed in both German and English.
Next is a stroll through a small greenhouse filled with heat and humidity to see cocoa plants growing. The greenhouse is an excellent addition to the museum because some people may not know where chocolate actually comes from. I heard a mother and her little girl in deep conversation about cocoa plants. You could almost see the lights going on in the child’s eyes as she realized that chocolate is grown, not miraculously created by Willy Wonka.
Chocolate was first an expensive drink
Originally, chocolate was for drinking and was quite expensive so only the wealthy could afford the luxury. That was before grinding machines were invented and chocolate was rather rough and not very pleasant to eat so it was preferable as a drink. On display are various types of ornate porcelain pots and cups used for drinking chocolate.
To make delicious chocolate candy from bitter cocoa beans is a long and complicated process that has been continually refined over the years. The 5-roller mills used to create the famous Lindt chocolates are displayed in the museum.
Smart advertisers quickly learned how to showcase chocolate to its best advantages. An exhibit that looks like an old-time country store shows some of the beautiful packaging, enamel tins and posters for chocolate. Two ladies enjoying the exhibit seemed to be having a great time remembering the collectible Valentine’s Day boxes as well as the specially shaped and wrapped Easter bunnies and Christmas Santas from their childhood.
At the end of the 19th century, chocolate devotees could buy their sweets from vending machines located at stations in New York, the Zugspitze and the Champs-Elysées. About 30 of those imaginative machines are displayed in the museum. I also learned that chocolate should never be refrigerated because refrigeration kills the wonderful aroma and degrades the quality of the chocolate.
After walking through the timeline of chocolate and seeing how it is created, I arrived at the pièce de résistance – a 10-foot-high chocolate fountain. I had seen it from the outside in that great glass-enclosed waterfront view on the “bow” of the ship-shaped museum.
Now I was actually here and being handed a waffle dipped in warm chocolate. Yummy.
The fountain is decorated with 40 golden cocoa fruits and is kept filled with fresh Lindt chocolate. The museum staff member was busy dipping waffles into the warm chocolate and giving the tastes to visitors. I must have looked especially chocolate deprived because the worker gave me two more after I had finished taking photos.
On the way out, I looked in the museum’s café where you can sit, sip some hot chocolate, munch on a chocolate dessert and watch the beautiful Rhine. There also is a chocolate shop with all kinds of Lindt chocolates to buy. I didn’t purchase any, partly because I like to travel light and also because the Silver II is very generous about placing chocolates in my room and having a big basket of wrapped chocolates to take for a snack when leaving the ship’s dining room.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch