Advantages Location. Presentation. Diversity. Educational.
Disadvantages Milk Chocolate Only! Very Crowded. Expensive Shop. Very Hot. No water to buy.
|Is it worth visiting?|
In preparation for our short break in Cologne last October, we had done just a little research in order that we might, in our two full days there, see as much as possible of the place. As is usual we drew up an "A" and "B" itinerary according to the weather, after all in October anywhere in Northern Europe it is quite likely to rain, wandering the streets of any city, no matter how historic, in the rain is a pretty miserable experience. On our "B" or rainy day list we had actually noted that there was a chocolate museum situated on the Rhine, very close to the Cathedral and city centre.Upon arrival in Cologne, it would appear that there is no escaping the Chocolate Museum, leaflets in the hotel, direction signs to it around the city and even a comprehensive mention on a river cruise as it passed by too. Thanks to these fairly hefty "plugs" the Chocolate Museum found its way to number one on our "must see" list on our second day in the city.
"THE MMMUSEUM - See the sweeter side of Cologne's museums"…….……is how the Schokoladen Museum, to give it its proper German title, bills itself and is probably how lovers of milk chocolate who visit will indeed perceive it too.
The promotional leaflet goes on to inform you that;"A tour of the exhibits on the three levels of the museum is a journey through the 3000-year cultural history of chocolate."
Cultural history eh? Nothing for your average curiosity seeking chocolate lover here then?I have to say that the sceptic in me was rather aroused by the numerous references to Lindt in the advertising material. The "museum" status of this particular attraction becomes increasingly more shaky, in my view, when you start to get under the skin of it. But then I guess if Lindt had not developed, financed and now run it, then there would be no attraction, or Chocolate Museum in the first place.
WHERE TO FIND THE CHOCOLATE MUSEUMCologne, due to its river and Cathedral is not a difficult city to find your way around. From the main railway station, or Cathedral - both located in the same vicinity - walk down to the river and the Chocolate Museum is located approximately ten minutes walk to your right along the riverbank. This is a pleasant flat tree lined walk, the very distinctive - ocean liner shaped - Chocolate Museum building would be hard to miss, built as it is on top of a dock which juts out into the Rhine.
This part of the city is undergoing rapid re-development, most of the large, historic buildings being converted from warehousing and docks to expensive apartment buildings, hotels and leisure attractions, at the centre of which are the Chocolate Museum and, in an adjacent building on the same dock, the Museum of Sport. If you are visiting here by car, not actually recommended in this pedestrian and cycle friendly city, there is garage parking between the two museums.For chocoholics whose sole purpose for being in this fine city is to visit this museum there are two hotels; the Novotel and rather more up-market NH situated just across the main road, literally a minutes walk away.
AN UNCONVENTIONAL MUSEUM BY ANY MEASUREThe setting of the Chocolate Museum, in this historic part of Cologne on the tip of a peninsular created by the cities ancient river port, sets the scene for what turns out to be a very unusual experience. You approach the main entrance by crossing the dock on an old iron swing bridge, the clash between the centuries old dock outside and the ultra-modern entrance to the museum is startling.
I know that you all want to know all about the chocolate side of things here - but indulge me in my passion for architecture and design first and I will reward you, hopefully, with a fragrantly sweet tour of the "business end" of the premises shortly.You enter the museum through a totally Germanic steel and glass frontage, electric doors sweeping aside as you cross the threshold. This is indeed a very friendly attraction for disabled people - witnessed by several large escorted parties whilst we were here. Before going any further I will also warn you that it is VERY popular with school parties too. We arrived just after the museum opened at 10.00am, the huge glass foyer area was already heaving with people - that on a grey October Tuesday morning.
The large entrance area is flooded with natural daylight, you are surrounded by glass, there is an open view through the (very popular) Panorama Café out across the river. To your left as you enter is the very efficiently staffed reception desk - never have I seen such a quick moving admission queue - to your right a large cloakroom (1 Euro - 70p deposit fee) along with large, brightly decorated clean and modern toilets.The design, lighting and even heating levels throughout this deceptively large building are very diverse according to the "theme" of the exhibit. Some of it is traditional museum; some rather heavy handed "educational" exhibit and a large part of it given over to a "model" chocolate factory - again surrounded in glass and natural daylight.
Lindt have put a lot of thought and a not inconsiderable investment financially into this building……but then they are clever enough to charge you to enter what could cynically be described as a chocolate factory and shop!WHAT'S TO SEE IN THE CHOCOLATE MUSEUM?
The promotional blurb had prepared us for a cocoa plant to chocolate shop trip through the production processes of the world's favourite confection. In many respects that is what we experienced in Cologne, but, in my opinion, it was not all entirely successfully presented. My overwhelming memories of our visit, maybe because I actually have a professional and vested interest in production machinery, are of the chocolate factory and not of the very much more politically and socially important, Third World, growing side of chocolate production.You may be wondering why that is actually a bad thing and I would be curious to know if other visitors also went away with the same impression.
GROWING CHOCOLATEChocolate grows on trees…..sort of. The first rather formal and very overheated gallery in the museum is the rather heavy handed "educational" bit to which I referred earlier. A lot of writing (presented in English and German) on lit panels mounted on the walls does not hold the interest of many of the visitors here for long. Alongside the panels are large pictures of happy looking natives working on Tropical cocoa plantations.
Examples of cocoa beans and the tools used for their removal from the plant are displayed in glass cabinets. In the centre of the room is an authentic dugout canoe, used for transporting the precious cocoa beans from plantation to port for it to be shipped out to the chocolate manufacturers.A STROLL IN THE TROPICS
From this gallery you step out into a tropical rain forest, yes, right here in the heart of Germany! A full three storeys high - the full height of the building at the front, this large glasshouse is here to give you a "taste" of the tropics - what it does not do is truly emulate a cocoa plantation, but then that would be rather difficult given the locality.The atmosphere inside this Amazonian glasshouse is almost unbearable, it is around thirty degrees centigrade and the humidity level is well over 90% too. You enter through a special double door system, the door into the glasshouse not being able to open until the door from the museum has closed behind you. Here you should spot genuine Theobroma cacoa (Food of the Gods) - cocoa plants growing - helpfully they are labelled in order that you may identify them.
NOW IT ALL BECOMES RATHER MECHANICALWhat one probably does not give a second thought to as far as a chocolate bar is concerned is the wrapper - the bit we discard, or hopefully, re-cycle! On our way into the chocolate factory proper we come across early examples of printing and wrapping machines. Indeed it was the development of this side of the manufacturing process that allowed eventually the mass production of chocolate products to take place.
The industrial revolution allowed for a huge increase in chocolate production thanks to the rapid wrapping and indeed printing of the wrappers, encasing and protecting the precious chocolate. Before the mechanisation of this process chocolate had been very much a luxury product, the exclusive preserve of the wealthy.THE GLASS CHOCOLATE FACTORY
On the day of our visit this part of the museum appeared to be far and away the most popular. This is a modern, working, state of the art, chocolate factory in miniature.The glass chocolate factory, as the museum calls it, is so named for two reasons. Firstly it is located under the glass dome which offers a magnificent view down the river and of the Cathedral, but secondly and more relevantly as far as the museum is concerned - the machinery has glass panels built into it - enabling us to see the full workings of modern chocolate production.
I am not going to go into detail about the various processes involved in this almost totally automated process, but the worst jobs actually appeared to be carried out by the employees here - the boring and mundane task of packing for instance. The only lady on the production line was sitting in the middle of the room counting out, bagging, then boxing the familiar little Lindt "bricks". I felt uncomfortable about this for two reasons, one was that this looked like the most boring and repetitive job known to man and secondly because she had to carry out this demeaning task under the gaze of thousands of visitors every day. She was as much on display as the machinery around her.Everything that you see here incidentally is encased in a sealed plastic room, in order for the chocolates produced here be sold, obviously hygiene standards have to match those found in a commercial factory.
Whilst downstairs on the production line the small, milk chocolate "bricks" are made, upstairs in the glass factory we are shown how the fancy Lindt shaped chocolates - most familiar probably to you being the little rabbits with bells - are created. Once again, being fascinated with the manufacturing side of things, one of my favourite exhibits in the whole museum was the case full of various moulds, used over the past 100 years or so to create many diverse shapes. Obviously popular, bearing in mind our location, were the various chocolate models of Cologne Cathedral.On the upstairs level of the factory is a small shop where you can order - and even personalise your own - fancy chocolates and pralines. Adjacent to this was the production line for the chocolate shapes, again there was a young lady packing here - although being more fragile the shapes require rather more skilful handling than the bricks downstairs.
THE CHOCOLATE FOUNTAINI'm going to guess that some of you may have been given one of these for Christmas. Not like this one though! The milk chocolate production line feeds this colossal fountain in the form of a 12 foot high cocoa bean with fresh chocolate. Another employee here has the task of dipping wafers in the fountain and distributing them to passers by. Incidentally you would not want to try more than one - I found it extremely sickly, but then I do not have much of a sweet tooth!
CULTURAL HISTORY OF CHOCOLATEIn a gallery upstairs leading away from the glass chocolate factory are artefacts dating from as far back as 3000 years. Originating at that time in Mesoamerica (a region of Central America) and brought to Europe by the Spanish in the early 18th Century, great status was attached to the consumption of chocolate. Indeed ancient civilisations were known to have used cocoa beans as currency.
Great reverence is paid by the museum to all of this in that the ancient relics are displayed in a manner that makes you feel that these artefacts are priceless - which some of them probably are.Of more interest, personally, were the following two galleries, continuing the "cultural" theme, the marketing and presentation of chocolate products over the last 150 years or so. First was a Viennese re-constructed chocolate shop, purchased by the museum before it was demolished. Viennese or not, I think many of us over 40 years old will remember such places from our childhood, this was a really evocative exhibit here.
Our tour of the museum is rounded off by various displays of chocolate vending machines, the famous Milka Cow and various boxes and packaging through the years.THE CHOCO SHOP
Billed by the museum as "the nearest thing to heaven for all those whose mouths are watering after their tour of the exhibition", this is a large chocolate shop. We had only three days previously visited the world famous Niederegger marzipan shop in Lubeck, the museum shop dwarfed that. Indeed Niederegger marzipan was available here too - at a price. In truth we were put off by the prices here, compared to shops or supermarkets on either side of the channel any chocolate products on sale at the Cologne Chocolate Museum seemed very expensive.There were some unusual chocolate oddities available here - we have since regretted not actually purchasing some chocolate pasta - quite what we would do with it escapes me, but it would surely have been worth a try.
What did not escape our comment and criticism was the fact that nowhere within this museum were we able to purchase a simple bottle of water. The atmosphere throughout the place made us both extremely de-hydrated, vending machines offered all sorts of sweet fizzy drinks - but even the café was unable to supply us with a simple glass or bottle of water.IN CONCLUSION………MUSEUM OR GLORIFIED FACTORY SHOP?
Fascinating as our visit to Cologne's Chocolate Museum turned out to be, I could not help but depart feeling a little uncomfortable about certain aspects of it - especially the chocolate factory, in which Lindt employees were "on display" manufacturing, picking and packing Lindt products to be sold not only here on the premises, but in a supermarket or sweetie shop near you!My impression is that Lindt have done a very clever job here of self promotion, in that this museum majors on THEIR design, manufacture, packaging and marketing of Lindt chocolate products. In a sense, in doing so, it serves to minimise the efforts of the Tropical cocoa growers therefore justifying the pitiful price paid to them for their products by the hugely profitable conglomerates who market the finished product.
Please do not let this put you off of visiting the Chocolate Museum if the opportunity arises. It is an interesting experience and indeed a surprisingly thought provoking one too - which I guess is exactly what a good museum is all about.Therefore, in my view at least, the Cologne Chocolate Museum narrowly misses being dismissed as merely a glorified factory shop.
Tuesday to Friday - 10.00 - 18.00
Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays - 11.00 - 19.00(Last admission 1 hour before closing)
My advice would be to allow about two and a half hours in order to see properly all that this museum has to offer.The Chocolate Museum is CLOSED on Mondays.
It is also closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Amusingly it is also closed from the Thursday before Lent through to Ash Wednesday. Cologne is one of Europe's most religious cities after all.ADMISSION PRICES in Euro (Correct at 1.10.07)
Adults - 6.50 (Approx. £4.50)
Children & Concessions - 4.00 (£2.80)
Groups - 15 or more - 3.50 (£2.50)
Tel +49 (0) 221 931 8880
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