Editor’s note: We continue in our pursuit of one of our most favorite types of travel: Chocolate travel, this time out with Kathy Ayers in Cologne, Germany.
I could say that I came to Cologne to see the Cathedral, the most popular sight in the city. I could say I came to see the Medieval Old Town or the remains from the city’s Roman Empire era. I’d be lying. No, I came for chocolate, the chocolate museum. While I was there, however, I found chocolate and much more.
During a stay in Paris, a friend told me about Cologne’s chocolate museum and that the city was a short train ride away. Being a chocolate fanatic, my bucket list includes visiting all the chocolate “capitals” in the world and any chocolate museums out there. I had to go check this museum out for myself. We took the 3-hour train from Paris for a weekend trip.
The chocolate museum sits on the Rhine River Promenade near the Medieval Old Town. It is set up so you can learn as little or as much as you want about chocolate. A self-guided tour with informational boards and placards, in German and English, explains the entire chocolate making process. Speed through the tour and straight to the sampling, or take all day and become an expert on the process. The pace is entirely up to you.
The tour began with the cultivation and harvesting of cacao pods. Through photos and many interactive displays, which looked more like games and toys, we learned several factoids about the growing of cacao pods. They grow best 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the equator, mostly in South and Central America and Africa. The museum contains a tropical garden with its own cacao plant. When we moved from the air-conditioned museum to the tropical rainforest area, the sauna feel and hot mist facial gave us a good sense of the wet and sticky cacao-growing environment.
We winded our way up to the chocolate making machinery area. Machines involved in the entire process were on display with placards detailing each process. The machinery, which led to the industrialization of chocolate making in the 19th century, provided two things. First, chocolate making became less expensive, allowing everyone to enjoy it, not only the rich and nobility. Prior to industrialization, chocolate was used only as a drink. With industrialization came the molding process and chocolate bars.
Our tour ended at the cacao pod chocolate fountain. After a sampling of chocolate-dipped cookies, we headed to the gift shop. The gift shop is worth the visit, alone. The variety of chocolate was amazing. There were bars of every flavor and filling, chocolate liqueur, body paint, hot chocolate sticks, and chocolate shaped in the form of many of the city’s sights. There was even chocolate beer! Inside the museum, there is a café for those who still need more of a chocolate fix. They can have a chocolate drink or dessert.
After our chocolate binge, we walked off the calories by exploring the city. The Cathedral, the Kölner Dom, is a gothic giant that dominates the entire city skyline. I felt like an ant standing beside it, gaping up at the soaring facade.
Inside, the vaulted apse and nave also seemed to stretch way up to the heavens. Vibrant stained glass windows told stories of religion and royalty. The Cathedral holds an ornately decorated Sarcophagus of the Magi. Inside the sarcophagus there are three golden-crowned skulls, said to be those of the Three Kings or Magi. The Three Kings are the patron saints of Cologne. You can climb the south tower’s 509 steps to the top. Because of bad weather and chocolate overload, we put this climb on the list for the next trip.
The Medieval Old Town seemed like an enchanting village straight from a fairy tale. Although it belongs to a church, the Gross St. Martin tower looks like it could have had Rapunzel locked away inside. I gazed at the tower windows waiting for her to let down her hair and for the prince to arrive. Clusters of pastel painted and half-timbered buildings surround large squares. The squares are filled with beer gardens and pubs. Whimsically designed rod iron signs hang above pub and store entrances.
The local beer is Kolsch. It is also the language or dialect spoken in the area. We stopped in at Gaffel Haus, across from the Dom, for a beer and a bratwurst. They serve Kolsch in small 20 ml glasses, ensuring one’s beer is always cold.
If you’d like to drink beer and see the town at the same time, how about a bar on wheels? This beer bike looks like so much fun. Don’t worry, no drinking and driving allowed. The beer drinkers only peddle. The bartender does the actual steering.
For nightlife, the Medieval Old Town was the place for us. We ate dinner at one of the brew houses along the Rhine’s Promenade and stopped into a few of the old town’s many crowded pubs for a few Kolsch.
I went for the chocolate but found much more to Cologne. I’m looking forward to my next trip back, more chocolate, working it off climbing those 509 steps up the Dom and riding that beer bike.
Beer Bike (in German)