For chocolate lovers the world over, a visit to the Imhoff Schokoladenmusuem in Cologne just might be in order. The museum is the brainchild of Hans Imhoff, a German chocolate producer who envisioned not only a factory to make chocolate, but a place to showcase 4,000 years of history and culture surrounding everyone’s favorite sweet treat. With years of success behind him managing a chocolate empire, he finally opened the chocolate museum in 1993. Lindt came on board as a partner in 2005, so you know the chocolate rolling out of the factory is good! The Schokoladenmuseum has become so popular that it’s ranked one of Germany’s Top Ten museums to visit.
Is it a chocolate factory or a museum? It’s both!
So what exactly does a tour of the Schokoladenmuseum entail?
For starters, the unusual complex of brick, glass, and metal buildings is on a spit of land right on the west bank of the Rhine. A wide paved trail runs for kilometers along the river, so regardless of whether you’re coming from up or downriver, walking to the chocolate museum along the waterfront is a great way to experience the city. The views from the museum once you arrive are also quite nice.
After buying tickets at the entrance, the smell of rich warm chocolate will accompany you during your tour. Room after room takes you through a journey detailing the first uses of cocoa beans by the Mayans and Aztecs, to its introduction in Europe, and finally to chocolate as a commodity in the modern-day world.
The specific species of cocoa bean used to make chocolate is Theobroma cacao. Named by Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné in 1753, it means “food of the gods.”
The cocoa pods are harvested twice a year from the trees with long poles with knives attached.
Workers cut open the pods with machetes and pile up the white pulpy seeds in baskets, boxes, or directly on banana leaves on the ground, covering them with more leaves. They’re left to ferment for up to a week, then laid in the sun to dry.
Once ready for shipment, the raw cocoa beans are packed into burlap bags and sent to distributors for sale to processing companies.
Though cocoa beans were discovered in the Americas, the region now produces less than 20% of the world’s harvests.
Over 70% of cocoa beans come from Africa, 2/3 of which are grown in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The trees are finicky and prefer regions near the Equator that are hot and humid.
Who’s ready to visit Ghana with us?!
Once you’ve explored all the fascinating interactive exhibits documenting the history of chocolate, you can visit the actual chocolate-making facilities.
Of course, this area includes lots of fairly boring, industrial metal machines. But it’s neat to follow the liquid chocolate where it runs through pipes near the ceiling. You can stop at each station on its journey to becoming a tiny chocolate bar.
Exhibits in this area include unusual molds no longer in use, unique chocolate bars sold in different countries, and hand-drawn sketches of foil wrappers used to wrap figures like the famous Lindt bunny.
And the pièce de résistance?
A 3-meter tall cocoa tree fountain supplying a never-ending supply of melted Lindt chocolate for sampling.
Waiting patiently in line with a handful of other visitors, I eagerly tried a single thin wafer cookie dipped in the fountain of rich chocolate.
I’m sure I’ve eaten my weight in chocolate during my life – and a fair amount of it Lindt – but that little sample was the best chocolate I’ve ever had. If only the samples were bottomless, like at Maison Cailler in Switzerland.
The next stop is upstairs, where you can browse a small collection of giant chocolate figures artistically crafted from molds and by hand.
If window shopping for chocolate has made you hungry for more chocolate, grab a pencil and fill out an order slip for your own custom-made Lindt chocolate bar.
Choices include white, milk, or dark chocolate. A range of 40 toppings includes varieties of berries, nuts, toffee, caramel, or coffee beans.
The one final obstacle to navigate before leaving the Schokoladenmuseum is a wall of sinfully decadent pastries, mostly chocolate, displayed at the Chocolat Grand Cafe near the exit.
I couldn’t resist. I had to order something.
Unfortunately I was so excited to actually see Käsekuchen for sale that I failed to order anything with chocolate. Though it literally means “cheese cake,” it was not the cheesecake of my dreams – graham cracker crust, sweetened cream cheese filling, and natural fruit compote. Instead, it was literally yellow cake with a cream center, topped with a gelatinous fruit spread. With the first bite, I realized my mistake. Though it wasn’t what I expected, I slowly devoured the cake and a superb cappuccino at a table overlooking the river.
You better believe that the next time I visit the Imhoff Schokoladenmuseum in Cologne, I’ll be ordering the biggest slice of chocolate cake on display!
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Know Before You Go
A single adult ticket costs €9. A family pass for two adults and your own children under age 16 is €25. Kids under age 6 are free.
Entrance to the museum is free on your birthday!
The museum is typically closed on Mondays and is open outside normal business hours. Confirm their hours before visiting.
Most of the exhibits are available in both German and English, so it’s not necessary to book a guided tour to enjoy it.