When in London, a hefty plate of fish and chips is mandatory. When in Paris, vin rouge and oozing brie are the order of the day. In Germany, however, the classic treat is sweeter. The German chocolate industry, along with that of neighbouring Belgium, offers some of the finest, most sought-after confectionery in the world. And nowhere more so than in Cologne, the city that can boast its own very chocolate museum and some of the most alluring artisan chocolate shops imaginable. If Roald Dahl’s chocolate master Willy Wonka had needed inspiration, it’s to Cologne that he would have come.
The cocoa bean was brought to Europe in the final years of the fifteenth century, very likely as part of Christopher Columbus’s cargo of curiosities. It was probably introduced to Germany some time in the 1640s by a scientist called Johann Georg Volckamer, one of the authors of Chocolata Inda, a learned treatise on the subject published in Latin in 1644. Understandably, his fellow citizens were more interested in consuming chocolate than reading about it; the bean was first used as the main ingredient of a luxurious hot drink rather than nibbled as a solid delicacy.
The imposing, sculptural glass and steel structure of the Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum, Cologne’s museum of chocolate, juts out on its own peninsula into the Rhine and looks more akin to a space-age airport than the home of Germany’s chocolate heritage. It was founded by Hans Imhoff, whose love of chocolate was born from the scent that would drift by his father’s locksmith’s shop from the nearby Stollwerck chocolate factory. Stollwerck been producing some of Germany’s finest and most delectable chocolate since 1839 when a young baker, Franz Stollwerck, began experimenting with chocolate and other forms of confectionery before expanding across Germany and branching into coffee shops. His mission? To make the delight of chocolate less rarified and more readily available for all. He was the first to introduce a rudimentary form of the vending machine, dispensing his chocolate to the city. The launch of the museum in 1993 was carried out in association with the Stollwerck company, which donated historical artefacts for exhibition.
Bonbons, milky creams and truffles
Stollwerck remains one of Germany’s biggest chocolate makers and maintains exacting standards to roast, powder, liquidise and chill its cocoa beans to create the fanciful creations that adorn shop counters across Cologne: butter-soft bonbons, milky creams and delectable truffles. Almost 180 years since Franz Stollwerck began experimenting with chocolate by adding it to his baking mixtures, the brand sells over 100,000 tonnes of chocolate worth around €500m per year; enough to sate the appetites of the most die-hard chocolate obsessives. This year, Stollwerck launched a new initiative to support sustainable and ethical cocoa farming.
The artistry of chocolate
Heritage and tradition are similarly intrinsic to German chocolate brand Feodora, launched in 1910 after sugar tycoon Hermann Meyer asked Empress Auguste Victoria for permission to name a new type of praline he was experimenting with after her beautiful sister, Princess Feodora. Today, the packaging still bears Feodora’s image and crest and the company remains of Germany’s most artisanal chocolatiers, with a particular emphasis on design and artistry. A cluster of these chocolates could well be mistaken at first glance for a constellation of particularly ornate earrings.
The most sweet-toothed in Germany are lured to Cologne by even more than the towering chocolate museum. The city plays host each autumn to an annual confectionery fair, along with a brilliantly surreal Chocolate & Fashion show hosted by Lambertz Monday Night: a Victoria’s Secrets-style catwalk show interwoven with a chocolate tasting – an assault for the senses on every level.
One of the most enticing ways to discover the city’s chocolate legacy is on foot, wandering through the cobbled streets to discover some of the boutique chocolate makers that excel at the craft. From the light-as-a-feather works of fancy at the sleek Törtchen Törtchen to the treacle-thick hot chocolate at the simply named Chocolat, the city is a veritable sugarscape of indulgence. Just don’t tell your dentist.