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Blogger Abroad: Observations from Germany on Languages & Chocolate-Making

Chocolate-making robot at the Lindt Schokoladenmuseum in Cologne, Germany


“Your Story on the Rails” summer blogger Andy is continuing his tour of Europe in search of answers regarding chocolate production—and cultural attitudes about the confection—across borders. Since he last checked in, he’s observed the Flowertime festival in Brussels and tasted a variety of Belgian waffles with fun toppings (…tempting us to pack a bag and go taste some ourselves!).

Having completed the portion of his itinerary in French-speaking countries, he is finally able to employ his German language skills while conversing with locals and master chocolatiers alike—something he’s been eager to do!

See below excerpts from two days of his travel log. In his words:

DAY 16 – Observations en route to Cologne

On the way to Cologne, something interesting happened. The lady in the seat behind me starting having pains and her husband ran for help. A few of the conductors came to our car and made an announcement, asking if any doctors on the train could come to car 22. A lady in the back of my car had experience with first aid so she came up to try and help.

What I found interesting was the use of languages.

 The lady in pain spoke a language that I did not recognize, something from the Middle East I think. Her husband spoke German. The lady who knew first aid spoke English and her son spoke a little German. So the first aid lady asked her son to say something to the husband who would then say it to his wife. An exchange of three languages there. The boy did not speak good German, so two middle school-aged girls had to translate some sentences as well. The lady had pain on her left side. The lady asked if she was pregnant and she responded yes. The conductors stopped the train at the nearest stop and medics came on board. Now these medics only spoke French, so the guy sitting next to me translated French into German for the husband and French into English for the first aid lady. She was eventually taken off the train to receive medical attention. This delayed the train about 35 minutes. It was interesting to see how four languages were spoken within just a small section of the train.

I arrived in Cologne at about 1:00 so I went to Starbucks and started researching how their local transportation works. I went to the train ticket counter and bought three day passes and then headed down to the metro. I got off on the right stop and easily found my home, but I was 30 minutes early. I rang the doorbell but no one answered. So I messaged my host that I was already at the apartment and apologized for being early. About 10 minutes later I saw a lady in the entry way of the apartment and she asked if I was the Airbnb boy. She took me up to my room and gave me instructions. She did not speak much English so we conversed in German. This was good practice for me, although I did not know how to say some words. Her native tongue is Spanish so she did not understand some of the German words that I was saying. Knowing German is already proving to be quite beneficial on this trip.

DAY 17 – Exploring Cologne & the Lindt Museum

Today I decided to explore Cologne. First on the list was visiting the Kölner Dom. Also known as Cologne Cathedral, this magnificent piece of architecture is a Roman Catholic cathedral. The Dom is the biggest tourist attraction in Cologne, attracting around 20,000 visitors every day. After walking around the cathedral, I made my way to the chocolate museum, the Lindt Schokoladenmuseum.

I spent about two hours in this museum. There is so much information and the museum is well organized. People of all ages can enjoy this museum and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Germany. This museum ranks on the top 10 lists of museums in Germany. The museum was opened by Hans Imhoff on October 31, 1993. Today, around 675,000 people visit this museum each year.

The museum began with the origin of the cocoa bean, starting with the Mayans and Aztecs, similar to the Choco Story in Bruges. The next part of the museum went through the bean to bar process and had active machines that the public could observe. Also in this room was the most famous part of the museum, a large cocoa bean tree that has warm chocolate coming out of the bottom. If you wait in front of the tree, a Lindt chocolatier will give you a wafer dipped in this warm chocolate. This was quite tasty. Around the corner, you get to see how Lindt chocolates are packaged. Further down, you could press a button and a robot would give you a small square of chocolate from the assembly line (see the video above!).

Upstairs, I learned a lot about the history of German chocolate. During the world wars, chocolate was especially important to the Germans. Chocolate companies turned their focus on creating a chocolate with a lot of nutritional value that could then be consumed by the troops. So many other food industries closed, but the chocolate industry still operated. Each company wanted to do their best for their country. This display even mentioned that the Hershey Company also began to develop a chocolate bar in 1937, that would serve the US Army as an emergency ration. The bar had to be light, resistant to high temperature, and it should not taste much better than a cooked potato. This was to prevent the chocolate bar from being eaten before an emergency had even occurred.

This museum gave me a lot of information about how chocolate is produced, however, I did not learn specifics about German chocolate to be able to make a comparison on the ingredient aspect of each country’s chocolate. Their chocolate making process seemed similar to other companies in Switzerland and Belgium. I did learn that the Ivory Coast is the most important cocoa supplier for the German chocolate market. Additionally, Hamburg imports nearly two-thirds of the entire German annual cocoa import. Germany does not seem to focus on fine chocolate. They have a few major companies that mass produce chocolate bars, mini chocolate candies, and wrapped eggs and figurines.

I wanted to buy chocolate from Germany to take back to my friends and family so that they could do a taste analysis with a chocolate bar from each country. However, I was looking through the store and all the Lindt candy is produced in Switzerland. I might have to wait until Frankfurt to purchase true German chocolate.

Today was a good but long day. I am quite tired and I am still figuring out what I want to do tomorrow. I am thinking that I might go to Bonn, Germany.

Have you or someone you know ever employed language skills to help out in an emergency, like on Andy’s train to Cologne? Tell us about it @LeadWLanguages on social media! Then check out our Lead with German page for ideas about college programs, scholarship opportunities, and other study abroad blogs by students like Andy!

The above excerpts are adapted from Andy’s own blog about his Magellan Project: Chocolate Empires in Europe. Hop over there for even more information on his study abroad adventures. 

Andy - German stations