Shining, golden cocoa fruits cover the tree. From some of its lower branches flow smooth, brown chocolate into a little chocolate pond, filling the air with a sweet mouth-watering scent. A light, crisp wafer is dipped into the creamy pond. Rising with a warm cover of rich chocolate, it finds its way to the mouth, dripping, dripping ...
Sounds like a child's dream, too good to be true? In Cologne, Germany, that dream can become true -- on a tiny island built into the Rhine River, in Cologne's Chocolate Museum.
The smell of tasty milk chocolate greets visitors even in the entrance hall, luring them into the exhibition spaces. There is much to discover: On the third floor, a couple of adults hop up and down in quite a funny way on colored seats, trying to collect as many lentil-shaped chocolates in a virtual glass tube on a computer screen.
Behind them, a life-sized stuffed animal -- a violet cow -- poses in front of a photograph showing an alpine landscape. "The Milka cow!" a blond-haired boy shouts excitedly, begging his mother to take his picture with the animal, symbol of one of Europe's oldest and favorite chocolate brands.
Retracing the advertisement history of world-famous chocolate brands by looking at packaging or metal boxes is certainly interesting; the most fascinating feature, however, waits on the first and second floor: A complete assembly line enables visitors to see how bits of chocolate are made, step by delicious step.
Danger by the Mouthful
And then there it is: the chocolate fountain. The gold-leafed tree with the melted delicacy dripping out of the lower branches. The little chocolate pond and the friendly lady handing out the crispy, chocolate-covered wafers.
Just as tempting as getting a taste at the chocolate fountain may be, it represents real danger: Apart from counting calories, there will be no way of getting past the gift shop with literally hundreds of more irresistible temptations, such as little chocolate balls that melt in hot milk, making a yummy drink. Chocolate in extraordinary shapes -- from cell phones to animals. And even some rather exotic tastebud tingles: chocolate with chili or herbs in it, or, alternatively, filled with different types of liquor.
Munching on a mouthful of the sweet brown stuff, the walk over to Cologne's impressive Cathedral -- called "Dom" in German -- seems even shorter than it is anyway. Missing the right path to the most famous clerical building in Germany is just about impossible: Its high Gothic towers -- erected in more than 630 years of construction -- dominate Cologne's old town, and can be seen from almost every point. And its 509 steps lead visitors up into one of the Cathedral's belfries, rewarding them with a breathtaking view across the streets of the old town.
Cologne's history reaches all the way back into Roman times: The oldest parts of the city date back to around the year 50 C.E. Most of what makes up the old town today is of medieval or later origin.
Strolling the streets around the Guerzenich, Cologne's pretty town hall, visitors find themselves in the former Jewish quarter of the city: Jews had lived in Cologne from the early Middle Ages, and by 1899, when the Great Synagogue was built, their number had grown to nearly 10,000.
The Mikwe -- located right next to the Guerzenich, and today covered and protected by a glass pyramid -- is a reminder of the earliest Jewish congregation; it was built around 1170. Today, Cologne's Jewish citizens worship at the Synagogue at the Rathenauplatz, the only one that was rebuilt after World War II.
Strolling through Cologne's cobbled old-town streets can be tiring on the feet after a while. Then, check out a local brewery (brauhaus), which is always worth a stop: A light beer named Koelsch, served in straight narrow glasses, is one of the city's specialties.
Eating out in Cologne can be an adventure even for Germans, though: A dish locals call Halve Hahn ("half-chicken") actually turns out to be a cheese sandwich. Rievkooche is what locals call "greasy," but turn out to be yummy little pancakes made from potatoes.
But of course, what would be a visit to Cologne without finding out about ... cologne?
Eau de Cologne -- the actual essence invented here by the Italian Giovanni Maria Farina is still a secret -- offers a look at why it is still a wonderful mystery at its store at Obenmarspforten, still plying business nearly 300 years after Farina invented the essence.
It's not the only cologne, however; there are others, such as Cologne 4711 and the products of Roger & Gallet, that attract visitors, too -- in addition to all those chocolates!
To learn more on Cologne, go to: www.koeln.de/en .