Vienna Chocolate Museum. Despite its top art museums, what Viennese treasure even more is – chocolate. Long before Sacher Torte and Mozart chocolates rose to fame the Habsburg Emperors championed the rise of the cocoa bean in Europe.
To explore Vienna’s ‘dark side’ my children and I chose the Schokolade Museum Wien at Vienna’s Prater amusement park. Here is our review of chocolate paradise.
The Chocolate Museum
Just between the Giant Ferris Wheel, Madame Tussaud’s wax figures and a scary luna park swing we slipped into the chocolate museum.
Shamefully ignoring the receptionist our eyes caught Pepper, a cute white robot the size of my 10-year old. She got positively excited the moment we pressed one of her buttons. Before sharing some information about the Schokolade Museum Pepper was keen to know our particular chocolate tastes and performed a funny little dance.
Museum director Bojan told me later that he planned for Pepper to guide visitors through the museum in the mid future.
Chocolatl And The Blue Feather Crown
Vienna Chocolate Museum. To get the full picture of cocoa we first travelled back more than 1,000 years. Between a life-size Aztec throne, Mayan vessels, and an Aztec cocoa bean crusher (photo) we found out who discovered the cocoa bean, how people consumed it, and what the original name ‘Chocolatl’ meant. Cocoa beans were ‘food of the Gods’ and so precious you could pay with them in those days.
Ha, it only occurred to me later that the ‘Game of Cocoa’ referred to ‘Game of Thrones’! (my son, 10)
The ‘Game of Cocoa’ story rolled out the alliances and conflicts during the fight for the Aztec throne: For all his intrigues with King Moctezuma, Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés at least brought the beans and the art of making (liquid) chocolate to Europe.
Actually, the original of the copy of Moctezuma’s stunning blue feather crown onsite was much closer than we thought…
The Habsburgs’ Chocolate Championship
Vienna Chocolate Museum. If a Spanish-Habsburgian princess hadn’t given a box of cocoa beans to her newly wedded husband we would all sip barley coffee and eat muesli bars – healthy but not the same. Not only Empress Maria Theresa turned into a chocoholic but many European noblemen and women. At this time, by the way, consumers still only knew the liquid chocolate drink; how to make solid chocolate hadn’t yet been discovered.
Since the aristocracy promoted chocolate so heavily, Bojan had made a weighty decision: he moulded Queen Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI – life size – in 350 kg of chocolate each. Miraculously, they had no bite marks.
The Cocoa Jungle
Vienna Chocolate Museum. At the heart of the Chocolate Museum the Cocoa Jungle unfolded the life and fate of the cocoa bean: Growing and selling cocoa nowadays is not only a complex business but a hot fair trade topic.
Even though we didn’t encounter a single chocolate crumb, world maps, colourful flow charts, cocoa pods, and roasted cocoa beans were intriguing enough to capture our interest. Do cocoa pods grow on branches or trunks? What actually happens with the pods when the beans are collected? And why is growing cocoa still a small family business?
When I thought of a chocolate bar I never imagined a jungle behind it, and certainly not cocoa bean farmers. Now I think of much more when biting into a Lindor ball! (my daughter, 12)
Atlas, Darth Vader, Sacher Torte And Games
Vienna Chocolate Museum. After a rather civilised theoretical start the Golden Room with its 2.5 meter full-chocolate sculptures challenged our good manners: Was I the only one to wanted to bite Atlas or the Greek Thinker into their dark brown calves?
Strolling past an enormous Egyptian sphinx, David of Florence, the White Shark, and two giant bunnies I caught myself mentally chopping them up into neat pocket-sized chocolate bars.
Throughout that gigantic chocolate parade my son managed to remain calm but eventually dashed towards a gallery of chocolate paintings featuring Darth Vader, Wolverine and Deadpool – the official ‘Dark Side of Chocolate’.
I can’t imagine how Bojan painted Darth Vader just using chocolate. I felt like licking it. (my son)
We made it past a series of Mozart chocolates, learning how to spot originals and ‘fakes’.
Eventually, my next mental trigger arrived in the shape of a two-meter-wide shiny Sacher Torte hugging the wall. What a reminder of those two Viennese patissiers battling for decades over the positioning of a layer of apricot jam in a chocolate cake!
Meanwhile, my children engaged in the Chocolate Museum’s many interactive games: virtually chasing butterflies and clearing a path through a green cocoa jungle; playing the ‘magic cocoa pod’ and discovering which chocolate types they were.
The ‘chocolate type game’ was a lot of fun and I was really surprised by the results! (my daughter, 12)
Creating Our Own Chocolate Bars
Vienna Chocolate Museum. To crown their experience my kids were ready to roll up their sleeves and make chocolate bars. Before visiting the museum we had booked a one-hour-workshop programme which took place in a spacious show kitchen. A gigantic marble work top displayed pralines, chocolate eggs and nibs, but most prominently a dozen glass jars filled with almond flakes, sugar sprinkles, peanuts, pine kernels, chili flakes, cocoa powder, dried banana slices, cookies and chocolate balls.
Before hands reached into the jars we learned how cocoa beans actually turned into a chocolate bar. Any chocolatier needs to know not only about different types of chocolate but about melting, cooling and reheating each of them, and what properties to expect from each. What is a conche and why was it better for us to pour our chocolate from that machine rather than spreading it all across the marble surface?
Bojan was really helpful. He was always around and explained how the machine worked, and shared a lot of information about how to not only decorate, but make chocolate. (my son)
Once they had filled their chocolate moulds my daughter and son sifted each glass jar for the perfect decorative mix: peanuts, chili, banana and sprinkles competed with mini cookies, smarties and chocolate balls.
While we were waiting for the decorated bars to cool, Bojan encouraged the kids to try the same type of chocolate and describe its flavours to each other. It was a bit like wine tasting. Eventually we realised why he did it: the results were the perfect chocolate tasting lesson, and chocolate tasting is proven to be tougher than wine tasting.
Tasting chocolate is really easy and fun but putting into words what you taste is so hard! (my daughter)
Address: Riesenradplatz 5, 1020 Vienna
Opening times: daily; from May to September 10.00am to 8.00pm; from October to April 10.00am to 6.00pm
How to get there: take metro U1 or U2, or tramways 5 or 0 to Praterstern
NOTE: My kids and I were kindly invited by the Chocolate Museum Vienna. All opinions about the museum and personal weaknesses for chocolate are explicitly our own.
CONFESSION: You know what I did after writing this post? I baked a large tray of creamy soft dark chocolate brownies…