Choco-Story is a pretty wild place. Predictably, it calls Bruges home. After all, Belgium and chocolate go together like hot dogs and obesity. On my recent trip to Bruges, I heard about Choco-Story from the guy at the front desk of my hotel. Given that I like to nibble a bit of chocolate every now and then, it seemed worth a visit.
What I saw shocked me.
This isn’t a museum in the conventional sense. The displays seem to have been designed from the tobacco industry playbook. The propaganda was extensive, and in a departure from the cigarette world, it wasn’t shrouded effectively. Rather, insane innuendo was offered throughout the museum, and its true nature was painfully obvious. Had it been executed slightly better, the whole thing would have been funny. Alas, it was not.
So, if you’re looking for some chocolate fun, Choco-Story will drive you absolutely nuts. Here are the top five ways this stop in Bruges will make your mind swirl:
1. Orwell would be impressed: Choco-Story resembles the industry’s Ministry of Truth more than it does a museum. Sure, you can walk through the history of chocolate in this Belcolade-sponsored environment … but you’ll get some strong “messaging” along the way. Chocolate, it seems, hasn’t sufficiently been linked to acne, weight gain or tooth decay – at least not according to the signs. Without coming out and claiming … well … anything, exhibits suggest that chocolate may be an aphrodisiac. And that the fat should probably lose weight before introducing dark chocolate back into their diets (the slim, on the other hand, can munch as much as they want).
2. It takes a while to get to the food: I realize that chocolate has a long and rich history. It takes centuries to get anywhere near the developments most closely related to the snacks we enjoy today. That doesn’t mean that Choco-Story needs to cover every historical moment in painstaking detail. Not every contribution should get equal weight, especially from the perspective of the sugar-fiending visitor.
3. There isn’t much chocolate: to say that Choco-Story isn’t interactive is to conceal the frustration that a visit invites. Throughout the museum, you’ll wander through displays that range from historical to propaganda, but you won’t really find any chocolate (not the kind you can stick in your mouth). At the end of the tour, there is a display. You can see a chocolatier at work in a spotless kitchen, surrounded by statues constructed in that particular medium. You’re limited to looking and not touching, however. This strip club-style constraint continues into the demonstration room, where a speaker shows and tells without letting your fingers near a nibble. Guests are given only one piece of chocolate, and they can’t get it until they leave through a door that’s closed until the end of the lecture.
4. Toys: okay, so the chocolate is controlled tightly. That wouldn’t be so bad if the museum actually rocked. While there are some interesting chocolate-related artifacts, they are mixed in with Lego-style displays intended to illustrate the history of the sweet. They really don’t look that good. It’s a joke. A cartoonish chocolate character appears in some signs in an effort to inject a bit of humor, but he fails – horribly.
5. Cash only: for most people, this might not be a big deal. I don’t carry a lot of cash, though, and I know I’m not alone. If you don’t have cash with you, you’re stuck looking for an ATM when you’d rather be inside the museum. The silver lining in all this is that you really aren’t missing anything anyway.