Micky is an expat living in Europe. As a fan of travel and all things chocolate, she loves sharing her experiences as an autistic person.
Visiting Chocolate Nation
Within the centre of Antwerp, next to the train station and zoo, lies Chocolate Nation. The museum advertises itself as the largest Belgian chocolate museum in the world where you can taste "no less than 10" different flavours of chocolate. Chocolate Nation is broken into 14 different thematic rooms that tell the story of Belgian chocolate.
The museum and tour starts in the cocoa plantations along the equator and follows the cocoa bean to the world's largest storage port in Antwerp. After learning about where chocolate comes from, guests watch a "giant fantasy machine" that demonstrates how chocolate is made and where the smooth taste comes from.
Visitors are then guided through various rooms detailing where the chocolate goes throughout the world. Walking through these rooms, you get to look at beautifully displayed "windows" that show people enjoying and using chocolate throughout the world.
The window displays lead you to the entrance of the virtual chocolate restaurant. When it is time to enter the doors will automatically open, and guests are instructed to find a seat at the dinner table. The table in front of you will suddenly change and a miniature chef will make your "food" right before your eyes.
After your time at the restaurant, you will walk through double doors and back in time. The historical Belgian chocolate room is set up like an old-time chocolate shop full of information and stories from different Belgian brands and chocolatiers. Full of sensory and animated experiences, this is a room people of all ages are sure to love!
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The next set of rooms guests walk through are filled with pictures, displays, and quotes about chocolate and what it means to them. This section of the museum is a social media influencers dream. The setup encourages visitors to take pictures, videos and interact with the Chocolate Nation brand on social media. While this attracts a specific clientele, I found it to be unimpressive and kitschy.
The final room of the museum definitely makes up for the previous rooms. Visitors approach a yellow/ gold illuminated spiral staircase, leading down to multiple chocolate fountains. The dim lighting and decorations of this room are displayed in a way that puts the chocolate at the centre of the attention (the way it should be). This is where the tasting room typically is, but due to COVID guests are given samples in the shop instead.
A Skewed History
While the museum did attempt to provide the history and evolution of Belgian chocolate, it was very selective in the information they chose to provide and display. A lot of what was "taught" to visitors highlighted the positive aspects of history. Nothing was mentioned about how the demand for cacao has led to deforestation and land clearance in cacao-growing regions. Information was very Eurocentric and provided very little insight from those in Africa and South America, where Cacao is produced.
The euro-centricity of perspectives was clearly evident in the programs they partner with. Video montages were played about how these programs change the lives of those in West Africa and now they can own their own cocoa farm. The museum provided no information about how colonization is what drove many farmers to lose their farms in the first place. This was a very clear representation of white saviourism, and the museum does nothing to address it.
Frankly, Chocolate Nation was a sensory nightmare. The first part of the museum doesn't allow visitors to move freely and forces you to stay in individual rooms for a predetermined time. This can be very overwhelming when you add in the fact there are extremely loud noises, bright flashes of light, and dark rooms. Before entering the museum there were no warnings about any of this which is very problematic. For a museum that describes itself as accessible, they do not provide any warning when purchasing a ticket or before walking into the museum.
As an autistic person visiting this museum was not an enjoyable experience. Normally, if I know there will be loud noises and confined spaces I can prepare myself and bring headphones. Since there weren't any warnings I was caught completely off guard. Unfortunately, the museum isn't as accessible as it claims and can be a traumatic experience for many.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Micky