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The 411 on 4711: Buying Cologne in Cologne

by Sandy

A few minutes’ walk from the Cologne Cathedral stands the House of 4711.  Home to the original 4711 Eau de Cologne, this beautiful perfume boutique is located on the corner of Glockengasse, directly opposite the Opera House.   The building itself is striking.  Granted, it took me more than a few minutes to find it (what, with the Black Forest Cake and Cathedral stops!), but it was well worth the effort to discover the history behind the storied cologne.

The original 4711 store at Glockengasse 4 in Cologne, Germany.

Pulling back the large glass and gold doors, I was struck by the sheer number of bottles on display.  Products for sale also include soaps, scented candles and even teeshirts and gift wrapping service is offered for purchases.

Products for sale also include soaps, scented candles and even teeshirts and gift wrapping service is offered for purchases.

Friendly, helpful and eager to please, the salespeople were lovely and the overall vibe of the shop was fun and upbeat.   Making my way to the front counter, I was invited to try as many fragrances as I liked.

Citrus fruits with a touch of lavender and a hint of rosemary.   Simple.

First, I sniffed the original.  Citrus fruits with a touch of lavender and a hint of rosemary.   Simple.   4711 is now more than two centuries old with no signs of waning.   In fact, the brand chalks up its success up to high-quality ingredients and essential oils.

Beside the staircase, you’ll find a fountain which dispenses the famous fragrance.

“So, what’s the 411 on 4711?”, I asked the saleswoman, “and why is it so famous?”  With a sweet smile and a kind gesture, she invited me to follow her across the shop and up the stairs.

Upstairs is a small exhibition dedicated to the history of 4711 with thoughtful displays, artifacts and costumes.

Upstairs is a small exhibition dedicated to the history of 4711 with thoughtful displays, artifacts and costumes.  Most of the explanations are also in English, which I found both helpful and interesting, particularly as I hadn’t expected it.  And how darling are these vintage bottles!?

How darling are these vintage bottles!?

In production since at least 1799, this classic German scent has adorned the wrists of men and women alike since the 18th century.   Originally intended for internal and external use, legend has it that the secret recipe was gifted to merchant Wilhelm Mülhens by a Carthusian monk on the occasion of Wilhelm’s marriage in 1792.   The recipe was for an ‘acqua mirabilis’ or a ‘miracle water’.   Soon after, Wilhelm founded a small factory in the Glockengasse area of Cologne and established the first Eau de Cologne as a remedy.  Wilhelm marketed his miracle water as a health drink to be served undiluted or mixed with wine.  In 1810, Napoleon decreed that all recipes for medications intended for internal use publicly list their ingredients.  Not wanting to disclose his secret recipe, Wilhelm began marketing his miracle water solely as a fragrance.

Originally intended for internal and external use, legend has it that the secret recipe was gifted to merchant Wilhelm Mülhens by a Carthusian monk on the occasion of Wilhelm’s marriage in 1792.

As for its name, the explanation of how it came about is every bit as straightforward as its namesake fragrance.  The French occupation began in Cologne in 1794.   Frustrated by the disorganized layout of the city, a French general ordered all the houses to be sequentially numbered.  Wilhelm’s house was given the number 4711; and, although the house numbering no longer exists, the name remains and continues to be associated with the celebrated cologne.

The original 4711 store at Glockengasse 4 in Cologne, Germany.

I found the entire visit fascinating, not least because it brought back fond memories of my great aunt who always kept a bottle of 4711 on her dressing table.   Guess who else kept a bottle on hand?   In Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the famed lead character Holly Golightly uses 4711.  And, in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Frank has ‘4711’ tattooed on his upper right thigh.  At the time of my visit, the shop’s hours were Monday to Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  When in Cologne, I would definitely recommend a visit.   Besides, who doesn’t want to say they bought cologne in Cologne!

Sandy Nelson, owner of The Sandy Papers, a boutique travel agency specializing in Europe and the Exotics.

Ready to book YOUR next European adventure?   Hit me up!   I specialize in Europe and the Exotics and I’m very good at what I do.  Warmly, Sandy Nelson, (703) 975-1747

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