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Swellboy on… Cologne’s ‘wonder water’

Will Cologne’s fabled fountain of ‘wonder water’ unleash a flood of memories?

Swellboy on… Cologne’s ‘wonder water’

Image: Brijesh Patel

August 07 2011
Nick Foulkes

And so to Cologne, to see the fabled fountain of 4711. Granted, it may lack the soaring majesty of the jet d’eau of Geneva that used to mesmerise me as a child watching the opening titles of The Champions. Nor is it the fountain of youth which Ponce de Léon sought but never found – the conquistador did, however, come across Florida, and I daresay that it is some sort of Jungian shared memories of the search for the fountain of youth that account for its popularity with retired Americans.

Cologne’s fountain is a more modest affair, a spigot from which a steady stream of the famous eau de cologne emanates, much in the manner of water from a drinking fountain. In fact I was told that rather than being a fragrance, 4711 actually started out as a drink – a so-called wonder water, a miracle cure – and it is still enjoyed as such by those for whom the tang of methylated spirits is a little too harsh on the palate.

Olfaction does indeed have the power to conjure images from the further recesses of the mind, where they have been indelibly imprinted upon powerful memories. For instance, the smell of cut grass in the summertime has the uncanny and uncomfortable power to transport me to the vast hall in which I sat my O- and A-levels, while outside groundsmen cut and rolled the turf, oblivious to the high levels of anxiety that surged up through my body like some appalling electric current of fear.

And so, as I cupped my hands under the rivulet of Echt Kölnisch Wasser and then splashed it over my face and neck, I wondered what memories would be summoned.

It is, I suppose, a form of mental Russian roulette and on this occasion the chamber was unloaded and no memory, good or bad, was dragged out for inspection. I tried to look in a mirror to see if by any chance I had succeeded where Ponce de Léon had failed, and got any younger. To be honest I could not really tell one way or the other as I couldn’t see very well. “Wonder water” it may be, but try and avoid getting it in your eyes.

See also

Germany, People, Cologne