In Search of Eau de Cologne in Cologne

A major industrial center on the River Rhine, Cologne may not seem like a place with a fragrant history, but it was here in July of 1709 that Giovanni Battista Farina founded the company “G. B. Farina” and began to sell fashionable Italian goods from his native Piemont. When Johann Maria, Giovanni’s younger brother, joined the company in 1714, he developed a perfume that he called “Aqua mirabilis” or “miracle water” and that he named Eau de Cologne or Kölnisch Wasser in honor of his adopted city.

The fragrance was based on Italian essences of bergamot and lemon. Fresh, bright and effervescent, it was a break from the heavy perfumes of the period that featured dark musk and civet. “My fragrance is like an Italian spring morning after the rain,” was Johann Maria’s description of his Eau de Cologne, and this fantasy was so compelling that soon the perfume was much sought after. Mozart wore it and so did Napoleon. Oscar Wilde ordered it and Queen Victoria was a fan with a purchase order of over 600 bottles.

Upon arriving in Cologne, I went straight to Duftmuseum im Farina Haus, the fragrance museum dedicated to Eau de Cologne. Located in the former perfume factory, Duftmuseum traces the history of Farina’s cologne and describes the process of distillation of various essences. The archival materials explain how Eau de Cologne was made and what set it apart from the competition. For most fragrance aficionados, some of the information will be rather basic, but seeing the distillery equipment and smelling the materials made the visit worthwhile for me.

The most fascinating part of Farina’s Eau de Cologne story is how widely copied it became. Wilhelm Mülhens started selling Eau de Cologne in Cologne’s Glockengasse in 1799, and he even hired people named Farina as partners to justify the name of “Franz Maria Farina, Glockengasse 4711, Cologne.” Farina’s family battled against such plagiarism unsuccessfully until 1873  when Mühlens was forced to rename his company “Eau de Cologne- und Parfümerie-Fabrik Glockengasse No. 4711 gegenüber der Pferdepost.” Today it belongs to the company Mäurer & Wirtz and it makes another famous Cologne product, 4711.

Farina’s Eau de Cologne is still produced today, although the formula is different from the original blend. It’s still fresh and bright, but there is a strong marine facet that gives it a salty aftershave quality. White musks liberally lace the base, while the effervescence of citrus is toned down. It’s a pleasant cologne, but I admit that I prefer 4711 or Roger & Gallet Eau de Cologne when it comes to a classical bitter-dry citrus. Still, it’s a fragrance with a long history, and coming to Cologne to learn more about it was worthwhile.

For the rest of the trip, I strolled around the city, explored the Jewish quarter, and walked along the Rhine. The fourth largest city in Germany, Cologne nevertheless retains an intimate feel and lots of history. It manifests itself in the remnants of Roman towers and medieval walls, ancient synagogues and churches, and of course, the perfume rivals. Farina’s creation still receives stiff competition from 4711 that is sold around the city. The 18th century battles are still echoing.

Duftmuseum im Farina Haus
Address: Obenmarspforten 21, 50667 Köln, Germany
Phone: +49 221 3998994

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, 2nd and 3rd images inside the Dom Cathedral of Cologne.



  • Andy: I’ve spent an afternoon in Köln, and missed the Farina Duftmuseum, but enjoyed seeing that there is at the very least still plenty of 4711 to be had and that the product of eau de cologne still is reflected in the city. I have used 4711 before, but don’t have any bottles on hand now. It’s a good cologne, but I always wished there were a version with slightly plusher ingredients; maybe something closer to an earlier formula.

    On a recent visit to Montreal, I made a trip to the drugstore and found a giant bottle of a cologne I’d never seen before (can’t recall the rather generic name). It’s a product similar to Bien-Être eau de cologne. I always love these sorts of little scented discoveries when I travel. August 26, 2022 at 8:30am Reply

    • Victoria: 4711 is around everywhere in Cologne, even more so than Farina’s cologne!

      I know what you mean about scented discoveries. It makes such a difference. August 26, 2022 at 8:37am Reply

  • Rhinda: I loved this story Victoria!
    I keep an old fashioned atomizer full of 4711 next to my chair where I knit. I use it to keep my hands clean while working on my projects.
    My grandchildren love using the atomizer. Now I will share its history! August 26, 2022 at 9:17am Reply

    • Victoria: I like how simple and versatile this cologne is. Enjoy yours! August 29, 2022 at 4:21am Reply

  • Hamamelis: Thank you for some 4711 history, and for the lovely pic of the cathedral.
    When I was a child, a long time ago, watching TV was a treat. There were 2 channels, black and white ofcourse. No daytime TV, just a few hours in the evening. We were allowed to watch the children’s show, and the commercials that followed. My favourite was one for 4711. I think it was very simple, maybe not even with moving pictures but at the end the little bell (glocken) as pictured on the label would give a tiny ‘ting’. Magic for a child… August 26, 2022 at 9:39am Reply

    • Victoria: The cathedral is stunning. It’s dark on the outside (because of the pollution, I suppose), but it gives it a very interesting look. August 29, 2022 at 10:56am Reply

  • Anastasia: Lovely piece of fragrance history! August 26, 2022 at 9:47am Reply

    • Victoria: I also enjoy learning such details. August 29, 2022 at 10:56am Reply

  • Anouk: Thank you for this interesting post! I have a small collection of colognes that I dab onto my hands or my sweater in the morning to wake me up. I love this little ritual, so it‘s fascinating to hear how people felt about these “wonder waters” in the past and how much competition Farina had. August 26, 2022 at 10:43am Reply

    • Victoria: Cologne is an easy-to-wear style of fragrance. I also like to keep a small selection on hand. August 29, 2022 at 10:57am Reply

  • Alityke: I recently purchase on 1200ml Nenuco of & another of 750ml of Alvarez Gomez Agua de Colonias. These Spanish “colognes” I bought through an online shop selling cleaning products. In Spain these Aguas are worn as refreshing splashes by all the family, including babies.
    However, they are also used in laundry and in household cleaning. So much more pleasing than laundry musks, room sprays, cheap reids & candles. They smell of Iberian homes & holidays.

    I own a large splash bottle of 4711 & 4711 cool stick which has been a lifesaver in the recent heat & humidity. August 26, 2022 at 12:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: These Spanish colognes are classics! I also like them very much. August 29, 2022 at 10:58am Reply

  • Maggiecat: I was fortunate enough to spend a day in Cologne this past June. Our river cruise stopped there on a Sunday, so many things were closed, but I was able to pick up a bottle of Farina’s cologne and a bottle of a 4711 Remix centered on lemon, and I’m still loving and wearing them both. I hope to be able to return and explore (and shop) further. Thank you for this wonderful piece! August 26, 2022 at 2:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: I noticed that 4711 now comes in lots of variations, but some of these I haven’t seen outside of Cologne. August 29, 2022 at 10:59am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: I saw 4711 with lavender,

        Kruidvat, Ferdinand Bolstraat in Amsterdam. August 29, 2022 at 11:53am Reply

  • katherine x: Victoria you are such a great storyteller of facts of history. You make it so interesting. Thank you! August 26, 2022 at 10:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much for reading. August 29, 2022 at 10:59am Reply

  • Clara: When I was in Cologne I joined the ‘historical tour’ that the Duftmuseum offered and the tour guide dressed up as Johann Maria himself, wig and all. While the entire experience was clearly aimed at tourists I still thought they made a genuine effort in showing their legacy.

    As for the fragrance itself I find it crowd-pleasing yet still very unique. Although it wasn’t the same formula as it was 300 years ago this updated scent still felt timeless and graceful. As a person in my 20s I felt it is more versatile for my needs than the classical cologne iterations. Some musks dry down on my skin metallic and unpleasant, but the ones used in the Farina cologne doesn’t, they become quite cosy. August 26, 2022 at 11:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I agree with you, it does feel cozy as it dries down. The whole perfume museum tour was touristic for sure, but the information was interesting. August 29, 2022 at 11:00am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Hello Victoria, thanks for the post on Cologne, or Köln, as it is in German. It was founded in 50 AD by the Romans as Colonia Agrippina, and is still jokingly referred to as the northernmost Italian city! Cologne was once a most important city but was, unfortunately, reduced to complete rubbles during WWII. Ever since, despite being the fourth largest city in Germany, it has lost in importance and also in interest. It‘s largely an unsightly city rebuilt unceremoniously in the 1950.
    Still, a city with an enormous university, Köln is known for its laisser-faire and open-minded lifestyle. For example, next to Berlin, it’s the LGBTIQ* hub in Germany.
    So, do visit but don‘t expect to see all too much of its 2000 years of history. Yet, if you search , you‘ll still find remnants here and there. So: Willkommen in Köln! August 27, 2022 at 2:09am Reply

    • Victoria: I loved the museums in Cologne. You have such a variety. Also, the different areas of the city were interesting, the hasty 1950s rebuilding aside. Brussels suffered from it, and it had no WWII destruction to blame. August 29, 2022 at 11:02am Reply

  • Filomena: Several years ago I was in Belgium and remember finding a shop that only sold 4711. However, there were lots of variations of the Cologne, and I purchased a small bottle for a friend who had taken an interest in 4711. August 27, 2022 at 9:00am Reply

    • Victoria: I remember seeing these stores around. The ones in Cologne were quite large. August 29, 2022 at 11:02am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Interesting post and beautiful pictures of the Dom.
    Now I am hearing in my inner ear all the time Schumann’s Dichterliebe….

    Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome
    Da spiegelt sich in den Welln
    Mit seinem grossen Dome
    Das grosse, heilge Kó’ln.

    I saw the towers of the Dom often, when travveling in the night by train to Vienna.
    Wonderful associations reading your post! August 27, 2022 at 3:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for this!

      Glad that I could bring back nice memories. August 29, 2022 at 11:03am Reply

  • Aurora: So glad you enjoyed your trip to Cologne. Thank you for the historical background of Farina cologne, I have a bottle of 4711 in my bathroom, I also enjoyed the colognes to be found in France at the drugstore. August 28, 2022 at 5:58am Reply

    • Victoria: These pharmacy colognes are little gems. I like how you can find completely obscure brands that are sold nowhere else. August 29, 2022 at 11:04am Reply

  • Michele Brown: Dear Victoria, I really love your stories and had no idea that there was a perfume house in Bavaria. But I have a question, that has me stumped. Why are there no modern Chypres fragrances that have the Oak moss and Patchouli base notes. I know that there have been some laws passed in European Union to outlaw Oak moss. Have they not come up with a synthetic form. My most loved accord is Chypres. Maybe I just haven’t heard of any modern ones. I hope you can help me understand what is going on. 🌻🦋 September 2, 2022 at 1:14am Reply

    • Victoria: Unfortunately, there is no synthetic replacement for oakmoss, which is why this family of fragrances is hard to replicate as it used to be. Modern chypres are usually heavy on patchouli, without having the oakmoss provide its wonderful inky richness. September 2, 2022 at 6:06am Reply

  • My1stGradeTeacher: Fascinating research story:) And thanks for the info on the oakmoss ! And did you notice the drought in the Rhine at all. September 5, 2022 at 10:23am Reply

  • Vogue Perfumes: Even though the current formulation of Farina’s Eau de Cologne differs from the original blend, it is still made. Although it still has a strong sea component, which gives it a salty aftershave character, it is still fresh and vibrant. The base is heavily laced with white musks, and the citrus’s fizz is subdued. It’s a nice cologne, but when it comes to a traditional bitter-dry citrus scent, I prefer 4711 or Roger & Gallet Eau de Cologne. Nevertheless, it has a rich history, and traveling to Cologne to learn more about it was interesting. September 6, 2022 at 6:55am Reply

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