How This German Chocolate Shop Created a Sweet Way for Young Admirers to Pass Love Notes

For more than 150 years, Heidelberg locals and tourists have enjoyed the “Studentenkuss,” or Student Kiss—a praline nougat on a waffle wafer covered in dark chocolate

Student Kiss
The “Studentenkuss,” or Student Kiss, is a praline nougat on a waffle wafer covered in dark chocolate, about the size of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Werner Dieterich/Alamy Stock Photo

Located alongside the Neckar River, Heidelberg is home to Germany’s oldest university and other impressive sites like the Old Bridge, Heidelberg Castle and the Student Jail. But it’s also a city of romance thanks to a little café on Haspelgasse and a piece of chocolate that has spun a tale of young lovers and intrigue for generations.

Easily recognized these days by its bright red box adorned with a silhouette of a student in a cap, the “Studentenkuss,” or Student Kiss, is a praline nougat on a waffle wafer covered in dark chocolate, about the size of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. First Café Knösel, and now today the Studentenkusshaus, just down the street, sell the treats to locals and tourists. The Student Kiss is “a sweet symbol of the city and a charming souvenir,” says Steffen Schmid, project manager of Heidelberg Marketing.

In the 19th century, gifting the confection was a way to show affection. Heidelberg was a thriving university town where sons of nobility and the rising industrialist class went to further their education. At the same time, young ladies of marriageable age flocked to this city to attend finishing schools, all while being on the lookout for a suitable husband.

“It was a destination for education, not so much for girls,” says Patrizia Kern, a city guide in Heidelberg. “If you were a girl in Germany, you were not allowed to study in Heidelberg, not before 1900. The girls were attending finishing school, then finding a husband, then getting married. So, when we talk about the love stories happening in cafés, we’re talking about very young people.”

sign outside Heidelberg Student Kiss
The storefront of Heidelberger Studentenkuss is marked by a sign with the silhouettes of a couple. Wei-Te Wong via Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

Etiquette of proper society at the time stipulated that women weren’t allowed to mix and mingle without the watchful eye of their chaperones. The one place where both sexes would converge was Café Knösel, the oldest chocolate shop in town. Founded in 1863 by Fridolin Knösel, it soon became a favorite meeting place for Heidelberg society, as everyone appreciated Knösel’s exquisite confectionery and his humor. It was also a popular gathering spot for students because of its ties to Vandalia, a German fraternity. Back in the day, parents sent money to different cafés, innkeepers or restaurants around Heidelberg weekly so that the students wouldn’t spend their allowance all at once. Students would frequent the café, hoping to catch the eye of a lovely young lady.

Dating in the 19th century had strict rules and regulations. In the courting process, a young man would order a piece of cake for the young lady he fancied. He would give it to her or have it given to her governess, or private tutor, for approval. When he was given permission, the boy could meet with the girl in a separate room in the café, where they could get to know each other. Once parents got wind of this courting custom, they put a stop to it because of the students’ reputation for drinking, and governesses became much stricter with their wards.

This is when the Studentenkuss was born. Contrary to popular belief, this chocolate treat was not conceived to be a love token, as it was already a part of Café Knösel’s menu along with pies and cakes when he opened the café in 1863. Ever so observant, Knösel did not dismiss the secret longing of young people. Instead, he surprised them one day with the fine chocolate confection, which allowed the boys and girls to message each other discreetly.

“It was more or less a project between Knösel and his wife,” says Eric Stutzenberger, manager of Heidelberger Studentenkuss. “The students would write their name, what they were majoring in and where they came from on a piece of paper, fold it and put it behind the chocolate, which was then wrapped. When the governess wasn’t looking, the students would sneak the chocolate inside the woman’s bag or leave it on the table so that the woman would have some eye contact with the guy who gave her the chocolate. Once at home, the girl would find the message.”

If she fancied the guy, the woman might pretend to drop her handkerchief on the street so that he would pick it up, and they could exchange words. “She could then talk to him by calling him by his first name, which was, of course, a big thing in the day. Or ask him about his studies or if he went home,” Stutzenberger adds. “The governess would think that it was OK because they must be friends.”

storefront for Studentenkusshaus
Heidelberger Studentenkuss, two houses down from Café Knösel, is devoted entirely to the Student Kiss.
  Heather Cowper via Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Much has changed since Fridolin Knösel first created the Student Kiss, as young lovers do not need to be hidden these days. But Knösel’s descendants still make the sweet treat today. Continuing the family tradition, Knösel’s two great-granddaughters, Anita and Liselotte Knösel, ran Café Knösel until 2005, when the operation became too large for just the two of them. Instead of selling the café, they leased it out to Bernd Lehnert, who runs the operation today. After some renovation, Lehnert opened a hotel above the café that consists of six modern rooms and three apartments. Tourists can still stop by Café Knösel for a meal like schnitzel, or pastries, and, of course, the Student Kiss. The two sisters then opened the Heidelberger Studentenkuss, a small shop devoted entirely to the Student Kiss, in a space two houses down from the original café, filling it with shelves of chocolates and photos of famous customers on the walls. “It was becoming more or less a complex situation with the café,” says Stutzenberger. “So, they split it up and said, ‘OK, we’re not giving up the café, but we have to save the tradition so to speak.’”

Despite the café no longer being run by the Knösel family, it’s still an important institution in Heidelberg. “It’s such a reminder of the history of Heidelberg as a student city, because it was a major meeting point for students who were members of fraternities,” says Kern. “This is also why if you look at the logo of the Student Kiss, there’s this young gentleman wearing this cap, which was a typical cap a student would wear back when they were a member of the student fraternity.”

Sadly, with the death of Anita and with Liselotte getting older, Stutzenberger has taken over the responsibility of day-to-day sales. Liselotte, who is 70 years old, still runs the business in the background, though. Even today, they make the Studentenkuss according to the original recipe from 1863, and by hand. Made fresh several times a week, the Student Kiss is a praline mixture consisting of truffle-nougat-noisette cream on a fine wafer crisp and then covered with dark chocolate. Since it has become such a bigger production, they outsource the making of the main chocolate and all the filling to a little village just outside of Heidelberg. But everything else is done at the shop, and all production of the chocolates is under the watchful eyes of Liselotte Knösel.

How This German Chocolate Shop Created a Sweet Way for Young Admirers to Pass Love Notes
The Student Kiss is “a sweet symbol of the city and a charming souvenir,” says Steffen Schmid, project manager of Heidelberg Marketing. 4028mdk09 via Wikipedia under CC BY-SA 3.0

“More or less, the chocolate is finished at the shop,” says Stutzenberger. “The correcting, the tasting, the packing and all the other stuff is still done in the back of the shop. When you start working here, you still have to go to the village and try everything with the owner. She always has the last word on the filling and if it needs more nougat or more sugar.”

Not only does the legacy of the Heidelberg kiss still resonate with the locals, but it’s also a popular stop for tourists and even some well-known personalities. Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel, Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, have all visited the shop in recent years. Just last year, the lore of the Student Kiss and the shop figured into the plot of the Hallmark movie, A Heidelberg Holiday, propelling the sweet’s story worldwide. According to Stutzenberger, many people get nostalgic not just with the store, but with the history of the Student Kiss as a token of love.

“We have older customers who come to the shop. There was one couple, they were in their 90s I think, looking through the window. The man came into the shop, and when he got to the cash register, he asked for one Student Kiss,” says Stutzenberger. “I asked him if he wanted any more. I will never forget it. He looked at me and said, ‘One will be enough. I gave her one about 70 years ago. And now she gets a second one.’”

“It was so lovely,” he adds. “I’ve got to be honest: I gave him more chocolates.”

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