Hamburg's respite for shop-weary men: hubby day care

The drop-off, unlike in most kindergartens, is quick and sob-free.

Soon after Karin von Huson kisses him goodbye, Jonny, his name written on a sticker stuck on his chest, settles into a plush couch with his friend Günter. The two nip at the drinks on the table in front of them and leaf through a pile of magazines - their wives happily off to shop in downtown Hamburg.

Welcome to Männergarten, Germany's first day care for men wanting to avoid hours in department-store dressing rooms and checkout lines. The brainchild of the Nox Bar in the heart of Hamburg's shopping district, the Saturday event provides two drinks, lunch, TV sports, and male bonding, all for just 10 euros ($11.81).

"It's a great idea," says Ms. von Huson, before rushing off with her friend. "It gives us time to ourselves, where we can talk and think in quiet."

Since its debut last month, Männergarten has welcomed as many as 30 men into the back section of the bar, says manager Alexander Stein.

Behind a velvet rope, Mr. Stein has set up a sort of big-boy's playroom. Board games are stacked on ottomans in front of large couches, men's magazines cover the coffee tables, and two fish tanks built into the wall of the upscale bar emit a soothing glow.

On a recent Saturday, a playpen set up by a toy company as a promotion was put to use by a camera team that wasted no time coaxing men into the pen for the perfect shot.

Not a Saturday has gone by, in fact, in which reporters - whether from the local rag or from French television - crowd into the back room, hovering boom mikes over a card game in progress, or asking participants to play with a remote-controlled car while the photographers shoot away.

"We've been completely surprised by the media attention," says Stein. He reflects for a moment. "It wouldn't be bad if it drops off a bit."

It's not difficult to see why the press has been flocking. Out of the universal maxim that men, women, and clothing racks just don't go together, Stein carved out what could develop into a blockbuster idea. Rumor has it that Berlin, Cologne, and Munich will soon follow suit with Männergartens of their own.

Men between the ages of 19 and 70 have been dropped off by their wives.

Many come from Hamburg's suburbs, accompanying their wives downtown for a customary day in the big city. But should a quick window-shopping tour turned into something more involved, the men start looking for a getaway.

"After trying on three pairs of pants that don't fit me, I'm ready to give it up and go home," says Holger Leez, sharing his shopping philosophy. "My wife somehow holds out longer, for some reason."

A recent Saturday marked Mr. Leez's second time at the Männergarten. The break from hours-long shopping jaunts through downtown, far from his regular local hangout, is a welcome one.

Leez has found a home in the middle of enemy territory where he can "get to know other people."

The last time he was here, he reports, three complete strangers got a card game going within minutes - a rarity in the great cold north of Germany, where natives keep the banter to a minimum and their collars turned up.

"We're not chained here," he says. "And the waitresses are also pretty. This isn't a humiliation, it's a reward."

Von Husen, his wife well out of earshot, agrees.

"Men are often the dominating personalities at home," says the retiree. "Now the women have the possibility of dropping them off, of dominating a bit. And that's fine."

Whether more guests will see it that way, and whether Männergarten is a real success, is something for the coming months to prove. Stein says he realizes the media hype will die down, and the men won't come back unless the place beats out what's available at their neighborhood pub.

In recent weeks, he's brought in "lecturers" from the local construction market to provide household fix-it tips and let the guests try out some heavy machinery.

A local bookseller hs also presented books of interest to the male species - including some by the German feminist Alice Schwarzer.

"I believe that fell into the 'know your enemy' category," says Stein.

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