Women in Hamburg who want to shop without dragging along grumbling male partners can leave them at the nation's first kindergarten for men. This adult daycare center has plenty of amenities to keep the big boys occupied.
Jonny (l.) and Günter dig in at the Männergarten - Playboy is allowed, women aren't.
The living room-sized space at one end of the Nox bar in central Hamburg looks like it's been perfectly equipped as a children's daycare center. There are comic books spread out on tables, comfortable couches, a remote-controlled car, plastic toys and even a playpen of sorts with a construction set. It's only when you catch a glance at the copies of Penthouse and Playboy scattered about that you realize this is not your average kids' area.
In fact, children aren't allowed here; women aren't either. The Nox bar has set aside this room for men only. More precisely, for men who have no desire to tag along with their wives or girlfriends while they look for skirts, scarves and handbags in the designer boutiques in Hamburg's premier shopping district.
Goal: Male-free shopping
Women wanting a few hours of Saturday shopping in peace can drop off their partners at the "Männergarten," where for €10 ($11.64), the men get a meal, two beers and an afternoon of boy's games, cards, conversation and sports on TV.
"The women are issued a receipt for their partners when they drop them off and can pick them up again when they return it to us later," said Alexander Stein, manager of the Nox bar and creator of the Männergarten.
He got the idea from a female customer who thought big boy day care would be a good way to get rid of her husband while she combed the nearby stores. "She found it all too stressful and thought this might be a solution. Both were very happy with the way it turned out," he said.
Keeping the boys occupied
Besides providing non-stop sports on TV and other grown-up toys, Stein has also arranged special presentations for the boys in his charge, like home-improvement workshops and men's literature. Upcoming topics include whisky tasting, cigars and cocktail mixing.
"My wife loves to shop and I don't," said Günter Rudden, 59, whose wife dropped him off so she could enjoy lunch and a little shopping with a friend. "Why should I have to suffer while she looks at shoes. This is a very good alternative."
He and his friend Jonny, who has come along with him, are watching a soccer game while enjoying a hearty veal ragout and a couple of wheat beers. Later on he said they might try to strike up a card game with some of the other guys there or just hang out and enjoy the atmosphere.
Hanging with the guys
The environment and general camaraderie is what appeals to men who spend the afternoon here. They could just wile away the time at home in front of the TV while the missus exercises the credit cards. But the "Männergarten" offers the chance to engage in a little conversation and hang out with other guys. The name badges each man wears with his first name on them help break the ice.
"Last week, I spent a couple of hours talking with two interesting guys who were here from [the city of] Wuppertal, which is about three hours away from here. I couldn't have done that if I'd stayed at home," said Holger Leez, who's as relaxed as if he were sitting in his own living room.
But for some men, it takes a while to get comfortable in the new environment, according to Bianca, a waitress at the Nox bar. "Some guys look almost scared after their wives leave them here," she said. "We just kind of take their hands and assure them that everything's going to be OK."
The intense interest in the Männergarten concept has taken the Nox bar completely by surprise. Manager Stein has been overwhelmed by calls from the media and says some of the Männergarten men have as well. Over the past several weeks reporters and camera crews have outnumbered guests.
"Whether we keep it going depends on who comes when the buzz dies down," Stein said. "Some of our regulars have put their head round the door and recoiled in horror."
But the buzz has infected bar owners in other German cities. According to the Nox website, Männergartens are opening up in Cologne, Munich and Berlin.