Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - Page updated at 12:56 A.M.

German day-care center caters to big boys

By Andreas Tzortzis
The Christian Science Monitor

Claus, Christoph and Alex steer remote-controlled toy cars at the Mannergarten playroom operated by a bar in Hamburg, Germany. Women on Saturday shopping trips downtown pay 10 euros to drop their husbands off for a hot meal, two drinks and a few hours of games and sports TV.
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HAMBURG, Germany — The drop-off, unlike at 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 Gunter. 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 Mannergarten, 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 (about $11.80).

"It's a great idea," Karin von Huson said 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, Mannergarten has welcomed as many as 30 men a session into the back section of the bar, where manager Alexander 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.

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 soon will follow suit with Mannergartens 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 day in the big city. But should a quick window-shopping tour turn 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," said Holger Leez, sharing his shopping philosophy on his second visit to the Mannergarten. "My wife somehow holds out longer, for some reason."

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 said, three complete strangers got a card game going within minutes, a rarity in the cold north of Germany, where natives keep the banter to a minimum and their collars turned up.

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

Von Huson, his wife well out of earshot, agreed.

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

The coming months will show whether more guests will see it that way and make Mannergarten a success. Stein said he realizes men won't come back unless the place beats what's available at their neighborhood pubs.

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

A local bookseller also presented books of interest to the male of the species — including some by the German feminist Alice Schwarzer. "I believe that fell into the 'know your enemy' category," Stein said.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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