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Yes, Virginia, there really are factory outlet malls in Germany.

A vast consumer mecca touting huge discounts on name-brand items sits right off the autobahn in Zweibrücken.

Designer Outlets Zweibrücken, which opened in 2001, bills itself as the biggest center of its kind in Germany. Many of the retailers seen in U.S. outlet malls are there — Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren, Levis, Oakley, etc. But the location with roughly 70 stores also has some European flair, with such offerings as Burberry, Swarovski and Versace.

And instead of a food court with the hamburgers, chicken and pizza typical of stateside malls, Designer Outlets Zweibrücken has two cafes, a bistro and a wine shop. The cafes, bistro and wine shop almost serve as a reminder that you’re still in Europe.

Just like U.S. outlets, some stores in the Zweibrücken outlets advertise savings up to 70 percent off the original retail price, but it doesn’t really seem like prices are that low. The prices are, on average, what you would expect to see in stateside outlet malls, but they are in euros, which hurts those of us who earn our pay in dollars. Before making the 40-minute drive from the Kaiserslautern area, be sure to get plenty of value-added tax forms so you can purchase your wares without the 19 percent German tax — known as the Mehrwertsteuer.

For babies and children, Petit Bateau and K.I.D.S. have plenty of cute threads that will have parents drooling.

For the high-school set, Quiksilver and Titus sell surfing- and skateboarding-inspired clothing, shoes and accessories.

For men, numerous stores offer sharp-looking suits and casual wear.

And for women, the aforementioned Versace and Burberry stores will have your husbands cursing my name for letting you know about the shops’ existence.

Lockers, diaper-changing areas, an automated teller machine and free restrooms are available around the outlet mall. A “kindergarten” area for small children is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays where “nannies” will look after your tots for free. The outlet mall also has a children’s playground to keep the young’uns occupied.

Going outlet shopping isn’t the most meaningful cultural event you could partake of while in Europe, but the Zweibrücken experience reminds you of what shopping is like in the States — even if there isn’t a food court.

On the QT ...Directions: From Kaiserslautern, take Autobahn 6 toward Saarbrücken. Next take Autobahn 8 toward Zweibrücken and Contwig. The outlet is off Exit 34 from the A8. Look for the “Designer Outlets” signs. About 1,700 parking spots are available in front of the mall.

Times: Stores are open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Costs: Free to enter. Free restrooms. Free parking. Normal prices at onsite cafes and bistro.

Food: In addition to the places to eat at the mall, there are restaurants, cafes and fast-food places in the nearby city of Zweibrücken

Information: There is an information help desk in the mall near the Polo outlet. As you enter the center, a map will show you the lay of the land and free, pocket-size brochures provide more information. An ATM is available, but credit cards are widely accepted in the shops. For more information, including a list of stores, see www.designeroutlets.com.

— Steve Mraz


Stripes in 7



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