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It could be said that music stores are the same — lots of instruments, posters on the walls, salesmen trying to be helpful.

But Session Musik, on the outskirts of Walldorf, Germany, is different. It is a community for musicians.

Session is a place where music lovers can go to talk music, test instruments, take lessons and listen to others perform. It is a popular hangout for Germans and Americans alike.

Session’s cornerstone is the Cafe, a coffee shop with drinks and light meals, that has been around since the store opened 25 years ago.

“It all started as a meeting place for musicians … a place to sit, drink coffee and relax,” says Timon Rossa, a store manager.

Harry Schubkegel, the owner and founder of Session, opened the store in a 98-square-foot home in Wiesloch, an industrial town. He used to travel around Germany, buying used electric guitars and reselling them from the small store.

Over the years, the store has grown. It is now housed in two buildings with more than 11,400 square feet of space, making it one of the five largest music stores in Germany, according to Rossa. But its guiding principle of making the store a fun place for musicians has not changed.

While most music stores are very strict about customers playing their instruments, Rossa says, Session is not.

“We want customers to feel free to try out the instruments and have fun,” he says.

Visitors to the two humidity-controlled rooms where the guitars are kept are greeted with a “hallo” and encouraged to line up guitars on a stand to compare the special qualities of each instrument. Most departments have sound rooms where customers can try the instruments.

Florian Müller, a salesman in the acoustic-guitar department, is taking guitar lessons just to better demonstrate to customers the sound traits of nylon-string guitars. Like the majority of employees at Session, Müller is an avid musician.

“Ninety-nine percent of our employees are musicians,” says Rossa. “Of that, about 80 percent are professional musicians.”

There are separate departments for drums and percussion, electric and bass guitars, acoustic guitars, keyboards, brass instruments and sound-and-lighting gear. Each department has English-speaking salesmen.

Schubkegel made the departments separate franchises to give the managers greater control over sales and service. “They see more of a direct result from their work by earning more money,” Rossa says.

In addition to selling instruments, Session offers repairs on site for all the instruments it sells. According to Rossa, being able to fix instruments in the store gives customers a quicker turnaround time.

On Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays, customers also have a good chance to hear a concert at the end of the day. The store has a nearby 14,800-square-foot concert hall called the Kulturwerk that hosts weekly performances from a variety of musicians with a mix of styles.

Walldorf itself is a beautiful town with a decent selection of restaurants. There is also an Ikea five minutes outside of town, if you fancy an all-day shopping spree.

On the QT ...Directions: Session Musik is at Wiesenstrasse 3, between Walldorf and Wiesloch. Exit Autobahn 5 at Walldorf/Wiesloch/Hockenheim and go east on B39. Follow the black-and-white signs to Walldorf and Wiesloch. Watch for the traffic light at Schwetzinger Strasse, and turn left, then right to the roundabout. Take the third exit from the roundabout, onto Impexstrasse, where there will be a sign for Session, and then left onto Wiesenstrasse. Streets are not clearly marked so it is wise to check a map before heading out.

Times: The store is open 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Concerts at the Kulturwerk are every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. and typically every Friday and Saturday nights. Check the Web site www.session-kulturwerk.de for a list of upcoming shows.

Costs: There is no cost to visit Session. Concerts at the Kulturwerk are typically 7 euros.

Food: To get the full effect of Session Musik, visit its cafe and try a bowl of goulash soup. A complete listing of its menu is found on its Web site.

Information: A German-only Web site can be found at www.session.de. A central information desk, with an English-speaking staff, can be reached by calling 06227-6030.

— Ben Bloker


Stripes in 7



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