Willkommen to the Shoppes at Epcot's German Pavilionby Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome. Those are the opening strains of theater's Cabaret, but they also apply to this month's shopping and merchandise article. Epcot's World Showcase is full of many wonderful shopping experiences—both of the Disney variety and those more authentic to the host country's homeland—but arguably, my favorite of them all is Germany. There isn't a more eccletic variety of merchandise to be found on property.
The pavillion is basically a big horseshoe, and the shops—like so many at Walt Disney World—are interconnected and easy to walk through. There are eight shops in all. and each features a unique type of merchandise, ranging interestingly from sports jerseys and plush animals to wine and caramel popcorn. Let's take a tour by starting on the right and moving counter-clockwise around the pavillion to see what we find.
The first shop you encounter on our tour is Das Kafthaus, which translates to "the Department Store" in English. This store is a bit of a dichotomy. The outside is designed to invoke a medieval German village, with statues of three Hapsburg emperors on the facade. The inside has a passing resemblance to a German Foot Locker.
There are multiple racks here of sports clothing, such as jerseys, sweatshirts, athletic jackets, and even shoes. They are primarily from famous German brands such as Puma and Adidas. I also found soccer balls (one with a famous Mouse logo) and other light sporting equipment. Again, kind of an odd to see racks of clothing in a medieval setting, but these are German goods, and it might be fun to buy that soccer jersey at Epcot. I found it a little pricey, but there was a good selection.
As you continue the tour, you pass from one room to the next. It's a bit unclear as to where one shop starts and one ends here, but assuming we're still in Das Kafthaus, this room features German souvenirs, mainly mugs and glassware, but also T-shirts, refrigerator magnets, and little German flags. A notable group of items here is the selection of bottle openers in various German themes. I particularly like the ones shaped like beer steins.
Next up on our tour is Volkskunst ("Folk Art") Clocks and Crafts. The stars here, hands down, are the authentic German cuckoo clocks. I've been to the Black Forest in Germany where these are made (the clock that followed me home just chimed and played music as I was typing this), and the selection at Volkskunst is a pretty good represenation of what they have there.
The craftsmanship on these clocks is amazing. They range from fairly small and simple (where the cuckoo bird just comes out and cuckoos a number of times based on the hour) to clocks with very complex movement (where small figures come out and circle the clock and move each time it chimes). The latter are admittedly pricey. The smallest clocks will run you a few hundred dollars, while the most ornate will run into the thousands—but these are worth a visit, even if you're not a buyer. A fun activity is to make sure you're in the shop as the clocks strike the hour. You'll get a free show as dozens of clocks cuckoo and move at once.
We now continue to walk through the connected shops and come to Der Teddybar (won't bother with a translation here; it's kind of self-explanatory). The store has the feel of an old German toy shop. A theming highlight is the model train set that runs around the ceiling of the shop. There is a wide range of offerings here, including snowglobes, dolls, and boxed Disney playsets. Appropriately for the Disney items, there's also an emphasis on Snow White and Rapunzel (Tangled), the characters whose stories take place in Germany.
The highlights here, from my point of view, are the plush, of which there are several displays. Steiff is a famous German plush toymaker that actually dates all the way back to 1880. It's best known for its teddy bears, which are made with the best workmanship and sell at high-end retailers, such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus in the United States. They also sell their goods at Der Teddybar, including those classic bears.
By now, you may know of my fondness for fine brands that create merhandise featuring Disney properies, and Steiff doesn't disappoint here, selling plush of classic Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Dumbo, among others. These are not cheap, however, running $175 and up depending on size, even if they are beautiful to look at. For a less expensive, but still wonderful alternative, there are smaller Steiff plush keychains for sale starting at $16.99. Here's a link to the Steiff website if you'd like to see more of its Disney collection.
As is typical in World Showcase, there's usually a shop that sells candy from the host country—and in Germany, Der Teddybar is it. There's a large display of German candies—mostly chocolate—that's worth checking out.
Although you can't exactly shop there, let me give a quick thumbs-up to the Biergarten Restaurant. It features authentic German food, buffet style. The seating consists of long tables arranged in ampatheater-style around a large stage. They have talented musicians playing oom-pah-pah music and putting on a fun show while you eat. I've eaten there several times and love it. They have good food and good entertainment.
Heading back indoors, we come upon Weinkeller ("Wine Cellar"). Weinkeller is the Germany pavilion wine cellar, and with its wood-beamed celing and stone floor, it exudes that feel, even feeling a bit chillier than its surroundings. There's a remarkably wide selection of German wines available for purchase here, and while they are more expensive than they'd be at your local liquor store, the prices in general aren't too bad.
If you don't want to take a bottle but rather just want a taste and a snack, they have you covered. You can walk right up to the counter at any time, and the helpful cast member will be happy to give you a tasting or pour you a wine flight if you'd like to sample what they have. For $14, you can select three different wines to taste. If there's one you enjoy, you can buy a glass along with any of several smallish snacks, such as a cheese plate, and stand at one of several tables and enjoy wine and cheese in a cool, themed room.
Continuing the alcohol theme, we reach Stein Haus ("Stone House"). The name of the shop describes exactly what it is. This is where you go to choose a beer stein. A classic German ceramic mug, they usually have a metal top that tips open when pressed. They offer dozens of differerent designs here. When I was kid of around 10, for reasons unknown, I decided I wanted to get stein from Germany, and I still have it to this day.
Some of the designs are classic. Some are funny. Some have images of animals or holidays. These, in a way, are the classic German souvenir, and look great in a display case or to use if you want to knock back your favorite German brew. They are also relaively inexpensive, generally in the $19.95 range (more ornate versions are somewhat higher priced).
Now we come to Kunstarbeit in Kristall ("Art Work in Crystal"). I won't get into too much detail here (for that, you can read my article on Arribas Brothers crystal). This is where you go for beautiful collectible figurines and crystal, some of the Disney variety and some not. The highlight here is authentic German crystal that is hard to find anywhere else in the United States.
Next on the tour is Die Weihnachts Ecke ("The Christmas Corner"), one of my favorites. It's the pavillion Christmas shop, and is loaded with beautiful ornaments. I've described Disney holiday shops as "there are many, many ornaments," but it definitely applies here.
My favorites among the selection are the handblown glass ornaments that come in many shapes and colors. There are also glass Christopher Radko-type ornaments with images of different animals and scenes. If you love the cuckoo clocks from Volkskunst but they were a little out of your price range, there are a few cute cuckoo clock ornaments here that are far more reasonably priced. Most of the items you'll find in this shop are in the $15 to $25 range—not too too bad for a handmade ornament.
Saving the best for last—especially if you're hungry—is Karamell Kuche ("Caramel Dog"; not sure why it's a dog). The space that formerly housed figurines and crystal is now loaded with treats of all kinds. Sponsored by Werther's Original, best known for the hard caramel candies we've all seen in the commercials, the place has many different ways to satisfy your sweet tooth.
If you want something fresh, there's a bakery-style counter with glass displays of all kind of treats, including cookies, brownies, krisped rice treats, and a variety of others. Most are caramel in theme and flavor, but chocolate or other sweets lovers won't come away disappointed. Along this bakery counter is one of my favorite treats in all of Walt Disney World: caramel popcorn. You can buy these in bags by the main entrance (and there are several other flavors besides caramel), but do yourself a favor and wait in line. If you time it just right, you can get a bag of popcorn right out of the oven. This way you get it warm and melty, the way it should be eaten.
If you're in a hurry or are craving a Werther's classic, there's a whole wall of pre-packaged treats, ranging from chocolate bars to the classic Werther's caramels available as well.
This concludes our shopping tour of the German pavillion. I hope you enjoyed the small taste of what was available I tried to give you. World Showcase is all aboiut sampling foreign cultures, and I think in terms of merchandise (and food and wine), the German pavillion represents its home country extremely well. Happy shopping!