FORTUNE -- Queen Emma of The Netherlands, who in 1879 married a man once described as "the greatest debauchee of the age," used to buy her gowns in the building that now houses Apple's (AAPL) retail presence in Amsterdam. So did her daughter, Queen Wilhelmina. And so did Wilhelmina's daughter, Queen Juliana.
In its heyday, the building Leo Hirsch erected on the Leidseplein to bring high Parisian fashion to backwater Holland was "a temple of infinite bliss," according to a contemporary press release, "a cathedral of earthly almost heavenly pleasures."
The great wars of the 20th century were not kind to Hirsch & Co. The Nazis took over the building, killed its Jewish managers, and carted off the clothes. But it was the jeans-and-T-shirt fashions of 60s that finally did the company in. A bank and then a law firm moved into the old Hirsch building. The marble columns were torn out. By the time Apple negotiated its lease, the space was being used for art openings.
Today, the building is once more a vibrant retail space and something of a destination in busy Amsterdam -- especially with students who like to park their bikes in front of its giant convex window and grab some free Wi-Fi.
"It's the best Internet cafe in Amersterdam," says Apple staffer Arun Gangadien, who took me on a tour and showed me the public WCs -- a nice customer-relations touch.
It's a huge store -- Apple's biggest in Europe, according to the company. It occupies two high-ceilinged floors, separated by a Steve Jobs-patented glass spiral staircase and softly lit by a two-story atrium.
I counted 67 display tables, not including the 30-stool Genius Bar on the second level that is reputed to be the longest in the world. In the atrium space alone there are nine tables filled with iPad minis set aside for public access to the Internet.
I did three separate traffic counts: at noon (5.3 per minute), 3 p.m. (10 per minute) and 6 p.m. (6 per minute), which is not bad for the day after Easter Monday. It's almost as good as the Paris Opéra store on its busiest day (11 per minute on a Saturday).
In a snapshot count at 3 p.m., the iPhone tables on the street level were drawing the most interest (14 visitors), followed by iPads (5), Macs (4), iPods (3) and the Internet tables (3).
The real action was upstairs, where between the Genius Bar and the tables set aside for configuration, startup, training, workshops and accessories I counted 69 customers.
A marketing manager named Ryan caught up with me in the afternoon to show off some of the features I would otherwise have missed. Because the space had been stripped of all the pre-war Hirsch & Co. details -- including a grand staircase and the original three-story atrium -- Apple had to reconstruct it all from scratch using historic photographs as reference.
The marble columns were reproduced in plaster. The brass and wrought-iron railings were hand-made by the same French company that did the balcony at Paris Opéra. Heating and cooling ducts are hidden in spaces in the ceiling whose width had to be carefully calibrated (too wide and they'd draw attention to themselves; too narrow, and they would hiss.)
He, like all the green-shirted Apple staffers I met (Tuesday was Earth Day), was justly proud of how Apple has brought the old royal fashion house back to life with good taste and some class.
I couldn't help thinking: This is the kind of thing that happens when a company is sitting on $124 billion in tax-sheltered cash that can only be spent outside the U.S.
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Second stop on a 5-city tour is a renovated century-old theater on a wide Berlin boulevard.
FORTUNE -- After Paris, the big Apple Store on the tree-lined Kurfürstendamm -- the wide boulevard that is Berlin's version of the Champs-Élysées -- was a bit of a shock.
The classical Greek revival facade, with its tall windows and inset Ionic columns, is even more imposing than its Parisian sister store's.
The shopping area inside, however, has none of the Opéra's old-world charm.
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First stop on a five-city tour is a 134-year-old edifice across the street from the Paris Opera.
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Enthusiasts line up overnight for the company's first Apple Store in Eastern Europe.
FORTUNE -- By the time Apple (AAPL) opened the doors to the first company-owned Apple Store in Turkey -- and its first in Eastern Europe -- a crowd estimated at 450 had joined the two-story queue that wrapped around the store twice, indoors and out, for a free T-shirt and a chance to check out the latest Apple products.
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Consumers haven't experienced the full value of it yet, argues Braintree CEO Bill Ready.
FORTUNE -- Consumers hate the idea of retailers tracking them through their smartphones. Overwhelmingly so, in fact: As I noted yesterday, a new survey from OpinionLab shows 77% of respondents found in-store tracking unacceptable; 63% said even if their favorite store offered tracking services, they would opt out.
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FORTUNE -- Just 295 feet down the block from Apple's (AAPL) first retail store sits an empty space that could not only make history but also change the face of the Google (GOOG) experience.
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Two changes in the company's vaunted customer-care policies won't be blamed on her.
FORTUNE -- One of the reasons Apple (AAPL) can charge a premium for its products -- and enjoy profit margins that are the envy of tech world -- is that they come, as Steve Jobs once put it, "with motherhood built in." Not only are they usually better made than the competition, but they are accompanied with unmatched MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Mar 13, 2014 8:01 AM ET
Apple plants its flag in Brazil in advance of the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
FORTUNE -- Apple's (AAPL) iPhone may be approaching saturation in North America, but Latin America is wide open territory.
Brazil is particularly interesting. It's the largest country on the continent (pop. 200 million) and it's demonstrated an appetite for iPhones despite prices that are the highest in the world. Due to stiff import duties, an unlocked iPhone 5s MOREPhilip Elmer-DeWitt - Feb 15, 2014 7:38 PM ET
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