The European bretzel or brezel is a completely different animal from the American pretzel (those little hard thingies that are sold in bags and attack presidents are NOT discussed in this writeup. I am referring solely to the domesticated soft pretzel.).
The bretzel is firm, moist bread enclosed by a crunchy dark brown crust sprinkled liberally with salt. The soft pretzel, on the other hand, is (*DISCLAIMER* : I love these things, but it's true..) more akin to a slightly rubbery, either un- or completely oversalted tube enclosing dough of the approximate consistency of play-doh. Tasty, yes, but nothing compared to the gustatory as well as textural orgy that is a bretzel.
The only proper way to eat a bretzel, of course, is hot from the oven, sliced down the middle and liberally slathered with butter (none of that margarine spread stuff). Most people would also recommend one or more beers as the perfect accompaniment.
To find the true bretzel, you must go to its natural habitat, western Europe. However, hybrid versions have been spotted in the US, most often in the vicinity of German bakeries. Happy hunting!
This writeup inspired by the fact that my local German bakery has finally started making bretzels, hurrah!!