Germany at 25: Einkaufsoffener Sonntag- Shopping on the Day of Rest

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It all started at the beginning- 1945. Germany laid in shambles. Houses and apartments were destroyed. The people, walking around in tathered clothing, were looking for one scrap of food to survive. They were homeless and helpless, just as helpless as they were during the Third Reich and the Great War. The Allies, victors over the National Socialists who led Germany to ruin, decided, let there be new homes, grocery stores and clothing stores so that the people can buy food for the table, books and paper for school and clothes to keep warm. And so, amid the ruins rose small stores and shops for people to purchase their goods and money flowed in so that they can spend it on whatever was needed.

And that was the introduction of the modern store. And life was good.

11 years later in 1956, Germany was on the road to becoming  the Wunderkind, producing the strongest economic growth on the European continent by 1961. The stores were open, selling name-brand clothing and food either homegrown or imported. Conflicts arose between consumers and store owners over when to have the stores open. This is mainly in part because of the importance of spending time with family and in the church. Henceforth, the German government in Bonn introduced a law, requiring all stores to be open from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the evening. Exception was with restaurants, pharmacies/chemists and petrol stations. Saturdays are opening hours from 7:00am until 2:00pm.

And that was the introduction of opening hours for all stores. And life was good.

Fast forward 33 years later to 1989, and the trend is going towards consumption and longer hours. The government introduced the long Thursday hours, where stores are allowed to serve customers until 8:30pm. This is in addition to having opening hours on one Saturday a month and on the Saturdays before Advent until 6:00pm.  It was then followed by a new law, passed in 1996, where stores are allowed to open from 6:00am until 8:00pm Mondays through Fridays and from 7:00am until 4:00pm on Saturdays.

And that was the extension of opening hours for all stores. And life was good.

Fast forward 10 years later, and we see the introduction of Einkaufsoffener Sonntag. Prior to the law passed in 2006, no stores were allowed open on Sundays, holidays and Christmas Eve after 2:00pm. Exceptions were the kiosks, small stores at the airports and train stations, petrol stations and restaurants. One Sunday a month, stores are open after church services from 1:00pm until 6:00pm. On this day and the day before that, people storm the stores, buying last minute items and creating lines going all the way to the back of the store. Tensions rise and violence sometimes happens because of the lack of patience and the need to buy the last items as if the world is coming to an end. Even more so when stores are closed on a holiday- on Saturdays! Profits rise, but also the amount of stuff and tension from buying it rise as well.

And that was the introduction of Sunday hours in stores. And life was……

UNBEGREIFLICH! Incomprehensible. In the 16+ years living in Germany, no trend has been as controversial as the opening hours on the Day of Rest. Looking at 1999, when first coming to Germany, I witnessed long lines at stores and small shops on Fridays and Saturdays, where people stocked up on goods for the weekend, as if they will be out before Sunday. Sunday was a sacred holiday- as sacred as books and the Bible.  Looking at the current situation with Einkaufsoffener Sonntag, the trend stays the same: long lines with people fighting to get the last item. The difference, more families are spending time in stores and not in parks, churches or visiting family and friends. Could this trend erode the fabric of family and friendships? Hardly, for we have technologies keeping people in contact and we still find time for people instead of goods.  However, with the need for even more flexible hours, we are starting to see Germany look like the USA, where we have stores open 24 hours a day, even on holidays. And even though stores in the US are beginning to cut back, starting with the elimination of hours on Thanksgiving and Black Friday (see article here), Germany is going with the trend that the Americans had had ten years ago.

The good news is despite general approval for opening hours up until 9:00pm on weeknight, the majority still disapprove having shops open on Sundays except for the Advent period. If this trend continues, in the long term, we could see stores returning to their original hours as enacted in 1996. And perhaps it is a good thing too, for we consumers need to learn to live more with less items and not waste time in line. If we cannot get what we want, we wait. We look for alternatives. We find ways to avoid such maddness in lines and devote our time with four main characters in life: our children and loved ones, our families, our friends and Christ.

And this applies to work as well, which is why I’m quitting right now….. 🙂

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frage für das forum

Which is better: a huge supermarket with a wide array of goods, like you see in the pictures above or a small shop with just the bare minumum?

What is your view on opening hours on Sundays: Would you rather see stores open on these days or should they be closed on this day of rest with the exception of Advent? Why?

Situation: You are at the butcher’s wanting beef for your stew but you are in line with people wanting the same product. Do you:

a. Budge in front of them  b. Negotiate with them  c. Choose another butcher or store d. Elect to become a vegetarian or vegan?

Place your comments here and/or the Files’ facebook pages. Looking forward to your thoughts on this. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Germany at 25: Einkaufsoffener Sonntag- Shopping on the Day of Rest

  1. Regarding your butcher’s beef dilemma, I choose option e: Quietly bide my time until I am at the head of the line.
    I’m British; queuing is probably in the genes.

    You came here in 1999, so have no experience of the times when one would head to work as the shops opened and returned home while they closed, meaning you got the groceries in on a Saturday morning or not at all. Extended opening hours on a Thursday and post-lunchtime shopping on Saturdays were a boon.
    Apropos Sunday opening, you would be amazed at what you find in a typical filling station had you forgotten something the day before.

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    1. No need to comment on the Petro Station part, Steve. Despite its skyrocketing prices and limited available of stuff, I’ve also found them to be convenient, esp. when stores are closed on holiday. I had a pair of experiences on the Day of German Unity where I had to resort to that because the stores were closed and we were unaware of them being closed- and this on a Saturday. 🙂

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  2. My labour started whilst out on a walk and my husband stood in line to buy a small bottle of water whilst I was waiting outside having contractions. I waited patiently through 3 contractions so at least 6-7 minutes. When he came out I said, “you’ve been ages”. He replied “there was a queue”. Now I don’t know if it’s unreasonable to suggest that he might have gone in there and announced “My wife is having a baby, can I jump to the front of the queue, please” but to my (German) husband, having a baby is not reason enough to queue jump…. I will never let him live it down!

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