Germany: To protect tradition, no shopping on Advent Sundays

Germany's highest court ruled that stores must stay closed on Advent Sundays so Germans can spend those days, as many traditionally do, going on walks and sitting for coffee and cake.

Fabian Bimmer/AP/FILE
Shoppers in Hamburg, Germany, throng a mall.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

In England and Sweden, Sunday shopping has been a tenet of life for decades. In countries that broke ties with communism, such as Poland, Sunday shopping became a national pastime.

But bucking the trend, Germany’s highest court this month took a stand against consumerism, ruling that, as of next year, stores will have to remain closed on the four Sundays preceding Christmas.

Attacked as a “slap in the face for Christmas shopping,” as Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit put it, the ruling was also hailed as an important step toward safeguarding one of the most sacrosanct principles of German society. For many Germans, Sunday is when family and friends go on walks and sit together for coffee and cake. Shopping on Sunday would only erode those traditions, some feel.

“The message of this ruling is that tradition can’t be the victim of business principles,” says Karheinz Geissler, a professor of time culture and management at the Armed Forces University in Munich.

Along with Austria and Switzerland, Germany has one of the strictest store-hours regulations in the world. While the German government has banned Sunday store openings, many federal state governments have made exceptions. The city-state of Berlin went the furthest, allowing stores to open on Sundays in December as well as six other Sundays.

But the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches challenged the Berlin ruling in constitutional court, saying the December commercial activity would kill the meaning of Advent, the period of waiting for the birth of Jesus. And earlier this month, constitutional judges agreed, ruling that Sunday shopping goes against Sunday as a day of rest.

“Going shopping doesn’t foster togetherness – the focus is on money and competition; that has priority, and money isolates people,” says Mr. Geissler. “Without Sunday, there is no society.”

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