Mar 20, 2015
FRANKFURT—GERMANY HOLDS TO much the same Monday-to-Friday workweek rhythm as the rest of the world, but on Sundays it skips a beat. This uber-efficient country, which puts more restrictions on Sunday activities than nearly all of its neighbors, takes a break from its industrious habits and nearly shuts down.
Laws regulating shopping hours and noise levels mean stores shut, lawnmowers fall silent, and woe unto him who flips the switch on an electric tool. Across the country, not only are supermarkets and department stores closed, but so are mechanics, hair stylists, laundromats and locksmiths.
For transplants from the U.S. and elsewhere, adjusting to an obligatory day of rest can be a challenge, particularly if they work full time and are used to having the weekend—the whole weekend—for errands and shopping. That means squeezing errands into Saturday, just as most of the population is doing the same thing.
Sunday, Germany’s Ode to Silence, reflects the importance Germans place on quality of life, neighborly consideration and the need to unwind. The postwar constitution safeguards Sundays, and recognized holidays, as “days of rest and spiritual edification.” Most Germans use the day to indulge their love of nature by getting outdoors, visiting friends or, for its many sports lovers, hitting the gym or pool.
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Opening Sundays to shopping is fiercely resisted, mainly by churches and labor unions. Efforts by retailers and businesses to loosen the rules have also been unsuccessful. But a blanket prohibition was lifted in 2006, when states were allowed to designate a certain number of Sundays as open for shopping. In Hesse, where Frankfurt is located, four are permitted each year.
Anyone considering using this day of rest to undertake outdoor chores or home improvements will be in for a surprise. Regulations limit noise levels, forbidding the use of electric tools like drills and leaf blowers, as well as hammering, sawing and loud music. Those who live near local recycling containers will find it’s even prohibited to throw away glass jars and bottles on Sunday because of the noise.
Heavy trucks are also banned from German roads on Sunday. The aim is twofold, says Jan Jurczyk of services union Verdi: To relieve streets and cities of noise and traffic, and to give drivers a break. “People who work weekends have trouble finding time to spend with family and friends, so Sunday shouldn’t be a work day for anyone unless it’s absolutely essential,” he says.
Germans take their silence seriously, and barring a sea change in the culture, Sunday will likely retain its sacred status, even as churchgoing continues to decline. Those who don’t relish hiking, reading or taking a spin on the autobahn on Sunday should know there’s still more to life than shopping: Restaurants and cafes, movie theaters and museums are all open. And since cake is Germany’s soul food—kaffee und kuchen, or coffee and cake, is a national ritual—cake shops on Sundays have special dispensation to sell their famed Black Forest and cheese cakes.
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