Monday, December 3, 2012

The Sunday Shopping Ban in Germany is Plain Crazy

Ring Center Friedrichshain
It's three weeks before Christmas and you would expect Berlin stores to be crowded with holiday shoppers, but in fact, they're empty. What's going on? It's Sunday, and German retailers, including grocery stores and pharmacies, are not permitted to open.

In 2006, Berlin attempted to chip away at the Sunday shopping ban by permitting retailers to open on ten Sundays a year, including the four Advent Sundays preceding Christmas. However, Germany's Constitutional Court overturned the Berlin law, and upheld a complaint made by the country's Catholic and Protestant churches based on a clause in the German Constitution that Sunday should be a day of rest and "spiritual elevation." 

The Court declared that the ban allowed people to "synchronize with society" (to be with one's family) on a least one day a week and had the positive effect of protecting workers from harsh working conditions. (The Court did permit some limited Sunday shopping. Currently, shops can open 4-5 Sundays a year from 1:30 pm-6:00 pm.) Most commentators welcomed the Court's decision as giving relaxation, rest, and "spiritual elevation" precedence over consumerism and profit. 

As a child, I remember when most stores were closed on Sunday. There wasn't a law, it was just tradition. But as women entered the workforce and single parent households became more common, retailers had to adjust their schedules to reflect the realities of modern life. Sure, it increased profits, but it also increased flexibility and lessened hectic Saturday shopping. 

The German shopping ban is just crazy. The law not only interferes with a person's individual and economic freedom, but it's also pretty patronizing. It tells people when they are allowed to shop, and when they are not. Why not let the customers decide if they would rather spend Sunday in a crowded shopping mall, at a church, or at home watching TV. 

For single people and for families where both partners work, the Sunday shopping ban makes life more difficult, and if anything, it adds stress. My Saturdays are crammed with grocery and retail shopping. It would be nice to have some rest on Saturday after working Monday-Friday.

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