To Shop or Not to Shop

Last Sunday was a special occasion here in Hamburg. It was the first ‘Verkaufsoffene Sonntag’ of the year, or in English, literally a ‘Shop open Sunday’ – a Sunday when the shops are open. This is a rare occurrence here and in other German cities as it happens only 4 times per year, therefore it is quite a big deal and music and other entertainment is put on for shoppers to enjoy – on this occasion shoppers were accompanied by live jazz music. ‘Sonntag Shopping’ as it is called here is a relatively new occurrence in Germany and is still frowned upon by many, though by law the shops can only open 4 times a year. Religious groups are especially opposed to Sunday shopping as they believe Sunday, the Sabbath, should be kept sacred and as a day of rest.

I have to say, even as someone who is used shopping on Sundays as the shops are open in the UK, I am quite enjoying not being able to go shopping and being able to enjoy other things. I must admit, when I lived in Germany previously, it always got on my nerves that the shops were closed on Sundays. I was quite frankly outraged I could not go to the supermarket or go and buy a new dress or pair of shoes on a Sunday – I just had to make do with window shopping. It was really quite inconvenient. Many visitors to Germany from countries with Sunday opening may also share these sentiments, but now, no longer being a student and somewhat older and hopefully wiser, I can see the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages of the shops being closed on Sundays. It means Sundays can be enjoyed as a day to spend with family or friends, go for a walk, go for a bike ride and simply relax – going back to the original biblical idea of a day of rest. By not opening on Sunday it also means shop workers can enjoy the day off and can enjoy relaxing on Sundays.

Of course, in the UK and other countries where shops are open on Sundays you don’t have to go shopping just because the shops are open, and many people don’t go shopping at all, but because they are open you are probably more likely to go. Of course, having the shops open on Sunday is very convenient – if, for example, you do not have time on during the week to go to the supermarket, you can always go on Sunday. Admittedly, if I run out of milk or bread on a Sunday here in Germany it is slightly frustrating not being able to just pop to the shops, but it just means you have to be well prepared and stock up for the weekend in advance or splash out and eat out. Some small corner shops are open, as are petrol stations, though these tend to be very expensive, and if you are lucky to live near enough to a Hauptbahnhof (central train station) that has a supermarket you will probably find it is open. Like me, however, you may live in a town or city where you do not have the luxury of a supermarket at the Hauptbahnhof, just a wealth of fast food outlets. So much for healthy eating!

It is fair to say we have gone shopping crazy in the UK since the early nineties when the ban on Sunday shopping was lifted. The shops are even open on Boxing Day and the only day when the shops are shut is Christmas Day. I think it is safe to say this will never happen here in Germany as the government has recently passed a law curbing the number of days the shops are allowed to be open on Sundays in Berlin, the capital. Up until December it was 10, including the 4 Sundays of Advent, however pressure from the church has meant the number of Sunday shopping days in Berlin has been limited to 4 like in the rest of Germany.

It seems the topic of Sunday shopping will continue to be a thorny issue in Germany and a thorn in the side of traders who argue it is bad for business being closed on Sunday. For now, the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ lobby seems to have won.

When I return to England, however, I think I may do as the Germans and not go shopping on Sundays, unless, of course, I run out of bread or milk. But, in accordance with German Sunday shopping rules I can still choose 4 Sunday of the year to shop on – I’m not sure I’m ready to go entirely cold turkey just yet!

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