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Court Rules German Shops Must Close on Sunday

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Germany’s high court overturned a 2006 ruling that allowed Berlin shops to open for 10 Sundays per year, defaulting to stricter standards on weekend store openings.

The decision upholds a complaint from Protestant and Catholic churches that the openings went against Article 139 of the German constitution, which states, “Sunday and holidays recognized by the state shall remain protected by law as days of rest from work and of spiritual improvement.”

Labor unions supported the churches’ efforts to set aside Sunday in an attempt to give workers in the retail sector more of an opportunity to spend time with their families.

The court’s president, Judge Hans-Jürgen Papier, said economic impact alone did not warrant extra Sunday openings.

“A simple economic interest of merchants and the daily shopping interest of potential consumers are not fundamentally enough to justify exceptions for opening stores on these days,” he said (The Local).

German shops will be allowed to open only a handful of Sundays per year for street festivals and other annual events deemed necessary by city government.

An editorial for center-left German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung said, “The judgement sounds antiquated, maddeningly unmodern and pretty patronizing. It tells citizens when they are allowed to shop, and when they are not. It makes shopping on a Sunday an exception. It is a ruling that goes against the economic liberal zeitgeist and is a ruling against the round-the-clock commercialization of life” (Der Spiegel).

Süddeutsche Zeitung, however, concluded that “the ruling is humane” and “is an act in favor of the public spirit” (ibid.).

Other German editorials also supported the decision based upon the impact the law would have on the family.

An article in the Frankfurt paper Allgemeine Zeitung, stated, “The Constitutional Court had to overthrow the Berlin law…The judgement was not ‘out of touch with reality,’ as the Berlin Chamber of Commerce claims, but is actually very closely in touch with real life. The great diversity of working lives brings with it the fact that members of a single family are forced into different and sometimes incompatible working hours. If the state does not use some of its regulatory power to give a dependable rhythm to at least one free day—and that is still Sunday—then the family faces the threat of being pulled further apart” (ABC News).

It continued, “If they have no time with each other and for each other, then the formal notion of belonging together loses value. This danger faces many families in society…The fact that in the face of growing commercialization and fewer jobs hardly any employee ever dares to ask for a free Saturday, led the labor unions to join the churches in their campaign—with noticeable success” (ibid.).

Enforcement of the closings will begin in 2010.


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