European Union

No Shopping, Please, We're German

Should German businesses have the right to remain open on Sundays?

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BERLIN—It's a Sunday afternoon, and the Potsdamer Platz shopping arcade looks like any American shopping mall on a busy weekend. It's thronged with parents pushing baby strollers, retirees eating ice-cream cones, and teenagers sneaking kisses.

But there is one major difference. The mall has plenty of stores to draw shoppers—Foot Locker, H&M, Eddie Bauer, a discount supermarket, and more. But today, absolutely no one is going inside. There's a reason for that: The stores are closed. By law, they have to be.

Any American merchant would be writhing in agony at the sight of hordes of patrons who are not allowed to buy. But in Germany, this abnormal spectacle is entirely normal. Sunday may not be a day of worship in this largely secular society, but due to government decree, it's not a day of commerce either.

The only exceptions in the mall are eating establishments. Being exempt from the law, they stay busy serving people whose Euros are burning a hole in their pockets. Oh, and there is one retail store open—a small shop stocked entirely with Berlin souvenirs. Under Germany's quirky regulations, it may operate on Sundays because it caters to tourists.

Many Germans defend the closing law as a way of limiting the pernicious reach of consumerism. But don't think locals are immune to the need to shop just because it's Sunday.

In fact, just a mile away, at the Friedrichstrasse train station, customers are lined up 12-deep at the registers, buying the groceries denied them at Potsdamer Platz. It turns out the law has another gap, allowing shops to operate in train stations seven days a week because they allegedly accommodate the needs of travelers.

But the people carrying out bags of groceries don't look as though they plan to take them on a train to Prague or Warsaw. They look like they just couldn't manage to get all their shopping done during the week.

Organized labor likes the law because it grants workers a day of rest. Only some workers, however, get the break. An army of establishments is allowed to do business on Sundays—including restaurants, museums, movie theaters, and gas stations.

At the state level, additional peculiarities arise: Video stores are required to close in Baden-Wurttemberg, but not in neighboring Rheinland-Pfalz, so some residents of Mannheim go to next-door Ludwigshafen to rent their DVDs. Car washes may stay open in some places but not others.

The benefits of outlawing such capitalist acts between consenting adults, to borrow a phrase from the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, are not obvious. It creates real inconveniences for anyone who suddenly needs something—and there is no escaping the fact that 14 percent of all unforeseen, urgent needs arise on Sundays.

You may think it would be a relief not to squander your Sunday on shopping. But any relief is counteracted by the increased stress on other days. On Saturdays, when stores must close by 8 p.m., groceries are clogged with Germans making sure they have enough food to sustain life until Monday morning. Instead of being allowed to spread their weekend errands out over two days, they have to cram them all into one.

This is also a weird policy for a country chronically plagued by two ailments—weak consumer spending and high unemployment. Letting stores accommodate buyers on Sunday—or after 8 p.m. other days—certainly couldn't reduce consumption, and it might increase it.

After all, if you have a sudden urge to share a bottle of wine or fly a kite on Sunday afternoon, you probably won't go out and buy it on Monday morning. Some consumer needs are fleeting, and the lost sales are lost forever.

Employees who would rather have Sundays off gain from the status quo. But a lot of Germans don't have to worry about having to work on Sundays because they don't have the privilege of working at all.

Asks Jeff Gedmin, director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, "How can it be that in 2006, with 19 percent unemployment in Berlin, you can't buy a bottle of aspirin on Saturday night?" Liberalizing the law would boost the demand for workers at a time when jobs are pitifully scarce.

In the end, the law exists not because so many Germans don't want to shop on Sundays but because so many of them do. In a modern economy, there's something wrong with a policy that bars shoppers and stores from doing business when they find it mutually agreeable. Maybe it's time to give that approach a rest.

COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Editor's Note: Steve Chapman is on vacation. This column was originally published in 2006

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  1. Chapman points the finger at labor here, but I have always thought that laws like this were sought by small shopkeepers as well.

    The petit-bourgeoisie does not want to have to compete with larger stores on the basis of convenience, because the larger stores will win. They want it to be possible to run a successful retail business that’s closed 1 1/2 days a week, and are willing to use the laws to hold down larger competitors to that schedule.

    Germany has something of a history of animosity to modern retail methods fed by petit-bourgeois resentment at competition. The Nazis devoted a good part of their economic platform to railing against department stores.

  2. Damn, Fluffy just Godwin’d the first post.

  3. Many Germans defend the closing law as a way of limiting the pernicious reach of consumerism.

    Because these Germans opposed to consumerism are incapable of restraining themselves from shopping without government coercion being applied to them and everyone else.

    And if these individuals lacking willpower have trouble limiting their caloric intake, perhaps they should ban ice cream for everyone else too?

    /sarcasm

  4. I have always thought that laws like this were sought by small shopkeepers as well

    Yes. Every time CT thinks of liberalizing its alcohol Blue Laws, the package store owners fight against it, because supermarkets can sell beer and they are open many more hours than package stores. They fear having to be open more to compete, which means more operating costs.

    They love it that people who want to have a party on a Sunday will come in and buy far more alcohol than they think they need just in case the party is bigger than expected. Because if you run out of booze on a Sunday, you are screwed.

  5. On Saturdays, when stores must close by 8 p.m.

    Closing times on Saturdays are regulated by the state not by federal law, here in NRW there are plenty of shops opened after 8pm on saturdays. I believe in theory a state could allow shops to be open on sundays they unfortunately choose not to.

  6. Most of the stores are closed on Sunday in Germany? Wow. Just like Kentucky, then?

    It’s not like you have to go to Europe to find this stupidity.

  7. It’s not like you have to go to Europe to find this stupidity.

    Well maybe you don’t. But Steve Chapman does. I mean it’s not like there’s any sort of market regulation story here in the USA going on right now.

  8. Who knew Chapman wasn’t constrained just to writing rambling articles about the US?

    Missing the small vs. large business aspect of protectionism in this law is just blind. Not that I agree with this logic of course, but he apparently hasn’t thought this (or any) matter through enough.

  9. Most of the stores are closed on Sunday in Germany? Wow. Just like Kentucky, then?

    It’s not like you have to go to Europe to find this stupidity.

    Yeah, but in Germany they don’t even have the excuse that “God told us to do this”. It’s more like “the labor unions told us to do this”. The latter seems even more pernicious to me.

  10. I for one love going to Europe to find stupidity – their variety is so much more refined.

  11. prolefeed,

    Supernatural authority and Temporal authority are same thing to me. 😉

    It’s getting better around here, but almost nothing local shopping-wise is closed and about half the restaurants don’t even try. And even if they are open, it’s only 1-5 and you have to see the parade of people still wearing their church clothes so that they make sure to prove to everyone else wearing their church clothes that they did, in fact, go to church as well. Go pray in a closet.

  12. My first college roommate was from Germany. I remember how surprised he was that on Labor Day here we have enormous sales and extended shopping hours instead of massive strikes. He said he thought we were missing the point.

  13. How does

    New at Reason: Steve Chapman on German Anti-Consumerism

    fit with:

    Editor’s Note: Steve Chapman is on vacation. This column was originally published in 2006

    ???

  14. Germany has a much better quality of life than the US. Libertarian arguments aren’t going to make much of an impression on Germans, they’ll just laugh at you snottily while they relax on a beach in Mallorca.

  15. Damn, Fluffy just Godwin’d the first post.

    Can we just put Godwin’s Law in the incinerator once and for all? Just because some people shout Nazi at everyone they disagree with doesn’t mean that there is no place in polite, rational discourse for factual references to Nazis that actually apply to the discussion.

  16. SugarFree,

    Is Lexington still without sunday alcohol sales? Louisville changed that a few years ago. And, yes, it was the liquor store owners who fought against the change.

  17. Want to have a party in CA? Go to the liquor store. In PA, go to the State Store for wine and liquor, a beer distributor for beer, and a supermarket for snacks.

  18. When I lived in Germany decades ago, they still observed the custom of the Ruhetag. That was when small shops, being sick of having worked too long, hung a sign on the door that said “Ruhetag” and closed shop for a while.

    Every person in the village knew that would happen eventually and respected the business owner’s wishes as they seldom did it. I thought it was a pretty good custom.

  19. robc,

    No, we finally caught up with the 1930s last year. It’s nice to be able to get a bottle of wine for dinner on Sunday without having to think ahead.

    Although this does destroy the charming tradition of “Sunday beer” when you’d stumble down the liquor store drunk right before they close to get more beer for NFL games.

    Also, for you non-Kentuckians… we are one of the states where you can by all forms of alcohol in one place, in privately-owned stores, and many of them have drive-thrus.

  20. How can people have such good taste in beer and be fucked in the head about everything else?

  21. I first started posting here well after the formulation of Godwin’s Law, so could someone explain it to me in full?

  22. “Germany has a much better quality of life than the US”
    And, like most other European countries, it rides on what their harder-working ancestors first built. It’s a great way of life if you have it pretty good to begin with and have no ambition.

  23. economist, here.

  24. Thanks, Epi, that cleared up a lot.

  25. In general, I don’t like Nazi references, because with their socialism they also added racism that most of my modern opponents usually disavow. The Soviets make a much better punching bag. And Red China. And the Viet Cong. And Cambodia. And Cuba. And, I’m sure in a few years, Venezuela will be a good example to use.

  26. “liberalizing the law would do much to boost employment”
    I think its effect would be only marginal. End some of the other labor regulations, like their peculiar laws concerning termination of employment, and maybe they wouldn’t be so averse to hiring in the first place.

  27. if the germans choose to democratically regulatet he hours that sttores can bve open then we should respect that. it actually seems like a good idea to me. everyone in this countryis so obseesedd with buying studf they cant see the crissis their heading towarsd

  28. I work in an going and permanent example of what happens when you cannot fire the absolutely incompetent. Open positions aren’t filled because no one has the energy to interview people properly for a “job-for-life.”

    And I have to do their work.

  29. @economist-would it help to point out that soviet russia red china and cambodia cant rightly be called communist?

  30. It’s out-dated spurious argument day on Reason. Welcome.

  31. CO,
    Right. You know, it’s amazing how when things go wrong in mixed economies with significant statist elements, the left always, without fail, claims that everything went wrong because there is not enough state intervention. And yet, when an economy is under complete state control and does even worse than the mixed economies, the left just sort of angrily denies that that’s what they were talking about. Even if they idolized them a few years back (I’m pointing at YOU, Jane Fonda).

  32. Of course, I’m guessing concerned observer just got high and logged on, so I can’t be sure if he/she is serious.

    Or maybe CO is just a convincing satirist.

  33. Even if you believe in all that “forced day off” stuff, couldn’t the gov’t at least let businesses choose the day they are closed? Or what if a business decided that it would close everyday from, say, 2-5? Or they would be open everyday, but close for 4 days straight at the end of the month?

  34. And, CO, would it hurt to use proper capitalization and punctuation? Or did you decide to emulate ee cummings at some point?

  35. thats what you wingnuts always say-oh gee, this guy disagrees with me, he must be high-you make me want to fucking puke.

  36. Yeah, it’s stooopid. Excuse me if I refuse to get worked up over it.

  37. or the wingnut makes some inane point about writing style rather than the actual arguments presented. style over substance. that must be why you guys sucked reagan all these years.

  38. Actually, when I said you were high, I was mostly going by your inability to come up with a logical argument, not the fact that you disagree with me.

  39. And complaining that I criticized the style of your posts as well as the substance requires that your arguments actually have, well, substance.

  40. Wait a minute, is this a “don’t the feed the troll” moment?

  41. @econ:

    It was……about 6 posts ago.

  42. OK, concerned observer, just in the spirit of contrarianism, I’ll bite. Give us your thesis regarding USSR, PRC, etc. not being Communist.

    I’m dying to read it.

  43. And just to set the record straight, I NEVER sucked Reagan….although I did toss his salad once, but I was really really drunk.

  44. @kant feel pietzsche- its obvious. the power apparatus in the state used this power to concentrate wealth in their own hands. the problem is you wingnuts say all government intervention and control is communism or socialism when its not. the ridiculous comments about socialism for the rich reveal that. the problem is you don’t like to considere thelogical implications of your argumaent and hide behind misean platitudes that the state is evil.

  45. cat got your tongue, kant feel?

  46. CO,

    Give him time. You sprayed so much idiocy and tired constantly disproven arguments at him he’s probably having a heard time catching his breath from laughing.

  47. why don’t you come up wit h a counterarugment then. because you dont have one you just say’ohw ell he disagrees with me soe he’s stupid’.youwingnuts are brain dead.

  48. But then I would have to spend most of the day explaining the honest actor problem to someone who can’t even grasp the notion of spell check.

    I know, don’t feed the trolls. Especially ones whose posts look like an eye chart. Also, it’s called a shift key, e.e. cummings.

  49. “why don’t you come up wit h a counterarugment then. because you dont have one you just say’ohw ell he disagrees with me soe he’s stupid’.youwingnuts are brain dead.”

    Please see counterargument at 11:06.

  50. When shopping on a weekend as a GI, I always had to ask a salesperson if this was a “langer Samstag” or a “kurzer Samstag”

  51. why don’t you come up wit h a counterarugment then. because you dont have one you just say’ohw ell he disagrees with me soe he’s stupid’.youwingnuts are brain dead.

    Did someone get a day off to complete his paper on Marx?

  52. albo,

    My favorite thing when meeting school boy Marxists is to steal their backpacks and throw them away. Don’t believe in private property, my ass.

  53. @Lamar-thats not an argument

  54. @Sugarfree-then you are just an asshole.

  55. “. . . there is no escaping the fact that 14 percent of all unforeseen, urgent needs arise on Sundays.”

    Sure there is! First, I don’t accept it as fact; second, I don’t imagine that facts lie in dark wait, attempting to hunt me! Is this a Monty Python-esque statistic? Does the punchline have something to do with the urgent need of condom use on Sundays in the Catholic church? Will “Every Sperm is Sacred” be sung as this article’s epilogue?

    I rarely make absurd attacks on a writer, but in self-defense . . . absurdity must be fought with absurdity. 🙂

    Zee Germans are coming . . .

  56. @Sugarfree-then you are just an asshole

    I guess “foul mouth” is part of the dialectic I missed.

  57. If none of you is man enough to torture me, I’ll just have to do it myself!

  58. albo,

    It’s OK. It’s really the only argument he can come up with. I am proud that his spelling has marginally approved. And besides, I am an asshole. To idiots especially.

  59. Observer:

    1. Name two revolutions, other than our own, where the group gaining eventual control weren’t more corrupt, power grabbing, and blood-thirsty than the overthrown group. (Well, now that I think of it, you may have to throw our revolution in the mix, depending on the time-frame of “eventual”) The fact that Papa Joe and Mao turned out to be absolutist dictators (surprise, surprise) does not gloss the fact that the original political thought behind the revolution wasn’t founded in Communist ideology.

    2. How many more times in human history are we going to have to listen to the argument that “the idea was pure, the people just weren’t idealistic/committed enough? The idea SUCKS because it doesn’t take into account unintended consequences and 10,000 years of history/human nature. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, in the end, means that the person most willing to display his scabs wins. The honest person, trapped in a “envy your betters, hate and fear your lessers” system eventually ends up even hating themselves.

    3. Although I usually eschew poking fun of grammer/punctuation/capitalization mistakes, as it is the internet version of “Dude, you need a tic-tac”, I will make an exception in your case. You picked the WRONG site to post anything that is lacking aclarity. The badgers will pick your bones clean.

  60. concerned observer | October 6, 2008, 11:52am | #
    If none of you is man enough to torture me, I’ll just have to do it myself!

    If you are going to fake post as him, at least do it right:

    “If no’ne of u briandeadwingnuts is manefg enuf to tor678 ture me, Ill jusrt hav to doitmyself!

  61. And, BTW, the reason I didn’t respond immediately, is because I was busy forming complete thoughts. You might give it a whirl.

  62. KFP,

    you may have to throw our revolution in the mix, depending on the time-frame of “eventual”

    Yes. Throw ours in. Whiskey rebellion

  63. Sug: Good point. Although we did sort of wend our way back to partial sanity.

  64. SugarFree | October 6, 2008, 11:48am | #

    albo,

    My favorite thing when meeting school boy Marxists is to steal their backpacks and throw them away. Don’t believe in private property, my ass.

    Free, I totally missed this post until just now. Nice. Isn’t it one of life’s little ironies that the only people who can really AFFORD to be good little marxists are the spoiled children of successful capitalits?

  65. I actually got one of them to whine “But that’s MINE!” really loudly.

    Nowadays, I just play the Quarter Game.

    “You can have this quarter for doing nothing, or I can give you this quarter after you go wash my car.” When they take the quarter (they all have) explain that’s the problem with welfare socialism and communism. Only an idiot would work for something that he could get for free.

    The key is make sure you actually give them the quarter.

  66. “@Lamar-thats not an argument”

    I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t respond to the post. If the law makes so much sense, why NOT let businesses decide when to close down? Sunday closings is a Christian tradition, and I find it repugnant and terribly inconvenient. You have said that we should “respect that”. Government enforcement of Christian tradition coupled with reduced freedom is not worthy of respect. So, actually yes, it WAS an argument.

  67. ah mynipplesathey hutr when i twist them oooowwww!

  68. New York State, did let liquor stores pick the day they wanted off for awhile. Previously they were not allowed to open on Sundays. When the state was considering allowing liquor stores to open on Sundays, the store owners protested, saying they did not want to be open 7 days a week. Part of their argument was that they would not make any extra money by being open on Sundays, which still makes no sense to me. So the law was changed so that they may open on Sundays, but must close one other day of the week. I’m not sure how long this lasted, as I moved out of state for a few years. But when I came back last year, I noticed that liquor stores are now open 7 days a week.

  69. thats real funny none of you even responded to my argements you just made snarky coments the whole time god you can’t evenn come up ewith a goodreubtaal in tow hours you people are damn studpid.

  70. Oh, gee, the unholy butthole is back.

  71. casual observer: Of course I responded to your “argements” both here and here.

    I don’t expect you to respond to these arguments, because you’re not smart enough. Anybody?

  72. You obviously didn’t read my posts clearly, ’cause then you would know my handle is concerned observer not casual observer.

  73. Germany has a much better quality of life than the US. Libertarian arguments aren’t going to make much of an impression on Germans, they’ll just laugh at you snottily while they relax on a beach in Mallorca.

    Uh, yeah. Right. You must mean those Germans that are on (take your pick): disability, family leave, “unemployment insurance”… you know, leeches.

  74. “You obviously didn’t read my posts clearly, ’cause then you would know my handle is concerned observer not casual observer.”

    But did you click on the link? Be honest.

  75. Germany has a much better quality of life than the US. Libertarian arguments aren’t going to make much of an impression on Germans, they’ll just laugh at you snottily while they relax on a beach in Mallorca.

    If you’re Aryan and employed, it’s great. Otherwise the quality of life ain’t so hot. I worked for a US division of a German company, and the Germans did an awful lot of finagling to get posted to the backward and barbarous US. Maybe I’m just naive, but it seemd to me that an awful lot of them valued a US Green Card more than sunning snottily in Mallorca.

  76. A few points from someone who lived in Germany. I had a flat in Berlin. True, stores are closed but stores in train stations are allowed to be open. If I wanted groceries on Sunday I had to catch the bus down to the train station instead of walking two block to the local store. The pharmacy was closed but some reason I never understood the porn shops were all open. So you could get X-rated videos but not cough syrup.

    I strongly dispute that the quality of life is better in Germany. First, living space per person is much smaller and more expensive. Second, food prices are much higher and the quality lower. Third, average income is lower. Fourth, taxes are considerably higher. I didn’t mind Berlin but I had to ge tused to tiny flats, very expensive food of poor quality, and much fewer choices.

  77. Chapman’s argument against Sunday closing rests more on the inconvenience it causes him rather than broader discussion of why a Sunday closing might be a good thing for a society and its economy. I lived a decade in Germany and the Netherlands. I got used to the closing times and planned ahead. Work expands to fill the time alloted.
    And by the way. The quality of life in Germany and Holland is very good.

  78. In France we have the same kind of law. I can understand that for people used to buy urgently needed stuffs 7 day a week and 24h a day it looks strange, even dangerously communist flavoured…
    But it asks an important question : do people need to buy things all the time ? As a french I can give you an answer : no. We live very well with our shopping-off sunday. it’s a perfect day to do other things, to be with friends, do sport, read, gardening, sleep, whatever… Buying things can be nice but I don’t see what’s the problem in waiting 1 day to have your brand new underwear ?
    I tried the 7/7 shopping in Canada for one year. Great fun. Hectic life. then back in France I understood the great plus in quality of life closing shops on sunday gives.

  79. The German blue laws are a huge pain in the ass. It used to be even worse. Stores had to close by 1800h, even on workdays. That meant that if you had a nine-to-five job you had maybe an hour left for private errands-the hour right after you had worked for eight hours. It used to drive me up the wall.

    These days these things don’t bother me any more because a) I hardly need anything any more and b) my schedule is wide open. When I work I can also work at night and give myself the entire afternoon to shop, if I really needed something. And there’s a slew of stores only five minutes away that is open Monday through Saturday until 2000h these days.

    It’s mainly the fact that there’s harldy anything in stores anyway that I require for happiness and the fact that what really improves my quality of life is all available over the internet, which is never closed, that I no longer care.

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