For almost 50 years, shopping hours in Germany were the most restrictive in Europe. Since July 2006, they have been among the most liberal.
A department store window in Trier, Germany.
Photo © Hyde Flippo
Shopping Hours in Germany
The road that Germany took to reach its consumer-friendly store hours was long and bumpy. For 40 years German consumers suffered under a law passed in 1956. With only minor revisions, German shopping hours — and German shoppers — were stuck in the 1950s — until 1996. During those four decades, stores could only remain open from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and only until 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. Only once a month (and during the Christmas season) were stores allowed to stay open two hours later on “long Saturdays.”
Never on Sunday
But one thing has yet to change. Shopping on Sunday is still verboten! Although there are some exceptions, Sunday is still a day of rest for shoppers in Germany. If you want to buy anything on Sonntag, you’ll have to go to a train station, an airport, or a gas station mini-mart. (See the few exceptions in some states below.)
Germany’s draconian Ladenschlussgesetz (store-closing law) had no major revisions until October 1989 with the introduction of the “long Thursday,” der lange Donnerstag. On that one day of the week stores were allowed to remain open until 8:30 p.m.
|This post office in Berlin is open until 6:00 p.m. every day except Saturday, when it closes at 1:00 p.m. It’s closed on Sunday, but some main branches are not. Note the use of 24-hour time. PHOTO: Hyde Flippo|
East vs. West
Another seven years went by before the Bundestag passed a new law in 2003 that extended opening hours on Saturday until 8:00 p.m. But the really big change came in 2006. In what was called Föderalismusreform, German lawmakers (in the Bundestag and Bundesrat) made the matter of shopping hours a state concern rather than a federal responsibility. Under the law passed in July 2006, each of Germany’s 16 Bundesländer (states) can now regulate its own shopping hours. If a state does not pass its own store-closing law, the federal law remains in effect. To date, only two Länder have failed to do so: Bavaria and Saarland.
The German capital city, the city-state of Berlin, was the very first to pass a liberalized store-closing law, quickly followed by eight other states, from Hamburg in the north to Baden-Württemberg in the south. The “early adopters” tended to go with the so-called “24/6 rule” (6x24-Regelung), meaning that on every day except Sunday there is no restriction on opening hours. Sundays and holidays are regulated to varying degrees. Other states have adopted slightly less liberal laws, but all 14 states with their own store-closing laws allow shopping for longer hours than the federal law. However, no state permits unlimited shopping on Sunday.
Just because they can, doesn’t mean they do
Ever since German lawmakers began liberalizing opening hours, however slightly, store owners and shopkeepers have not always taken advantage of the extended times. When the 1989 law permitted longer hours on Thursday, very few stores remained open until 8:30 p.m. Those that did were usually department or grocery stores. Even today, although stores can legally stay open until midnight on Saturday, many still close at 3:00 p.m. Smaller shops usually prefer to have shorter hours than department stores and supermarkets, but many “mom and pop” grocery stores in Berlin stay open until 10:00 p.m. Some supermarkets are open until midnight. Shopping centers often set their own special opening hours. Proponents of more liberal store hours point out that they give everyone more freedom to determine when to open a store and when to shop.
Another example of the difference between what the law allows versus what actually happens is the verkaufsoffener Sonntag (shopping Sunday). Under the law in many German states, a total of three to ten Sundays per year may be designated “shopping Sundays.” In practice, this often means that only larger stores and some shopping centers open their doors from 1:00 to 8:00 p.m. on that special Sunday. Most other stores remain closed.
Holidays - Feiertage
Many German official holidays are religious-based and may vary by state or region. Catholic regions such as Bavaria may observe a holiday that is not observed in more Protestant states such as Berlin or Brandenburg. See our calendar of German holidays for more about this.
NEXT > Shopping Hours - Part 2 (Austria & Switzerland, the VAT)
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