Expat “How To” Guides for Germany > Shopping Hours in German-Speaking Europe
For almost 50 years, shopping hours in Germany were the most restrictive in Europe. Since July 2006, the situation has improved, but all of the German-speaking countries still have the most limited shopping hours in Europe.
The road that Germany took to reach its more 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.
Finally, in 1996, the German parliament (Bundestag) granted German shoppers a long-awaited wish. In the month before Christmas, starting November 1, stores were allowed to remain open between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on weekdays and until 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. The long Thursday fell by the wayside. (There have always been exceptions for restaurants and tourism, as well as for bakeries and florists.) But German consumers were still waiting impatiently for more shopping freedom. They were countered by a combination of interests that included German employee unions and the German Catholic and Protestant churches.
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.
East vs. West
Ironically, shoppers in communist East Germany always had more freedom than West Germans when it came to store hours. Workers in the socialist GDR (DDR) could shop late for groceries when they came home from work, and they could also shop on Sundays. The fact that they had fewer product choices than West Germans doesn’t change the fact that when the Wall fell in 1989 and reunification came in 1990, former East Germans suddenly had less shopping freedom and shorter store hours.
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” (6×24-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.
More on The German Way
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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.
Shopping Hours in Austria and Switzerland
Shopping hours in Austria have long been very much like those in Germany. Recent changes have pretty much kept it that way.
In January 2008 Austria modified its 2003 Öffnungszeitengesetz (“opening times law”) to allow stores to be open from 6:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. on weekdays, and until 6:00 p.m. on Saturday. Bakeries can open 30 minutes earlier at 5:30 a.m. The Austrian law also sets a limit of a total of 72 hours in a calendar week that a store can remain open (an average of 12 hours per day). As in Germany, stores are closed on Sunday, but there are exceptions for tourism, train stations, airports, and the Christmas season.
Shopping Hours in Switzerland
Opening hours in Switzerland are regulated by each of the country’s 26 cantons (Kantone), or provinces. Consequently, there is a wide variation in Swiss store hours. On Monday through Friday, stores often close by 6:30 p.m. (even if by law they could be open longer). In Zurich and some other cities there is no regulation of business hours, and stores are open later, usually until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. (20:00 oder 21:00 Uhr). Some communities may have a “long Thursday” (or Friday), open until 8:00 p.m.
As in the other German-speaking countries, Sunday is a no-shopping day, except for up to four shopping Sundays per year, depending on the city or canton. Even in cantons with regulations, there are usually many exceptions for family businesses, bakeries, newsstands, and florists. The French-speaking Swiss cantons may lean more towards the French system. In France, store hours are basically unregulated, and Sunday shopping is common in larger cities. All of the cantons have to observe the Swiss federal laws that protect workers and limit workers’ hours.
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