Why stores are closed Sundays

We have all been in this situation: It’s a Sunday afternoon in Germany and we really need to buy something in the store. However, stores are closed on Sundays and holidays in Germany. But why is that?

In the past, store opening times in Germany were not governed by any regulations. Stores used to be open seven days a week, between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. In order to allow workers at least one day of rest per week, and to give them the chance to go to church on Sundays, a general law to govern store opening times was established around 1900, said Christoph Fink, head of the Wiesbaden Department of Trade, Event Management and Central Fines Office.

Although the rule that stores had to be closed on Sundays and holidays even applies today, there were many changes to the opening times during the week in the past century.
In 2006, the state of Hessen put a general law in effect to govern store opening times. The law states that “generally, stores are allowed to be open on work days around the clock, while they have to remain closed on Sundays and holidays.”

However, exceptions to these rules were made for tourist areas or stores at train stations, airports or harbors. “Gas stations as well as stores in international airports that sell items needed during the journey are allowed to be open 24 hours. Newsstands, bakeries, pastry shops, flower shops and farmer’s stores can be open for six hours on Sundays and on holidays if their opening times don’t interfere with general church times and if the store closes before 8 p.m.,” Fink said.

German states can decide individually how they want to regulate their store opening times. The state of Hessen, for example, does not govern when stores have to be closed, whereas its neighbor Rheinland-Pfalz requires stores to be closed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. In contrast, the Hessen Store Opening Times Law (Hessische Ladenöffnungsgesetz) allows stores to be open around the clock during the workweek, as long as they stick with German labor laws. Additionally, communities can apply for up to four so-called “open-store-Sundays” per year, if there already is a public event that would draw in guests anyway. “However, the event must be the main reason for guests to go to that area and not the fact that stores are open on a Sunday,” Fink said.

Fink also explains that although there is the desire to have more “open-store-Sundays” in Wiesbaden and its communities, “many churches and labor unions strongly oppose this in order to protect workers.” Therefore, in Wiesbaden open-store-Sundays only happen twice a year — during the Easter Market (Ostermarkt) and Fall Market (Herbstmarkt).

However, restaurants are allowed to be open 23 hours a day, Fink said (one hour is needed for cleaning), so instead of trying to find a gas station to buy eggs or milk to bake a cake on a Sunday, you could just try out a new restaurant or bakery in town.
Nadine Bower is the Community Relations Chief at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden.