Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
The Germans can take a Sunday break – so why can’t we?June 20, 2012 - 8:23am
A group of us happened to be in the German city of Frankfurt last week and, with some downtime at our disposal on the Sunday, we had planned to take in a few of the shops. But apart from two souvenir shops and a small Turkish travel agency, our search was entirely in vain.
Because Frankfurt – boasting over 70 international banks and one of the four biggest stock exchanges in the world – doesn’t open for business on a Sunday. Every shop in this city of 670,000 people is closed.
And yet people in this city that is home to both the European Central Bank and the Bundesbank seem to survive just fine with just a six-day commercial week – which is what we used to do before greed got the better of us.
Indeed we used to take this to an even more extreme level because I remember the ‘half day’ when every shop in the village – in our case, Oughterard – closed its doors so that business people had the chance to draw breath.
But the half day is long gone and so is the notion of downtime on a Sunday; indeed you can now do your grocery shopping while most of the world is asleep because 24/7 is the working day in the supermarket trade.
So we have shops that only close on Christmas Day and we’re broke; Germany shuts up shop every Sunday and they’re paying the price of our profligacy. Isn’t there a lesson – or indeed an irony – there somewhere?
Would our world really grind to a halt if we couldn’t buy the groceries on a Sunday? Would nobody every change their television if they only had access to electrical stores between Monday and Friday? Would the people of Ireland get cabin fever or withdrawal symptoms if we were forced to relax one day a week?
Of course those who are struggling to survive in business would argue that every second counts, and indeed it does if your competitors are open longer than you are – particularly if that’s on a day when half the population are off.
And so many people no longer work the regular Monday to Friday, nine to five, week – so shift workers and those who do anti-social hours might only have a Sunday window to catch up on things whereas their forefathers knew that work finished on a Friday evening and didn’t resume until Monday morning.
But German shops didn’t decide to stay shut out of some sense of community conscience or on the back of respect for family values – they did it because the Government legislated for it, and only allows shops to open on three or four specific Sundays, special occasions, every year.
Instead people go to museums, parks and other municipal facilities; they can go to coffee shops or even to pubs. But the biggest crowd we saw in Frankfurt that Sunday was after the mass for Croatians in the city’s biggest and most historic Catholic Church.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.