Silly German Regulations, Part 438

Did you know that in Bavaria, it is illegal to run a service station’s car wash on Sunday?

Apparently, this falls under the category of disturbing the peace. Equally apparently, the coin-operated industrial-strength vacuum cleaners do not disturb the peace.

I learned this where the six-lane A9 autobahn deposits its traffic onto the eight-lane Mittlerer Ring, about a hundred meters from the crossing with the six-lane Leopoldstrasse. A very peaceful spot indeed.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Germany and tagged by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

17 thoughts on “Silly German Regulations, Part 438

  1. Doug, I think bizarre regulation itself is not the worst problem, but that there are enough traffic police around the Leopoldstrasse these days to enforce it…

    Oh, here’s more bizarre law [http://lorenz.mur.csu.edu.au/~lbenton/bizarre_us_laws.html], but it’s not a verified source…

    However, if true, in Idaho, it is illegal for a man to give his sweetheart a box of candy weighing more than fifty pounds.

    And yet there are people who say politicians in the US pay too little attention to obesity ;).

  2. In Britain, the government is under pressure from shopworkers’ unions to introduce regulations banning large stores from opening on Christmas day.

  3. Patrick,

    I’m not absolutely confident that the supposed threat of large stores opening on Christmas day in Britain is a real possibility as opposed to a bit of flag waving for recruitment purposes by the unions.

    The traditional post-WW2 pattern in England – Scotland is different – is that most shops, and certainly the banks, have been closed on Christmas day and the day after, Boxing day, as well. However, off-licenses selling alcoholic drink and corner shops selling groceries have often opened, at least during the morning of Christmas day but my local superstores in London are not proposing to open on Christmas day. Over the last 10 years or so, increasing numbers of stores have opened on Boxing day as a normal shopping day or almost.

    The claim made is that some large stores are pressing staff to agree to Christmas day opening. How many customers would turn up is uncertain but according to official stats, almost 30% of London residents are classed as “ethnic minorities” and a recent poll reports (as I recall) only 10% of all 18-24 year-olds are proposing to go to church on Christmas day along with 18% of the over 50s. By many indications and the accounts of visitors to Britain, we are perhaps the least religious country in Europe with the arguable exception of the Netherlands. Even if we are not quite there yet, it is credible that market pressures to open stores on Christmas day could grow and the shopworkers’ unions want to block that now.

    Forty years back I lived and worked in Scotland. Up to about that time, as a legacy of Scotland’s puritan past, Christmas day was a full working day and the official seasonal holiday was on Hogmany, that’s New Year’s day. Things were starting to change over the years I lived there with growing numbers of stores as well as offices and factories closing both on Christmas day and Hogmany as well. It seems that after centuries of brutal repression, the Scots were at last adapting to English holidays while preserving their own traditions, of course.

    I made the earlier post to highlight the difference in attitudes to the regulation of shopping in Britain compared with Germany. In Britain, the general public attitude has been to press for Sunday opening of stores and that is what has happened over the last 10 years or so. The large stores and supermarkets open but have to close by 4pm, much earlier than on normal shopping days. Speciality stores, like shoe shops, tend to stay closed but the consumer electronics and computer superstores in my locality certainly do open and, in my experience, attract many customers. Sunday is a busy shopping day for many folks. The thing about the large stores is that they have sufficient full- or part-time staff on their books to rotate Sunday working while smaller stores don’t.

  4. Bob:
    Hmm I don’t see quite where you are going with linking religion and christmas (or even ethnic minorities). Most christmas celebrators (at least in Australia) will prolly have only seen the inside of a church when they got married (if then).

  5. I understand that at least one large supermarket chain is opening its shop in Hounslow to cater for the majority of people of their who do not even nominally profess the Christian faith. Me I live in a Muslim area of Brussels so I shall discover if it is faith based or holiday based over here

  6. For what it’s worth, it wasn’t the police enforcing the regulation but rather the store clerk. I wanted to use the service station’s automatic car washer, for which you have to buy a little card. No sale. “It’s illegal,” said the clerk.

    Shopping is another matter entirely. Munich is by far the most restrictive of major German cities. This is a combination of union influences and the power of the churches that nobody goes to, even in Bavaria. (Incidentally, iirc a lot of the closing laws are also a Nazi-era legacy. The thinking was that small stores were less likely to be owned by Jews than large department stores (partly true, as a historical matter), and thus to help non-Jewish owners it was necessary to hinder the larger stores by restricting the hours that they could be open. Nowadays people believe that Sunday closing came down with the other commandments, but it isn’t ture.) Cities like Cologne, Berlin and Frankfurt take greater advantage of the loopholes that exist. The population is also happy to shop later and on Sunday; it’s just entrenched special interests that are blocking the way.

  7. Canada’s got a long history of very restrctive blue laws too, but I think only a few gas stations, 7-11 and other d?panneur type shops are the only things open on Christmas, even though virtually all the blue laws have been repealed. Frankly, I find it very irritating to live in a country with heavy blue laws, but I suspect that Christmas is too sacred (not as a religious holiday but as a consumerist one) to open shops then even if it was legal.

  8. Factory,
    At least for the U.S., nominative Christians seem to come out of the woodwork and into the Pews for two celebrations: Christmas, and Easter.

  9. Bob,
    That brings to mind what my wife told me last night. According to her Jewish co-worker, there is (at least locally) a Jewish Christmas tradition:

    Ordering Chinese take-out on Christmas eve.

    Not to celebrate Christmas per se, but because nothing else is open. 🙂

    While I can sympathise, the wisest holiday policy seems to me that related by my wife’s Syrian co-worker: In Syria, everybody (Muslims, Jews, Christians) gets everybody’s Holy days off…it’s a lot of holidays. 🙂

  10. As usual, we have laws about shop opening times in Germany (s).
    Shops are allowed open til 8.00 pm from Mo.-Sa. on Sundays, normal shops have to be closed.
    Open are Gas Stations and the small supermarkets in them (legally, only stuff for the journey can be sold, but what do I do with a can of Ravioli on my journey??) and Kiosks who have a pub-permission. Yes, a kiosk that wants to open Sundays has to have a pub-permission (means also to sell alcohol).
    There are exceptions. Two or three Sundays a year a shop can ask for permission to have open on Sunday. Huge furniture-centres and Car-Centres are open on Sunday but just for looking not buying.
    What we have, especially in Cologne is some huge shop chains just don’t give a shit about the law, open on Sunday, pay the fine and still have made profit.
    The whole situation is not satisfying for anyone, so I’m sure there will be changes, pretty soon. Our Unions will run mad, but I’m sure we’ll have Shop opneing times like in the UK the next future.
    I was wondering about open shops in the UK. Five years ago or so, there was not even a ferry going over there neither any train from London to Kent.

  11. Echoing Bob and Gawain, I know Woolworths opened a couple of stores on Christmas Day a few years ago, but those were in areas with large Muslim populations – Bethnal Green was one. Don’t know if they repeated it, or still do it – as with everything if they didn’t get enough customers that would be enough to prevent them.

    But, it’s always been the case (at least where I grew up) that small local shops were often open Christmas morning. Our local newsagent used to make a point of stocking up on batteries as he’d always sell out on Christmas morning.

    But, if you want a place where almost everywhere is closed on a day, try Scotland on January 1st. I was in Kilmarnock for New Year once, and everywhere – including the supposedly 24-hour garage – was closed.

  12. Many different agendas are being worked out in public debates over regulation of shopping hours besides those of churches and the unions on behalf of their members.

    I mentioned earlier that large stores have sufficient staff on call to rotate Sunday working while small stores don’t. One likely consequence of deregulation of shopping hours is that the large chain stores gain market share at the expense of small stores. Nick’s local newsagent who stocked up on batteries to sell on Christmas day morning probably wouldn’t get that business, or as much of it, if a superstore in the locality opens.

    A running complaint in Britain’s rural areas is about the closure of village shops, often linked with complaints about the low frequency of public transport services. And there is real substance to this: folks without cars, perhaps because they are of an age when they can’t drive, have to endure a serious loss of social amenity if their village cannot sustain a shop. But it would be wrong to suppose that is attributable just to deregulation of shopping hours. The roots causes are more complicated and extend back to increasing car ownership and the abolition of resale price maintenance which few, if any, would want to reverse now. There are losers as well as gainers from deregulation just as there are from introducing new regulations.

    Britain’s industry minister is now floating the prospect of a right for all new fathers of 6 months paternity leave. Details are unclear for the present so it’s uncertain whether small businesses would be exempted. For them the problem can be whether they could sustain the absence of possibly a key member of staff for so long or the repercussions of holding the post open if temporary staff are taken on to fill the gap. What games theorists call the competitive response tends to be under-recognised: small businesses adapt to such new regulations by changing recruitment practices to avoid hiring the kinds of people who could create problems for the business. The downstream implications of that can be complex and significant in small towns and villages. What seems a well-intentioned new employment right can have unintended consequences.

    Take the emerging debate over relaxing the data protection regulations. Good idea? Well, if the results are confined to tracking paedophiles and better safeguarding of the elderly and infirm, most will cheer on a change. The question is whether there will be other, much less desirable consequences of relaxing data protection.

  13. Yes, but what nobody has ever been able satisfactorily to explain is why national governments — the highest and most powerful instances of the state — are in the business of telling shopowners when they are allowed to do business.

    The historical argument is really an extension of the divine right of kings, and the argument about effects is really about granting privileges to some at the expense of others. Is there an actual good argument for this practice?

  14. Doug – I share your take about this. The regulation of shopping hours doubtless goes back to religious morality and then to trade union pressures, for the best of all possible reasons, to protect their members from exploitation in “a race to the bottom”, a phrase that repeatedly crops up in public debates in Europe about regulations of many sorts. Once there, the regulations create vested interests which seek to defend their territory. I say this not to justify but to recite the realities of European history.

    The late and much lamented Mancur Olson in his book: The Rise and Decline of Nations (1984) had much to say about how the gradual accretion of institutionalised vested interests ossified market systems and retarded economic development. But we are where we are and have to reflect as best we may on the downstream outcomes of market liberalization. There will be losers as well as winners so we can’t just abdicate responsibility for the consequences by invoking some higher order principle, much like the market always produces the best of all possible worlds.

    In Britain, it was seriously claimed by some that restricting resale price maintenance by legislation in 1964 cost the Conservatives the election that year after 13 years in government.

  15. I get the recitation of the historical background often enough when I have this discussions, and while I understand it (I lived in Germany back when the big innovation was to allow stores to be open until 4pm one Saturday per month), I don’t agree with it. The recitation is basically a way of saying, “It’s OK to be stupid now, because in the past we were much stupider.”

    Consider bookstores, for example. What could be more civilized than browsing through books and magazines on a Sunday afternoon? Or of an evening after dinner? Yet this is prohibited in Germany by national law.

    Or take a less elevated example. Beate Uhse, the publicly listed chain of sex shops. They, too, must close promptly at 8pm. I think it’s safe to say that their ideal hours of business would come somewhat later.

    The books should be closed on the store closing law.

Comments are closed.