Berliners get no rest from shopping

A sign advertising Sunday shopping at one of the biggest department stores in central Berlin.

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Scott Jagow: If you haven't finished your Christmas shopping yet, you still have almost a hundred hours to get it done. Geez, I better get started. Some stores will be open around the clock, all weekend. But in Germany, where a few of our modern Christmas traditions began, you couldn't shop on Sunday until recently. Brett Neely has our story.


Brett Neely: It's Sunday in Berlin, and one of the city's many outdoor Christmas markets is pumping out the holiday cheer. There are stands selling gifts, snacks and hot, spicy wine. The markets are an old German tradition.

But next door, in one of the city's huge new malls, another German tradition is being broken.

Heike Schultz is here with her husband:

Heike Schultz (voice of interpreter): My husband bought a gift -- a jogging suit!

Not long ago, buying a jogging suit on Sunday -- or just about anything else -- was verboten. Germany's constitution declared that Sunday is a day of rest. By law, most stores were closed.

But recent reforms aimed at bringing Germany into the modern retail era have eased those rules. Berlin's laws are now the most liberal in the country. Stores are open 10 Sundays a year, including all of December.

Even though malls are crowded, many Berliners have responded with angst about the new rules.

On a recent Sunday, Claudia Reiffenberg was out shopping.

Claudia Reiffenberg (voice of interpreter): Sunday is the one day of the week when you can really get some quiet and be together as a family. If there's shopping on Sunday, then every day is hectic.

German churches agree. Last month, they sued Berlin's government in the constitutional court. The churches say it's not about packing the pews.

David Gill is a lawyer with Germany's Protestant Church:

David Gill: I'm sure Sunday without open shops won't make Germany more religious.

He says the real issue is about giving people at least one day a week to relax. But supporters of Sunday shopping say that Berlin's weak economy needs the money.

Martin Lindner is a member of Berlin's parliament. He says one of the city's few growth industries is tourism -- and the more tourists' shop, the better.

Martin Lindner (voice of interpreter): We can't lure people here, bring them to our wonderful hotels and then make them stand in front of closed stores.

The fate of Sunday shopping in Germany will be decided in the courts next year.

In Berlin, I'm Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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