Germans to take a rest from shopping

Christmas shoppers crowd a shopping mall decorated with Christmas trees at Berlin's Potsdamer Platz during the last weekend before Christmas on Dec. 19, 2009.

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STACEY VANEK-SMITH: In spite of winter storms, Sunday was a big day for retail here in the U.S. Sundays are generally big shopping days here. But that's not the case in other parts of the world. Take Germany, where stores can open just 10 Sundays a year. That usually includes the Sundays before Christmas -- until now.

Kyle James reports from Berlin.


KYLE JAMES: A Sunday afternoon and Berlin's main shopping district is packed. Next year it'll be quieter. Stores won't be allowed to open on all four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Reluctant Sunday shopper Michael Lauenroth says that's fine with him.

Michael Lauenroth [translation]: We've decided to have one day in the week where we'll rest. I think especially now, in our more hectic time, it's really important that we stick to that.

That day of rest he mentions isn't from the Bible. It's from Germany's constitution, which says Sunday should be a day of "personal rest and spiritual edification." And, it was on that basis that the Christian churches took the city of Berlin to court and persuaded the judges to crack down.

Church officials like Bishop Ralf Meister say they're not trying to get people out of the malls and into the pews. They just want to keep Sunday as a day that people spend with their families; one where the country jumps off the consumer treadmill.

RALF MEISTER: Is this the way we want to organize the life of society, that buying, going shopping, is the main activity in the times you are free of work. And I would say no.

But Berlin's retail association says stores are already limited to opening on just 10 Sundays a year, so there's rest enough. Association General Manager Nils Busch-Petersen says the ruling will hit Berlin hard.

NILS Busch-Petersen: Berlin is a poor city, but we have a lot of guests with money, and we need them. Tourists from all over the world, they want to buy when they want to buy and not when our churches or our lawyers allow it.

Labor unions though are in sync with the churches. They say retail workers need the time off. And overall opinion in this very secular society seems favorable. An editorial in one national paper read: "Even the strictest atheist needs the switching off that Sundays allow."

In Berlin, I'm Kyle James for Marketplace.

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