Law to Extend German Shop Hours Passes Last Hurdle | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 12.04.2003
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Law to Extend German Shop Hours Passes Last Hurdle

Starting this summer, German consumers will get a few extra hours to shop now that the upper house of Parliament passed a new law allowing stores to stay open longer on Saturdays.


Shopping in Germany may soon be less hectic.

Beginning in June, shops in Germany will be able to remain open until 8 p.m. on Saturdays, four hours longer than currently allowed. The Bundesrat, the upper chamber that of Parliament represents Germany’s federal states, on Friday quickly approved legislation that had already cleared the lower chamber last month.

“I hope very much that the new opportunities will invigorate consumer spending and in turn the economy,” said German Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement after the Bundesrat vote.

The center-left coalition of German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder earlier this year agreed to liberalize shop hours in an attempt to bring Germany in line with other modern economies and spur domestic demand.

German regulations among most restrictive

Germany has long had some of the most restrictive shop hours in the industrialized world. Currently retail businesses are only allowed to open until 8 p.m. during the week and 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Shopping on Sunday and holidays, however, remains verboten. The law regulating opening times was first set in 1956 and was last reformed in the 1990s.

Though the conservative opposition and their liberal allies approved the extension of hours in the Bundesrat, they said the government’s reform doesn’t go nearly far enough. Some politicians have called for the complete deregulation of open hours, including Sundays.

Ole von Beust

Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust

“Many had wished that a small step could become a giant leap,” said Ole von Beust, Hamburg’s conservative mayor.

But the extra time on Saturday could mean fewer hectic weekends spent jockeying with pensioners who viciously elbow their way to the front of the vegetable display in Hamburg and other German cities. Buying groceries at 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday, when everyone is worried they'll have to spend the next 40 hours without food, is considered by some shoppers as one of the most unpleasant experiences you can have in Germany.

Less stress

Supporters of the law say making shopping a less stressful experience might also reinvigorate the ailing retail sector. Besides relieving the congestion in the stores themselves -- thereby enticing more people to shop -- some analysts think longer opening hours will create more jobs in a country where unemployment loiters chronically over 10 percent.

“In the current, extremely difficult situation retailers need the extra four hours on Saturdays as quickly as possible,“ said Johann Hellwege, the head of the BAG retail association.

But trade unions remain incensed about the expansion of store hours, arguing it won’t boost sales or contribute a significantly amount of new jobs. The unions instead say a further liberalization of store hours could harm the competitiveness of smaller shops that can’t afford to hire extra help.

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