Germany hangs up its dancing shoes for Good Friday ′Tanzverbot′ | News | DW | 13.04.2017
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Germany hangs up its dancing shoes for Good Friday 'Tanzverbot'

Faced with a Good Friday dancing ban, protesters in Germany are calling for more separation between church and state. Religious leaders, however, aren't being swayed on the "Tanzverbot."

While The Beatles might have once told revelers at Hamburg's Star Club to "Twist and Shout," there won't be so much as a shimmy and a shake in many of Germany's night clubs and bars come Good Friday.

With restrictions varying across Germany's 16 states, the dancing ban, or "Tanzverbot," effectively bars public dancing on the Christian holiday. In some states, the ban, which encompasses all manner of activities beyond dancing, lasts for a number of days.

Read: Easter traditions in Germany

'Silent public holiday'

Berlin is by far the most liberal state when it comes to upholding the "silent public holiday," with the "Tanzverbot" only in place from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Good Friday.

In the southern, largely-Catholic state of Bavaria, however, the prohibition runs for 70 hours: from 2 a.m on Maundy Thursday until midnight on Holy Saturday. Penalties vary, but violators, namely event organizers or owners of an establishment, risk fines of up to 1,500 euros ($1,590).

Dating back to the Middle Ages, dance prohibitions in Germany existed long before public holidays were legally anchored in the German calendar.

But for Christians, it was always deemed inappropriate to dance or celebrate during Holy Week - the seven days leading up to Easter Sunday - particularly Good Friday, on which Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. For Catholics, the day is one of fasting and abstinence.

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'Thwarting of night owls'

While some protesters have dubbed the dancing ban "unconstitutional" and a "thwarting of night owls," a YouGov poll published on Monday found that 52 percent of Germans have no qualms with the "Tanzverbot."

So with more than half of Germany apparently happy to have a quiet night in on Good Friday, what's all the song and dance about?

"The freedom-restricting rules of the 'silent holidays' are an idea from yesteryear," spokesperson for Hanover's Green Youth Party Timon Dzienus told DW. "We need a secular relationship between the state and the church rather than religiously-based interventions on individual freedom."

'Holocaust memorial day more fitting'

In partnership with the youth parties of Hanover's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the city's Green Youth Party is on Thursday - Maundy Thursday in the Christian calendar - holding a dance demonstration against the ban.

Stuttgart Pirate Party protest against 'Tanzverbot'

'We dance when we want!' - Pirate Party demonstrators at a 2015 anti-'Tanzverbot' protest in Stuttgart

Instead of holding the "silent public holiday" on a religious holiday, Dzienus is calling for an alternative with historical pertinence.

"Holocaust memorial day on January 27 or VE-Day on May 8 would be more fitting," Dzienus told DW.

But dancing isn't the only activity to be prohibited on Germany's "silent public holiday." Car washes, jumble sales and moving house are also banned, as well as an extensive list of more than 700 films, all of which are deemed unacceptable works that violate the "religious moral feeling of silent Christian holidays."

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'Act of deliberate provocation'

Included on the "Public Holiday Index" are films such as "Ghostbusters," the seemingly harmless 1975 cartoon classic "Heidi" and "Life of Brian." Since 2013, an initiative in the western city of Bochum has held a public viewing of Monty Python's 1979 religious satire in protest.

This year's "act of deliberate provocation" will be no exception, organizer Martin Budich told DW. Echoing comments from Hanover's Green Youth Party, the psychologist said showing the movie is part of the fight for a separation between church and state.

Monty Python's Life of Brian

Martin Budich said the 'illegal' showing of 'Life of Brian' in Bochum is an 'act of deliberate provocation'

"It's the state's responsibility to ensure that people are able to practice their religion," Budich said.

"If Christians want to commemorate the crucifixion of their deity 2,000 years ago, that's fine. But the rest of us shouldn't have restrictions imposed upon us," he added.

In 2014, Budich was handed a 300-euro fine for showing "Life of Brian" on Good Friday. After appealing, this was reduced to 100 euros.

Read more: How to celebrate Easter in Germany

"This was our first success," Budich said. After standing before court on several occasions for showing the film, the path was cleared last June for Budich to file against the public holiday law in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Germany's federal court ruled in November last year that a ban on a similar event in Munich was "unconstitutional," and the chances of success for Budich are now looking bright.

The "Heidenspass statt Höllenqual" (Heathen fun not agony) initiative, which was banned in 2007, will be held in Munich on Friday for the first time in 10 years.

Despite the protests, the Christian church in Germany insists on the importance of Good Friday, with many bishops and priests using the day to recall terrorism and wars, catastrophes and famines across the world.

The President of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, said he couldn't understand the debate.

To remember suffering, he said, is "an important cultural property" that goes beyond religion.

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