Sundays in Berlin are quiet affairs. The usual shops are all closed – groceries, pharmacies, booksellers, fruit vendors, bike shops, bakeries, discount stores. You get the picture. In some U-bahn stations, in some busy corners, there would be a lone bakery, a hold-out grocer. New Berliners, such as myself, collect these informational nugget, knowing that we will never have purchased enough milk or shampoo or toilet paper or sandwich bags on Saturday.
At first, I was bemused by this state. Sundays are a day of rest, my native informants told me. Yes, they are. I like to read my week’s worth of NewYorkers, RSS feeds, and watch the Bears/Flash Gordon on cable. That used to be my usual Sunday as well. Not necessarily “rest” but mindful inactivity. But, this closed businesses rankled me, a bit. I wasn’t living in some religious state, right? This was the heart of secular, capitalist EU where I oughta be able to buy some snacks and/or wine on Sunday. Then I learned that during the Advent calendar (four Sundays before Xmas), Berlin shops are all open. Yes! See, I told my native informants – here is consumerist world I recognize and love (and avoid): sidewalks crawling with overstuffed shopping bags and attached arms and legs, the best medley Mandy Moore ever sang with Paul Anka and five times the amount of perfume than is ever necessary wafting on every breath.
The Federal Constitutional Court of Germany decided on Dec 1st, 2009 that the Berlin ordinance allowing for the shops to be opened during the Advent calendar was unconstitutional. The suit was brought by the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg and the Archdioceses of Berlin and the Court accepted their argument that the abrogation of Sunday’s “restfulness” meant that the members of these churches could no longer have freedom of religious expression (ie. closed shops). Presumably, no other religion is laying a claim to a Sunday full of commercial activity. I really don’t understand the prezel logic.
The up-shot is that in another secular state, we the non-Christians, live under the tyranny (I know, too strong, but you catch my drift) of the theists.
Funnily enough, this is the same prezel logic that will have to define the implementation of the Swiss ban on minarets. After all, the might of the majority defining what constitutes proper architecture and what constitutes proper Sunday behavior are going to have to find similarly “secular” footholds in the Constitutions.
In a recent piece, Ian Buruma argues that the Swiss ban is less a sign of concern about Muslim religiosity and more a reflection on Europe’s own drift to socialist, atheist utopia:
Much has changed, thanks to global capitalism, European integration, the stigmatisation of national feeling by two catastrophic world wars, and, perhaps most importantly, the widespread loss of religious faith. Most of us live in a secular, liberal, disenchanted world. The lives of most Europeans are freer now than ever before. We are no longer told what to do or think by priests or our social superiors. When they try, we tend not to take any notice.
Hard to see where he gets that idea, isn’t it? Sure, the perception holds – and maybe those northies are indeed so free and disenchanted – but not here in Berlin, and certainly not in Switzerland.