The Sunday Paradigm

Posted by sepoy on December 06, 2009 · 4 mins read

Creepy 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.


Conrad Barwa | December 06, 2009

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: He should have added, 'Socialist, atheist and White utopia'!!! But the whole thing is silly really; as far as Socialism and social democracy goes in terms of income inequality and distribution, Europe as a whole is moving backwards not moving forwards. Long-term structural unemployment and the peicemeal dismantling of the Welfare state ensure this. But anyway, I am amused to hear that you spend your Sundays watching the Bears, I would have thought watching the news would be depressing enough ;)

Rezwan | December 06, 2009

I wonder how the 'Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg and the Archdioceses of Berlin' could establish their members 'rights' upon the non-religious majority, when their members are a minority in Berlin Brandenburg. Most parts of Berlin-Brandenburg were under DDR socialist rule and people did not go to church. We shared a joke that the ubiquitous Berlin churches are for show only as only a handful of people visit them. DDR policy isolated churches from Western influences and here are some numbers to match this information - Lutheran church membership had declined from 80 percent of DDR population (14 million) in 1945 to 30 percent (5 million) in 1978. In the same year Catholics constituted a miniscule 7% (1.2 million). Since the 1960s churches received less than 10% of state funding (up to the unification). However those churches played another role rather than prayer services: "In the 1980s the Gethsemane Church Congregation, like many other congregations, turned into meeting points of opponents of the GDR regime."

Johanna | December 06, 2009

The constitutional protection of Sundays is not only about freedom of religious expression, though. It is also about workers' rights to have a day off, preferably on the same day that their spouse and children get a day off, too. Obviously, this is not possible for all kinds of job (some bus drivers, doctors etc. just will have to work), but is shopping 24/7 really all that indispensable? I have to admit that, although being an atheist and all, I do enjoy having one day a week where emergency grocery shopping, taking the children to buy new shoes etc. are simply no options, so we can comfortably laze off. But maybe this is because I was socialized in times when everything closed at 6.30 pm on weekdays and 2 pm on Saturdays, so the present situation seems like a vast improvement to me. :-)

Begam Samru | December 06, 2009

Begam is kinda down with Johanna on the *effects* of Sunday as an off-day. I think politics in the service of religious special interests is as obnoxious as it is inevitable. However, I do think that the 24/7 "I shop therefore I am" culture of the USA and its toadies (see UK, US Special Relationship lubrication of) is no less a kind of religious imposition. I like "me Sundays orf" precisely because I am free to ignore Christianity and ignore the Bushist Theology of "buy buy, buy". I too was raised in an environment in which places closed at 6.30 and Wednesday afternoons were also a half-day.

Moacir | December 06, 2009

I'm agreeing with Johanna, too. This was a big issue recently in France, since not only was there a desire to maintain a "day of rest" for family affairs, but the stores that did stay open on Sundays did so with special permission, and, as a result, had to pay workers overtime to work those days. Now that it's legal here to stay open on Sundays on a wider scale, the concern is that people will be coerced by their bosses to work on Sundays even if they don't want to. Also, the Center here has a sign posted listing who's in charge of the center, who the responsible physician is... all this legal stuff. Among the things listed are the "jour de repos hebdomadaire"--the weekly day of rest. In our case it's Sunday, but I suspect that every business/office in France must have at least one day listed where they WILL BE CLOSED. I've learned them for all the bakeries within 500m of me.