Shop law will put Auntie Emma out of business

The law has ensured that housewives stay housewives

A GERMAN insitution as impreg- nable as the Siegfried Line is under siege. The formidable Ladenschlussgesetz, which for years has maintained strict Teutonic order and kept even the hungry hordes from the east at bay, is about to fall victim to vulgar commercialism. The govern- ment has decreed that the aptly named "Shop Closure Law" must be replaced with one that allows shops to open at the customers' convenience.

Never again will Germans be heard to exclaim "never in the evenings", although Sundays are to remain sacrosanct. Since 1956 when the law was enacted, the shutters have come down at 6.30pm on weekdays, 2pm on Saturdays and, as for Sundays, they never went up in the first place. Buying a litre of milk on the Sabbath is as verboten as washing your car. Only on Thursdays and one Saturday every month are restrictions relaxed.

From the perspective of a social engineer, the system has been immensely successful. It has kept people off the streets in the twilight hours, and ensured that housewives stay housewives. Juggling with the shopping while holding down a steady job has proved impossible in many families. The greatest beneficiaries of the present law were the corner-shop grocers, the so-called "Tante Emma shops". Their owner, the ubiquitous "Auntie Emma" licensed by the local authority, has lived a privileged life free of competition. Out-of-town supermarkets are rare and, in any case, you could never get to them before closing time.

The law says nothing about closing before 6.30pm or during the day. So, as many visitors to Germany have discovered, Tante Emma often has a little nap between 1pm and 3pm, the time when dogs and children must be chased off the streets so the old folks can enjoy their rest. In the few hours she is open, Tante Em- ma lays on service with a snarl. The goods can be expensive and nasty, the change from the till may not follow the rules of arithmetic. A dissatisfied customer can always shop at the store 10 kilometres down the road, if he or she can get there in time.

The government has finally heard the screams of millions of frustrated Germans and agreed to reform. Under proposals outlined on Tuesday, the shops will be allowed to stay open until 8pm on weekdays and up to 4pm on Saturdays. On Sundays, Germans will be allowed to buy fresh bread rolls from bakeries but, alas, no milk for their coffee. Every other shop must remain closed.

It seems too good to be true, and pessimists are quick to point out that the reform must still pass many hurdles. The powerful retail sector union is organising protests, retailers' associations are lobbying hard in the political arena, and some of the big store groups have misgivings. The union worries about its members' quality of life; employers fear the cost of buying the workers' consent. A wage deal valid until the end of next year gives workers 55 per cent extra money for every hour of overtime. Politicians are also wary. The left frets about the workers and is hostile to the big businesses that are likely to benefit. Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats are torn between their love of big business and their devotion to all those shop-keepers who vote for the right. And the 16 federal states of Germany, jealous custodians' of social habits, sense an encroachment in their sovereignty. To mollify them, the government proposes to give the Lander an opt-out on Saturdays.

If the law is passed Tante Emma is doomed. Small grocers cannot afford to hire extra staff to stay open late, but customers will be able to shop at larger and cheaper stores. Who knows, the supermarkets' broader selection might even enrich German cuisine. This is already happening in bigger cities, where Turkish cafes have been known to transform themselves miraculously into an Aladdin's cave, even on Sundays. By selling goods outside shopping hours the cafe owner is breaking the law, but his profit margin appears to be adequate compensation for the pain.

Petrol stations have also been doing their bit. They have discovered a loophole in the law allowing travellers to buy bare necessities at any time of the day. Germans can jump into their cars at midnight - walking in is forbidden - and drive to the nearest petrol pump to tank up with beer. To the dismay of the more sober-minded, Shell and its rivals are still not allowed to sell milk.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape