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
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
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
Latest stories from i100
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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism