Thank God the Germans don't work any longer

Hard working Germans are soaking up the sun today after another arduous week at the furnaces of their miracle economy. It had been a tough three days. On Wednesday afternoon, they clocked off early, packed the kids into the car, and headed out towards their holiday destinations, only to be snarled up in traffic jams a few miles out of town. Tens of millions of others had had the same idea.

The occasion was Corpus Christi, a red-letter day for Catholics, which in the new spirit of tolerance Protestants are also prepared to observe. And if one is to show real devotion, one must not insist on working the usual four or five hours on Friday. So most Germans decided to use their free time efficiently, combining their religious duties with a quick getaway.

They had had a test run the previous week, when Whit Monday locked them out of the factory. And less than two weeks before that, they were on the road for another four days, celebrating Ascension.

Germans may not seem very Catholic to outsiders, but when it comes to religious festivities, they outdo most Latins in their fervour. As southern Europe manages to work through the festivals of its faith, Germany comes to a grinding halt. Offices become deserted, assembly lines shut down and, if the sun is out, traffic on the unrestricted autobahns slows to a snail's pace.

Studious observance of religious festivals goes back to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, when the country was in effect carved up into a multitude of pockets along denominational lines. Regions ruled by the austere Lutherans did rather badly out of the deal, and up to this day Protestant Lander tend to work while their former enemies play.

Catholic Rhineland, for instance, makes quite a meal out of Lent, forcing citizens to engage in a week of eating, drinking and merry-making around Shrove Tuesday. That custom is mirrored in the south, but Bavaria goes one better in the autumn with its Oktoberfest.

In recent years, strangely coinciding with declining interests in spiritual matters, religious holidays have proliferated. Though there is no evidence of any underhand proselytising, counter-reformation seems to be in full swing. Protestant regions are rediscovering the customs of the old faith, at least as far as days off work are concerned.

Thus Frankfurt's business district, once driven by the Protestant work ethic, is now governed by the sacred days of Rome. Plus a few more, such as Woodman's Day, to allow workers to recuperate from Ascension by taking a stroll in the city's green belt.

The religious war is being conducted by the notoriously work-shy civil servants of Catholic Bonn. To them Papist festivals are sacrosanct, but last year they withdrew national recognition from the only specifically Protestant holiday, the Day of Prayer and Atonement. The decision drew angry sermons up and down the country about the nation's moral decay, but to no avail. The government said it needed the money for financing nursing care.

Then there are the Kuren - "the cure", an institution that amounts to state-subsidised frolicking in spas, to the delight of divorce lawyers. At the moment, all Germans are entitled to the Kuren every three years, but under the government's austerity programme, the Kuren will only be available once every four years. Life is really getting hard.

As the budget strains to keep pace with Germans' insatiable Wanderlust, even Catholic days of prayer and sunbathing may come under attack. But there is no danger of Germans turning into a nation of workaholics. Annual leave can amount to nine weeks, and sick leave, at more than 20 days a year, is among the highest in the world. All the more depressing then, that the bone-idle Germans somehow manage to have a more successful economy than ours.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living