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
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there