A Pleasant Valley German Sunday
As a Student, Sunday mornings would find me performing the sacred ritual of opening the bar that I worked in for Sunday lunch. The process was either quietly straightforward, or a source of abject despair depending on the quantity of alcohol I had consumed the night before. There is no better argument for sobriety than the smell of stale beer, urinal cakes and hangover sweat. I would methodically/ineptly go through the process of setting tables and checking beer lines, while all the time hoping for some kind of reprieve that I knew would never come. Once the early work was finished, the doors would be opened to a stream of customers that, despite my best efforts, I would hate a little more with each beer served and dinner ordered.
Luckily for me, the self inflicted torture of working Sunday mornings with a hangover have become a thing of the past, to be replaced with the celebratory atmosphere of a German Sunday. Some may wait all week for a Friday night or Saturday evening, but in Germany there is no finer day than Sunday. Sunday observance is a key to understanding German culture and like many things in Germany there are certain rules that must be adhered to.
One of the most obvious rules is that working on a Sunday is strictly prohibited. Shops and supermarkets are shut and walking around the shopping areas of Germany on a Sunday, you could be forgiven for thinking that some kind of apocalyptic event had occurred. There are exceptions to the rules, of course. Bakeries are generally open all day, if only to ensure public order, given that Germans are prone to fits of peak should they be unable to purchase the freshest of bread at all times. This has become part of the early Sunday morning ritual for many families, who will send out either a parent or small child to pick up the all important breakfast bread. This is not a ritual that our household observes, however, because we heathens prefer to purchase partially baked bread rolls from the supermarket, a fact that could see us tarred and feathered should it ever be discovered by our neighbours. Whenever I have been called upon to make the journey to the bakery, I find myself involuntarily whistling the Hovis theme as I do so.
Other exceptions include restaurants and bars, with the former being another traditional location for celebrating Sunday. In recent years, brunch has become increasingly popular, but it may take a while before it overtakes the Sunday lunch in the hearts of Germans. The Wirtschaft or Gaststätte (Guest house/ Inn) are the traditional providers of Sunday lunch or at least the first stop after church, where a few beers can be enjoyed before returning home to eat. This has a lot in common with British culture and barring some small differences with regards to food (Yorkshire puddings vs Knödel for instance), the meals of both countries have many similarities.
Should alcohol and a heavy dinner not be your style, than you can take part in numerous other activities. Recently I went on a guided tour of Nürnberg on a Sunday and was surprised to see so many other people also taking a variety of tours. At one point there were so many tour groups vying for the same points of interest I began to wonder if we were being recruited into some kind of tour guide turf war, at any moment all the polite middle class people were going to respectfully beat the Crocs off of each other, the fraca only ending once someone had irreparably damaged their North Face Jacket.
Walking is always a popular activity, with my German family partaking in a weekly family meander after lunch. If simply walking is not your style, then you can pick up some sticks and have a go at Nordic walking an activity I have yet to fully understand, but which is still very popular. Although most people would prefer to walk “in the nature”, the numerous public parks will suffice. Walking through a German park can be a little alarming, especially if you are used to parks being the reserve of Super Tennants consuming, bench dwelling folk or roaming packs of feral teenagers. German parks, at least in my experience, are terrifyingly wholesome places, as if Frank Capra had been resurrected and had gone into civic design. People eating picnics, children flying kites, students playing frisbee, couples jogging, families walking the dog, people doing yoga or just cycling around are all there. In German, this level of activity, especially within one area can be called a Wimmelbild, which doesn’t really have an accurate translation but can best be described as something like a ‘Where’s Wally’ picture.
Spending time with the family and enjoying the great outdoors are actively encouraged and effectively mandated by the state. Sundays are for the family, a small island in the week that all people should be able to enjoy. It is protected by law and regarded by some as an important part of the work life balance. Although there are occasional days when shops may be open on a Sunday, these are few and far between. This is in stark contrast to the UK’s view that Sunday is simply another day in the week, another day to work or go shopping. The hours may be reduced and the roads fractionally quieter, but for all intents and purposes there is little difference between Sunday and Monday or any other day of the week.
This insistence on not working on Sunday goes even further in Germany, there are restrictions on doing certain types of housework, such as DIY or even washing your car. Although I have never seen it myself, it is possible to be fined for making too much noise or disturbing your neighbours. Although I live in a fairly cosmopolitan apartment block, I still worry about vacuuming my flat on Sundays for fear that I will receive a knock on the door from the local police. I have no idea what the fine would be, but as it is Germany, I imagine it would be hefty. Despite this reasoning, my wife still refuses to listen to my protests of cultural insensitivity when she asks me to clean the flat.
The importance of German Sundays cannot be underestimated and it seems almost a civic duty to use these days for tasks or activities other than work. It also seems natural that a country with such a fixation on beer would legislate a day in the week where silence and inactivity are welcomed and hangovers can be carefully cultivated in to a full blown malaise. When other countries wring their hands over fears of burnout and work life balance, they should take a leaf out of Germany’s book and close the laptop, go buy some bread and work out why Nordic walking is still an acceptable hobby.