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Q: I just arrived in Germany from the States and ran out of milk on a Sunday. So I thought I’d run down to my local store and buy some. It turns out the store was closed — and is closed every Sunday. What’s up with that?

A: You’ve run up against a history of church and state influence that keeps Sundays sacred for families, and keeps shopping hours limited during the week. Most Sunday shopping time is banned by Germany’s constitution, which sets stricter limits on retail hours than most other European countries. The limits are meant to preserve family time and protect mom-and-pop businesses from multinational corporate competition, according to the retail-focused Web site

And it’s not just Germany that maintains the tradition. Retail stores are closed on Sundays in Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Norway and Austria. A few other European countries strictly limit their Sunday hours. It can be trying for someone used to the 24/7 retail opportunities in the United States. The good news for folks in Germany is that things are changing. Concern by retailers that shoppers may go to other countries for better browsing hours have helped lead to recent constitutional changes giving state governments the right to set their own store hours. Berlin is one of the first cities to take advantage of the changes, in some cases opening 24 hours a day. Other German states, including a few hosting U.S. military bases, might be trying out their new freedoms as well.

But Sundays, it seems, will remain sacred. So, for now, get your milk on Saturdays with the rest of the local throngs. And take some time on Sunday to relax — or head to your local military commissary.

Got a question about goings-on Europe? E-mail Stripes at:


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