German retail giants start wave of lawsuits against lockdown

German retail giants start wave of lawsuits against lockdown
The home and garden store Obi a day before it had to close on December 16th. Photo: DPA
Several of Germany’s largest retail chains started taken to the courts trying to force an end to the lockdown of high streets stores, as they say that mass layoffs are otherwise imminent.

The growing list of companies which have already started law suits include electronics conglomerate MediaMarktSaturn, building supplies store Obi and high street chain Peek&Cloppenburg.

MediaMarktSaturn, Germany’s largest electronics retailer, has filed an emergency application with the Münster Higher Administrative Court in which it has applied for the shop closures in the entire state of North Rhine-Westphalia to be lifted. The electronics firm is to follow up with applications in other federal states.

“The shop closures in Germany, which have been in place for more than two months now, are disproportionate. The retail sector has demonstrably never been an infection hotspot,” said the company’s Germany CEO Florian Gietl.

READ ALSO: Job fears grow in Germany as coronavirus closes shops again

The department store Breuninger also confirmed that it had started legal action in several states.

“We have filed lawsuits before the administrative courts in Baden-Württemberg, in Hesse, in North Rhine-Westphalia, in Thuringia and Saxony – everywhere where we have stores,” a company spokesperson said.

Breuninger is seeking compensation in the event that the courts do not overturn the lockdown. “Every day our stores are closed costs real money,” the spokesperson said.

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Unitex, a lobby organisation for fashion firms, and is preparing a class action lawsuit with the law firm Nieding+Barth in which hundreds of retailers will claim damages.

“Well over 300 traders are participating,” confirmed Unitex marketing boss Xaver Albrecht.

A Breuninger store in Stuttgart. Photo: DPA

‘Imitate Austria’

Meanwhile, Swabian fashion house Riani is suing for equality with hairdressers, which open on March 1st, before the Mannheim Administrative Court.

The #HandelnfuerdenHandel (act for retail) campaign launched by Riani has been joined by more than 170 retailers and fashion manufacturers. Among them are brands like Gerry Weber, Marc Cain, Ludwig Beck and the shirt manufacturer Olymp.

“We need alternatives on how to protect the population and still allow public life,” said Mona Buckenmaier, a member of the Riani management. “What the federal government has delivered so far is very poor.”

Buckenmaier said Germany should be following the example of Austria, where shop have reopened despite higher levels of infection, but with no exponential growth in coronavirus cases.

‘Desolate high streets’

On Wednesday, Heinrich Deichmann, owner of shoe retailer Deichmann, warned of “an acute danger that many people in the sector will lose their jobs in the next few months and that shop closures will lead to the desolation of urban areas.”

Alexander Otto, head of the shopping centre operator ECE, said that many retailers already had their backs to the wall.

“The threat is that numerous chopping malls become insolvent, meaning the disappearance of hundreds of retail companies, the closure of thousands of shops and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs,” he warned.

The head of clothing manufacturer s.Oliver, Claus-Dietrich Lahrs urged the government to find a balance between health protection and economic interests. “We have to learn to live with the pandemic,” he said. 

“We are firmly assuming a reopening on March 8th. We need that binding opening perspective. In our case, many jobs and our space in the city centres are at stake,” he added.

Germany’s current shutdown stretches until March 7th. On March 3rd, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premieres will meet to discuss if and how to reopen public life.

READ ALSO: Is this Germany’s step-by-step plan to come out of lockdown?

Member comments

  1. I moved to Berlin in December 2020 from the US. I worked retail in a large luxury store. We wore masks and insisted all customers wear them as well. Many would not wear the masks properly. I look at the amount of deaths and infections in the US and it breaks my heart. If all in Germany would wear masks and keep distance perhaps retail stores could open safely. But I see so many on the streets not following the mandates. I so look forward to my retirement in Germany.

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