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CULTURE

Why you should watch German TV on a Sunday evening

Now that we live in the age of Netflix and a whole bunch of other streaming services, internationals in Germany don’t need to watch local TV for a bit of evening entertainment. But they should make an exception on Sundays.

picture alliance/dpa/MDR/MadeFor/Daniela Incoronato | MDR/MadeFor/Daniela Incoronato
The detectives from Tatort Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/MDR/MadeFor/Daniela Incoronato | MDR/MadeFor/Daniela Incoronato

Let’s face it, using a VPN to access streaming services from our home countries can make evening entertainment more familiar than watching German television.

Thanks to super-fast internet, living abroad in 2022 can feel a lot more like living at home than would have been the case even 15 years ago.

But watching local television is a good way to passively take in the local language.

So on long winter evenings, taking one evening of the week to watch a bit of German Fernsehen could be a good resolution for 2022.

And what better night to do it on than a Sunday, the evening of cult crime shows Tatort and Polizeiruf 110?

Tatort, meaning crime scene, has been going for over five decades and is still so popular among the German public that it regularly pulls in nine million viewers or more.

The plot is simple: the first scene usually shows the aftermath of a grizzly murder. Over the next 90 minutes the police detectives have to solve the case. It’s not rocket science: in fact it’s so formulaic that it’s easy enough to follow even if you don’t understand every single word.

Interesting for foreigners is the fact that each Sunday brings a Tatort in a different city with different detectives. The location changes offer a glimpse into life in areas of the country you may have never been to.

Alternatively, you might find the detectives walking down a street you know very well.

The Berlin Tatort for example is very Berlin. The most recent episode drew complaints for its semi-graphic sex scenes. And when not at the scene of a murder, the detectives seem to spend most of their time getting drunk in poorly lit clubs.

One of the most popular episodes is Tatort Münster, set in the medieval university town in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Münster show is well liked due to the love-hate relationship between droll detective Frank Thiel and the vain and uptight forensic pathologist Dr. Karl-Friedrich Boerne. Their chalk and cheese personalities are ingredients for some good, dry comedy.

Other Sundays will take you to places as far afield as Saarbücken, Hannover and Bremen. There is even a Tatort Vienna that’ll help give you a feel for Austrian German and the famously cool Viennese dialect.

Due to its cult status, Tatort is also a magnet for iconic figures in the German entertainment industry.

Many of the country’s best-known actors have taken on roles as detectives, while singers and celebrities also regularly make guest appearances.

In one recent episode, 1980s rocker Udo Lindeberg helped a detective solve a crime after she found a corpse in the Hamburg hotel that he calls home.

Examples of award-winning actors who have taken up roles as detectives include movie actor Ulrich Tukur in Tatort Wiesbaden and Corinna Harfouch, a noted stage actor, who recently became a detective in Berlin.

And, of course, due to the fact that Tatort always revolves around a murder, you will hear the same words each week, which will help you to build up your Wortschatz.

Here are some useful words and phrases:

Mordkommission – homicide division

Hauptkommissar – chief inspector

Tatverdächtiger – suspect

Erschiessen – to shoot dead

Erschlagen – to beat to death

Erwürgen – to strangle

Das ist der merkwürdigste Fall seit … – that is the strangest case since…

unter die Lupe nehmen – carefully examine

And if you really don’t like Tatort, you can always have a moan with your German colleagues on Monday morning about how banal it is (even though they all watch it anyway!)

Die Folge war aber besonders schlecht! – that episode was really bad!

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GERMANY EXPLAINED

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays – and will it ever change?

Germany's strict ban on shops opening on Sundays can be a shock to foreigners. We looked at the culture around it, and spoke to one of the country's largest trade unions to find out if things are ever likely to change.

Why are shops in Germany closed on Sundays - and will it ever change?

It’s Sunday. You’ve invited people for dinner, but you’ve forgotten the most important ingredient. Tough luck – you’ll either have to do without or wait until Monday because your local shops are shut. 

Most of us are familiar with this inconvenience, and perhaps you’ve even found yourself screaming: “Why?” in frustration in front of a locked-up supermarket. 

But it’s something us adopted Germans have had to get used to. We decided to take a look at the reasons behind Germany’s ban on Sunday shopping – and to find out if it might change in future. 

Where does the rule come from?

The Sonntagsruhe or ‘Sunday rest’ principle is an integral part of German culture, so much so that it is enshrined in the German constitution (Grundgesetz).

Article 140 of the law, which has remained unchanged since 1919, says: “Sundays and state-recognised public holidays remain protected by law as days of rest from work and spiritual upliftment.” 

But the practice of not working on Sunday has been around for much longer. The idea that the seventh day of the week is a day of rest dates back to the old testament and was declared a general day of rest across the Roman Empire as early as 321, by Roman Emperor Constantine.

In the centuries since, however, most of Europe has gradually relaxed the strict ban on commercial activities on Sundays. 

But in Germany, the rules remain restrictive. It’s unlikely to change anytime soon partly because of religious reasons, and also in relation to the interests of workers.

Germany’s biggest trade union Verdi spelled out their view. “It’s not ‘modern’ to work seven days a week,” they told The Local. “That’s the Middle Ages.” 

What exactly does the law mean?

On the face of it, the German law forbids all forms of work on Sundays and public holidays, though numerous exceptions are laid out in the Working Time Act. 

As well as emergency and rescue services, hospitals, nursing and care facilities, exceptions include cultural and sporting activities, and the hospitality sector. 

Another notable exemption to the rule is bakeries, which are allowed to open for three hours on Sundays – which is why you may often find a long queue at your local baker if you want to get your freshly baked Brötchen on Sunday morning. 

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery.

A saleswoman reaches for a loaf of bread in a bakery. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Mohssen Assanimoghaddam

Illustrating how seriously the rule can be taken in Germany, there have even been cases of bakeries being sued for selling bread for too long on Sundays.

Shops, however, aren’t exempt from the rule and, the only way they can legally open on a Sunday is on a so-called verkaufsoffener Sonntag – Sunday trading day.

In most federal states, shops are allowed to open on between four and eight Sundays per year, and the States can decide when these should be. The chosen days must, however, be linked to a relevant occasion – such as a local festival, a market, a trade fair, or a similar event. 

Sunday openings also have to be recognisable as an exception to the general rule and Sunday openings that have already been approved can often be later overturned by the courts.

How strictly is the rule enforced?

Retailers who break the rules and open for business on Sunday can face fines ranging between €500 and €2,500.

The strictness of enforcement can vary widely between different regions.

In Berlin, for example, you can still find lots of Spätis (late night shops) open on Sundays. Although this is technically illegal, the authorities in the capital seem to take more of a relaxed approach to enforcement than in other states. 

A "Späti" late-night shop in Berlin.

A “Späti” late-night shop in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

In the traditionally Catholic state of Bavaria, for example, the law is much more strictly guarded and enforced.

READ ALSO: Why Germany has strict shop opening hours

Is the law likely to change?

A survey by Spiegel in 2017 showed that 61 percent of Germans wanted to be able to shop on a Sunday, and this desire is shared by the trade industry.

The German Trade Association, for example, which represents around 400,000 independent companies, has strongly criticised Germany’s refusal to budge on the issue of Sunday openings on several occasions and argued that Sunday opening is also popular with staff, with many shop assistants appreciating the work in a more relaxed atmosphere.

In its latest statement on the issue, the association stated that, especially after following the economic impact of the pandemic, many retailers would benefit greatly from being able to open on Sundays. 

READ ALSO:

“It is remarkable that in no other EU country Sunday opening is as restricted as in Germany,” the association said. “Even in strongly Catholic EU countries such as Italy and Poland, shoppers can generally shop on Sundays. The same applies to France, although they place great value on culture and socialising.”

However, even if there is a widespread desire in some quarters to allow Sunday trading, an amendment to the constitution would require the consent of two-thirds of the German parliament. Also, there remains strong opposition to changing the rule from many workers’ groups and trade unions.

Trade union Verdi, which regularly files complaints against states and organisations which seek to deviate from Sunday trading restrictions, said that Sunday rest is still very important for workers.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt.

A sign reads “Spring for Frankfurt – Sunday trading day” in front of a shoe shop in Frankfurt. Photo: picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb | Arne Dedert

A spokesperson said: “We have just one day a week when employers can’t stop us from going to football together, meeting friends, attending cultural events, or spending free time with the whole family.

“And we want to keep it that way. There are six days a week when we can go shopping, take the car to the garage, do our banking, or get the package delivered from the online retailer. On Sunday, there has to be peace and quiet.”

The Verdi spokesperson added that it’s important to think about “work-life balance, and not about being available 24/7 for a company”.

We also asked the union if the law looks set to change in the near future.

The spokesperson said: “Sunday, which is a non-working day for most people, has so far been protected by the majority of political parties in Germany.

“Verdi, with its almost two million members, continues to work to ensure that working on Sunday does not become an everyday occurrence.”

So it appears that the culture shock for many non-Germans of shops being closed on Sundays won’t change anytime soon. 

READ ALSO: From nudity to sandwiches – the biggest culture shocks for foreigners in Germany

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