Happy holidays

Urlaub auf dem Balkon mit Buch und Drink

If you happened to be on the verge of moving to Germany and had to pick a place to live, what would be your checklist to go by? Cost of renting? Climate? Food? Hospitality? These are certainly all important factors. But if you fancy as much time off work as possible, here’s a little secret that might help you decide.

Depending on the German Bundesland you live in, you may have more or fewer days off work in the calendar year. I never realised this myself until I moved from North Rhine-Westphalia (one of the länder with a fairly large number of bank holidays) to Hesse. In NRW, my birthday always used to be on a bank holiday. In Hesse, it was not.

The attentive reader may have noticed another particularity of German holidays. Unlike in England, where most bank holidays are only in theory on the same date, but in practice are moved to Mondays so that every bank holiday makes the subsequent weekend an extended, three-day weekend, German bank holidays always fall on the actual date of the original holiday. If this happens to be a Saturday or Sunday, hard cheese – you’re one work-free day short that particular year.

In case of Ascension and Corpus Christi, though, which are always on a Thursday, many German schools and employers impose the Friday between that Thursday and the following weekend as a so-called Brückentag (“bridge day”), making the weekend a four-day weekend.

There are nine national bank holidays in Germany which every Bundesland must observe. The number of additional regional bank holidays varies between zero (Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Lower Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein) and four (Bavaria). For those of you who want to know precisely what they’re in for, here’s a list.

Another thing should be mentioned in this context. Contrary to the meanwhile nationwide extended opening hours for shops in Great Britain, Germany’s workers’ unions have made sure that, here, working hours are staff-friendly. Shops are closed on Sundays and bank holidays. Almost without exception. Exceptions are the odd special-occasion Sunday, as well as Sundays in December (but not everywhere). The phenomenon of shops being open on Sundays is so rare that it has a special name: verkaufsoffener Sonntag. During the week and on Saturdays, most big shops are open til 8pm, or sometimes longer. In smaller towns, opening hours might end as early as 6:30pm on weekdays and noon on Saturdays. If you need anything after hours, the only options are petrol stations or kiosks (in Cologne vernacular called Büdchen – “little huts”).

So, keep your eyes peeled for opening hours and closing days.

Next time, let’s find out about one or two of Britain’s favourite summer crazes.

The Pommes Buddha says: Miss out on a day off? Not in a month of Sundays.

> Audioversion