Culture shocks part II: Sundays in Hamburg

In Christianity the seventh day of the week, the Sunday, is a day of rest and prayer. In the old days good Catholics and Protestants were supposed to attend mass and read the Bible on this day. With the secularization of society however keeping the Sunday Sabbath became less and less of an issue. Today in the Netherlands the number of people adhering to the Sunday Sabbath is rather small, mostly limited to the elderly and the strictly religious.

Having grown up in the ‘Bible belt’ the Sunday Sabbath is not a custom I’m completely unfamiliar with. Many of my neighbours went to church at least once a day on Sunday, and many even did it twice or thrice. They would disapprove of any sign of manual labour on our part too, for example telling my parents not to work in the garden on Sundays. For the first 18 years of my life I never questioned shops being closed on Sundays, that was just how it was. If you happened to be out of bread on Sunday you would have to go all the way to the nearest town, where every Sunday one supermarket would be open according to a schedule designed by the municipality. So you learnt to check your bread supply before-hand, really.

I think I got really spoiled after my move to Leiden, where checking your bread supply on Saturday was no longer necessary. The super market would have limited opening hours on Sunday, but since you would not get up before 11 anyway you couldn’t really be bothered by the AH opening at 10 rather than at 8. And you could very easily go shopping after breakfast – as shops regularly opened around 12 on Sundays. Every Sunday, Sunday shopping. What a life! You could really only tell the difference between Sunday and every other day of the week when listening to the church bells, which would wake you up at the ungodly hour of 9.30 on a Sunday morning – should you forget to put your earplugs in!

Moving to Hamburg, I was caught by surprise on my first Sunday here. “What do you mean, shops are closed on Sundays?!”. I couldn’t believe my ears when my flatmates told me everything would be closed on a Sunday here. Not just the H&M and the Mango and the Vero Moda and what have you, but also the supermarket, the bakery, and basically everything else. This is a city of 1.7 million people, about 15 times the size of good old Leiden, and yet everything and everyone seems to be perfectly content with everything being closed on one of the few days suitable for extensive shopping. I couldn’t help finding it a shame. I mean, Sunday shopping only four times a year.. really? It’s like my tiny Dutch village all over again! So much for living in a metropolis..

But since there is no point in one Dutchie trying to change old German traditions, I decided to go along with it. As a properly integrated Hamburgerin, Sunday now too is my day of rest. On Saturday you can find me exploring all over Hamburg and neighbouring Bundesländer, but on Sunday I keep Sabbath too. Not in the strictest sense of the word of course, I don’t really read the Bible and neither do I go to church. It usually involves a series marathon of some kind or another. So far I’ve watched Missing Without A Trace, Vikings, The Hobbit, The Crimson Field and for the past few weekends I’ve been watching Dexter (Yes, I’m aware of the fact that it is long overdue!). But well, somehow I have a feeling that watching series about murderers, pagans, hobbits and serial killers was not what Sabbath was meant for originally 😀

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2 thoughts on “Culture shocks part II: Sundays in Hamburg

  1. Interesting read! I can totally relate to your surprise of “wow, they have the shops opened om Sundas!” I am coming from a small town in Slovakia where the customs seem to be identical with what you were used on in Leiden. I visited your home town few years back and totally loved it btw ! 😊😊
    I am surprised to read traditions still persist in Hamburg. Like you said, one won’t expect that from such a big city. Yet each time I see a shop closed over the weekend however, I think about all those employees who get to spend some valuable time with their loved ones. And that is worth some meal planning I believe:)

    Liked by 1 person

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