Before moving to Germany, part of my weekly routine was to run all my errands (especially grocery shopping), do laundry, clean the house, pack lunches for the coming days, and pretty much do anything else I needed to feel ready to start the week. When we moved to Germany, however, I had to make some significant changes to the start of my week (or the end of my week considering the week starts on Monday in Germany). At first this transition was a little tough, but I soon grew to love and appreciate how the Germans treat Sundays almost like a national holiday.
Sunday is often referred to as a Ruhetag, or “rest day”. The first thing I noticed about Sundays is that all the shops are closed. There are strict laws regulating which businesses can be open and the hours they can keep. The intention behind this is to allow workers at least one day they can spend with their families. Leisure and a work-life balance are highly prioritized in the German culture. Not everything is closed on Sundays, though. The trains, of course, operate, and most restaurants are still open. Shops in train stations typically remain open, as well. (When my husband and I were really in a bind, we’d go to the grocery store in the train station for some last-minute groceries on Sunday evenings! Needless to say, it was crowded.)
Although my Sunday errand-running routine was disrupted, I quickly learned to appreciate these rest days. I stopped doing work on Sundays, and I generally just relaxed and did something for me. I stopped worrying about being productive on the weekends and started living more in the present and enjoying leisure activities. Sometimes I simply walked around my neighborhood and got some ice cream, and sometimes I just sat at home and knit or read. At first, I was anxious because I thought if I didn’t prepare for the week, I somehow wouldn’t be ready for it and wouldn’t be as productive come Monday morning. Much to my surprise, however, I was just as productive on Mondays, if not more! Looking back, I think it was taking a clean break from work and other obligations, even if only for one day per week, that helped me feel rejuvenated.
A typical Sunday “routine” in Germany begins by sleeping in a bit later than usual, followed by a really big breakfast or brunch with fresh bread (usually from the local bakery) and plenty of coffee. Then, it’s typical to engage in one or more leisure activities, such as reading, knitting, going for a bike ride, going for a walk in the park, or gardening. In the afternoon, it’s traditional to have Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake). This is by far my favorite Sunday tradition. We usually walked to one of the neighborhood bakeries and bought our Kuchen, but a lot of people bake it themselves. It’s also common to have Kaffee und Kuchen at a restaurant or cafe. What I love most about Kaffee und Kuchen is the social aspect of it. If you get invited to someone’s home on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you know you’re invited for Kaffee und Kuchen. When I think of Kaffee und Kuchen, I think of all the times I’ve sat in friends’ gardens, balconies, and cafes with so many wonderful people eating and drinking two of my favorite things (coffee and sugar!), laughing, crying, and having the most interesting conversations. After Kaffee und Kuchen, there’s more relaxing and leisure activities. Then, there’s usually a small Abendbrot (literally, evening bread, but it really means something like “small evening meal”), consisting of bread, cheese, spreads, and a few vegetables. Finally, the most ubiquitous Sunday tradition in all of German culture begins promptly at 8:15pm when the show Tatort comes on. Tatort literally means “scene of the crime”, and of course, this is a crime drama. Almost everyone in all of Germany stops whatever they’re doing on Sunday evenings to watch Tatort. There are even public viewings in bars and restaurants. It’s just that important.
So, when traveling to Germany, it’s important to keep in mind that most stores will be closed on Sundays. However, most sightseeing activities remain open, and there are still plenty of things to do. I highly recommend going out for Sunday brunch and later getting Kaffee und Kuchen at a local cafe, even if it’s not on a Sunday. German Kuchen does not disappoint!