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Germany wants its robots to be good Christians, take Sundays off from work

Germany is very serious about its robots following religious mandates and laws. As such, it has ordered all businesses and stores to stay shut on Sundays and observe Sonntagsruhe, or Sunday Rest, even if robots staff the entire shop or the store itself is a robot.

Germany’s Tegut is known across Europe for its innovative retail approach. Its chain of automated stores sells regular supplies like bread, milk, eggs, and certain healthcare products.

The retail outlet finds itself entangled in a legal dispute regarding the German practice, or the law of Sonntagsruhe, which makes it mandatory for everyone, especially blue-collared workers, to take Sundays off, as the Financial Times reports.

Robots vs God
Four years ago, Tegut launched its fully automated stores, presenting them as a glimpse into the future of shopping. However, the Fulda-based retailer’s vision clashes with a legal principle deeply rooted in the German constitution: Sonntagsruhe Sunday Rest.

The courts have ruled otherwise despite Tegut’s argument that its small automated stores are akin to walk-in vending machines and should be exempt from Sunday shopping restrictions.

The recent ruling by the highest administrative court in Hesse mandates that even these automated stores must observe Sonntagsruhe, as mandated by German law.

Tegut’s automated stores, which look like oversized barrels with grass roofs, offer essential items such as milk, butter, fresh produce, and personal health products. While staff visits the stores during the week for maintenance, Sundays typically require no employee interaction.

The legal suit was brought by Germany’s service sector union Verdi, which staunchly opposes Sunday shopping. It cites the need for workers to have guaranteed time off for family and leisure.

Moreover, concerns about the potential impact on traditional stores, the societal importance of Sunday rest, which is deeply rooted in Christianity, and the concept of Christ’s rest day after his crucifixion further complicate the matter for Tegut.

People love services like Tegut.
Despite resistance from traditional institutions and unions, Tegut’s automated stores have garnered popularity, particularly among those seeking convenience on Sundays. Residents appreciate the accessibility and healthier options these stores offer, contrasting them with alternatives like fuel stations and kiosks.

Nevertheless, the legal landscape surrounding Sunday shopping in Germany remains stringent, reflecting the deep-seated cultural and religious values of some.

Efforts to modernize regulations to accommodate innovative retail concepts like Tegut’s automated stores face resistance but also indicate a shifting societal perspective on the sanctity of Sundays.

A relic from the past
Numerous small business owners in Germany, Stab included, believe that Sonntagsruhe is a relic from the past that needs to be destroyed. According to a 2022 survey conducted by the World Views Research Group or FOWID, 50.7 percent of the people living in Germany identified as Christians. Among Christians, 24.8 percent subscribed to Catholicism, whereas the Protestant church had about 22.6 percent as its takers.

Meanwhile, nearly half, 43.8 percent, had no religious inclinations.

People not living in Germany may find the strict noise and sound limits imposed as part of Sonntagsruhe even more bizarre. Most German states follow Ruhezeit, the practice that legally forbids loud noise after 10:00 PM.

For some bizarre reason, Ruhezeit stays in effect all through the day on Sundays in some states as part of Sonntagsruhe. That means loud music, vacuum cleaners, lawnmowers, hammering, water pumps, and even washing your car or driving certain cars that can be deemed noisy — all of these things are prohibited by law.

The case against Sonntagsruhe
As the debate continues, Tegut grapples with some economic implications, with Sunday sales accounting for a significant portion of its automated stores’ weekly revenue. While legal loopholes in some states allow some businesses to operate on Sundays, Tegut’s expansion plans in its home state of Hesse have been put on hold pending potential legislative changes.

The government of Hesse has signaled a willingness to consider exceptions for automated supermarkets, mirroring similar measures adopted in other German states.

Proponents of reform argue that the notion of Sundays as sacrosanct is increasingly out of touch with modern realities, suggesting a potential shift in Germany’s approach to Sunday shopping regulations.

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