Germans flood stores for Sabbath sales

August 16, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

BERLIN -- It's been nearly a decade since the starved consumers of East Germany burst through the Berlin Wall, but it took until yesterday to topple another formidable barrier to capitalism: a federal ban on retail shopping in Germany on the day designated for "spiritual reflection."

Hundreds of stores opened their doors for the first time on the Lord's Day to a veritable storm of shoppers in this capital city, in Leipzig and in Halle, ringing up record sales and transforming the usual Sabbath somnolence into a festival of frenzied spending.

"Look at the response! It's grandiose. People want this, and we're foolish not to give it to them," said Uwe Spanker, manager of the Kaufhof department store on Alexanderplatz, estimating that the store served as many as 100,000 shoppers in five hours. For the first 30 minutes after it opened at noon, even down-escalators had to be run upward to alleviate the stampede.

Retailers posted employees at the entrances with petitions for shoppers to sign demanding an end to the infamous shop-closing law, which entrepreneurs contend contributes to Germany's 11 percent unemployment.

"At least 500 people are signing each hour -- as many as can get hold of the clipboard," said 23-year-old Tanguy Irvoas, a French student working part-time at Kaufhof.

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