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CULTURE

Why is everything in Switzerland closed on Sundays – and what can you do instead?

Sunday is a traditional day of rest in Switzerland and much of the country pretty much shuts down. This is why, and what you can do instead.

Why is everything in Switzerland closed on Sundays - and what can you do instead?
You can't even buy a tuba on Sunday in Switzerland. Photo: Pixabay

If you come from a country with a 24/7 retail culture — the United States, the UK, and Australia, to mention just a few —  then Switzerland’s limited shopping hours will come as a shock and disappointment.

Logic would have it that if people have a day off work on Sunday, they might want to use it to shop — either to stock up on groceries and other basic necessities for the whole week, or just indulge in some relaxing ‘retail therapy’.

If this is your thing, then Switzerland is definitely not for you.

Swiss businesses — including shops — can open from Monday to Friday between 6am and 9pm, and on Saturdays until 6pm.  However, even within these parameters, it is rare to find a store that stays open until 9pm.

Why is this?

Historically, the reason in this Christian country was that Sunday should be a day of worship, not work.

With time, however, the religious aspect has diminished, as has church attendance: studies show that the number of people who belong to the Catholic and Swiss Reformed churches has continued to fall in Switzerland.

Also, trade unions have stepped up their campaign against Sunday shop openings on the grounds that they prevent retail personnel from enjoying a day of rest spent with their families.

For instance, Switzerland’s largest labour group, the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (UNIA), argues that “it is not acceptable to subject humans to the pursuit of profit by forcing them to work 7 days a week in sectors where it is not essential”.

READ MORE: Everything foreigners need to know about trade unions in Switzerland

The work-life balance for retail workers has had a strong support of most Swiss consumers as well. Time and again the issue of Sunday shop openings is brought to the ballot box in various cantons and municipalities, and rejected by voters.

For this very same reason, Switzerland’s employment law generally prohibits the employment of staff on Sundays, with a few exceptions (see below).

A number of readers of The Local had weighed in on this issue as well:

Your views: ‘No Sunday shopping is one of the best things about Zurich’

Is everything closed on Sundays? What if I have to buy a loaf of bread or an unusually large amount of cheese?

Don’t worry, you won’t have to starve.

The law allows certain retailers to stay open on Sundays — for instance, small ‘convenience’ shops at petrol and train stations. Stores are also open at airports (even though there are only three in Switzerland) and in some tourist spots in the mountains.

Keep in mind that these are likely to be more expensive than Swiss supermarkets, so plan ahead and only buy items which are absolutely essential. 

Cost of living: How to save on groceries in Switzerland

Some larger stores will also be allowed to open in the run up to Christmas. 

If you find your cupboards are bare on a Sunday, you can still eat out. 

Many bakeries are open on Sunday mornings, are as coffee shops, tea rooms and restaurants.

So while it seems that life in Switzerland comes to a standstill on Sundays, it doesn’t completely. 

There are, however, limits to what you can (and can’t) do

As The Local has reported on several occasions, Sundays are special days in Switzerland, and not just because of the no-shopping rule.

In Switzerland, Sundays are considered rest days, so your neighbours’ peace and quiet should not be disrupted by any loud sound — such as  a lawn mower, hedge cutter, nail being hammered into a wall, or even the sound of glass bottles being tossed into a communal recycling bin.

Also, you cannot hang your laundry out to dry, as the sight of your undies may be offensive to your neighbours on a Sunday.

And you thought shop closures were your biggest problem. 

READ MORE: Nine ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland

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CULTURE

Provenance probe of Nazi era trove goes on display in Switzerland

When a museum in Bern inherited a spectacular collection of some 1,600 artworks, including by masters like Monet, Gauguin and Picasso, it spent seven months mulling whether to accept the offer.

Provenance probe of Nazi era trove goes on display in Switzerland

The collection left to the Kunstmuseum in 2014 by Cornelius Gurlitt, whose father Hildebrand Gurlitt had worked as an art dealer for the Nazis, included works looted from Jewish owners during World War II.

A new exhibit, “Taking stock. Gurlitt in Review”, explores the museum’s journey researching the pieces’ provenance and the challenges of determining its obligations in the face of the tumultuous Gurlitt legacy.

The exhibit, which will run from Friday through mid-January, comes after the museum last year agreed how to handle works whose provenance remained undetermined.

It gave up 38 works known or suspected to be looted by the Nazis, but decided to hold onto 1,091 pieces where provenance information was incomplete but gave no indication of looting.

Some slammed that decision as immoral, but the museum hit back, stressing the “big responsibility” it took on when it accepted the Gurlitt bequest.

“We developed categories to be able to make a reasonable decision” based on the provenance and any possible indications of looting, Marcel Brulhart, the museum board member and legal expert, said during a presentation of the exhibit.

“I think we have found a fair solution.”

 ‘Illusion’

Living in a cluttered Munich apartment surrounded by paintings by the likes of Chagall and Matisse, Cornelius Gurlitt suddenly found himself in the
spotlight after German tax authorities discovered part of his collection in 2012.

Before he died in 2014 at the age of 81, the man described by media as an eccentric recluse struck an agreement with the German government that any plundered works would be returned to their rightful owners.

The Bern museum, which he named as his sole heir, said it would honour that wish, and set about trying to determine each piece’s provenance.

Some of the works were determined to have been seized from Jews by the Nazis and sold on, confiscated as “degenerate” works, or sold by their fleeing Jewish owners at a low price.

“It is an illusion to think that we will ever have full insight” into the artworks’ provenance, Brulhart told AFP.

“History moves forward, and many documents have been destroyed.”

He stressed that Hildebrand Gurlitt had collected art his entire life, but only worked for the Third Reich “for a very limited period”.

Brulhart said, in his opinion, the Gurlitt affair marked a real “turning point” by showing it is possible to find fair solutions even in cases where
insight into a piece’s provenance is incomplete.

‘Total transparency’

Museum director Nina Zimmer said they had aimed from the start for “total transparency” with the unique international provenance research project.

It had endeavoured to reevaluate prior expertise when new information surfaced and had sought fair solutions with any possible rights-holders, even
in cases where the provenance was not fully established, she said.

So far, 11 works have been restituted, including a long-lost Matisse painting “Seated Woman”, which was returned to the family of the late art
dealer Paul Rosenberg in 2015.
 

Nearly 30 works are still disputed, Brulhart said.

The current exhibit is the third at the Bern museum focused on the Gurlitt collection, after ones in 2017 and 2018.

It explores in detail the ethical guidelines, legal framework and results of the research project into the Gurlitt trove, curator Nikola Doll told AFP.

Through 14 individual thematic spaces, it presents around 350 pieces, including historical documents linked to the fraught bequest from national
archives in Germany, France and Switzerland.

Artworks on display from the collection include those by masters like Cezanne, Kandinsky, Munch and Rodin.

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