Germans are mad as hell about daylight saving time

by Cathrin Schaer / 14 April, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - daylight saving time

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For European Union countries suffering under daylight savings there’s a new wind-up: Cloxit.

A New Zealand butterfly collector may have invented it, and people in the South Pacific may like it, but the Germans are over it. Late in March, the European Union voted to get rid of daylight saving time. Forget about Brexit, it’s way too confusing. This spring, it’s all about “Cloxit”.

Every year in Europe, as in New Zealand, the clocks are put forward by an hour to make the most of seasonal daylight. As usual, that happened at the end of March in Europe, but, if things proceed as planned, it will happen only once more.

It’s hard to believe after a pleasant stroll on a warm spring evening in Berlin, but fighting about daylight saving time, or DST, as it is also known, has been an ongoing and passionate pastime for “daylight savings activists” for decades.

New Zealand may well have had the first of these activists: Wellington Post Office employee and amateur entomologist George Hudson first proposed DST seriously in 1895, mainly so he’d have more time to collect bugs after work. His scientific peers laughed. “[Merely] calling the hours different would not make a difference in time,” one of them scoffed.

It was the Germans and Austrians who made Hudson’s late-night fly-catching dream a reality. They did so in 1916, to save candle and coal power and extend the working day during World War I. Their opponents followed suit, which is why daylight saving was originally called “war time” in the US. New Zealand first started changing the clocks in 1927.

Since then, research has regularly suggested that DST is a dreadful thing, the cause of something called “social jetlag”, high blood pressure and heart attacks, that doesn’t even pay off in terms of saving candles any more. Those studies are usually quickly followed by others that insist DST equals fewer traffic accidents, less crime and – believe it or not – less terrorism in the Middle East. The latter is probably a slightly dubious claim because it relates mainly to an incident in Israel where bombs went off early because extremists had not turned their own clocks forward.

Last summer, a poll by the EU found that 84% of about 4.6 million respondents wanted to see daylight saving abolished. So, in late March, the European Parliament voted to end it. “Clock changing must stop,” declared European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. From 2021 on, EU member states will be able to choose whether they want to stay on summer time or winter time forever.

Germany was accused of trying to dominate the debate, after it was discovered that the survey was rigged – that is, about three million of those who took the online survey were Deutsch. Angry British Brexiteers accused EU politicians of bossing them around like “time lords”.

And there’s also still the choice between summer or winter time to deal with. Most Germans say they’d prefer summer time, but a local chronobiologist, who studies the effect of time and daylight, says that could be problematic.

Till Roenneberg from the Institute of Medical Psychology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich told local newspaper Die Zeit that those nations that choose summer time will be academically disadvantaged because students need more sleep.

“[Summer time] also raises the possibility of diabetes, depression and sleep and learning issues,” he warned. “That means that we Europeans will get fatter, stupider and grumpier.”

Cathrin Schaer is editor-in-chief of Iraqi news website Niqash.org, based in Berlin.

This article was first published in the April 20, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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