Germans take their holidays seriously – very seriously

by Cathrin Schaer / 07 September, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Germans

Photo/Getty Images

Germans may appear to be leisure gluttons, but their productivity doesn’t seem to suffer at all.

August in Europe means holidays; it means the already-slow-grinding gears of German bureaucracy coming to a near standstill, schools closing, cities emptying and parking spots appearing on every once-crowded Berlin street.

But it’s not all fun and frolics. Because in the same way that they make their Mercedes, operate heavy machinery and concoct laws, the Germans take their holidays seriously. Very seriously.

Forward planning is a must, says one colleague who received a spreadsheet to proof before a long weekend in Spain. No matter the destination, a German holidaymaker is always well equipped. Even a gentle Sunday stroll through the countryside – on a paved road – requires the kind of all-weather gear and high-tech hiking boots that most New Zealand trampers would only dream of donning if they were off for a six-week traverse of the Southern Alps.

You may have heard how German tourists like to reserve sun loungers by draping their towels on them overnight so they can claim the best spot by the pool in the morning. Germans know that more easy-going travellers are fools who do not understand that sunbathing is a competitive sport.

The same earnestness applies to other aspects of German leisure. Consider the rules about so-called “Ruhezeiten”, or quiet times. Often the community at a German holiday spot – say, a village by a lake – will specify that between the hours of noon and 4pm every Saturday and usually all of Sunday, there can be no untoward noise. No mowing of lawns, hammering of nails or playing of Led Zeppelin. And they mean it. Your correspondent was accosted by an angry neighbour once because she dared to vacuum on a Sunday.

It may be the result of a national fondness for rules, a more-conservative, less-consumerist culture or the relative strength of trade unions here, but many German businesses also seem to recognise that a good employee is a well-rested one.

In fact, it’s quite common to get a call from your human resources manager angrily demanding you take all your contracted vacation days before the end of the year. According to one study, most Germans tend do that anyway, whereas Americans often take only half, seemingly out of fear that their absence will be taken as lack of commitment to the job.

Not so in Germany, where time off is seen as a right, not a reward. Your furlough is yours and yours alone, and what God has given the worker, no manager can put asunder.

Another study found that 73% of Germans considered it “unacceptable” to have to worry about work while on holiday, compared with only 39% of Britons.

That attitude seems to be working. Alongside a staunch approach to rest and recreation, Germany also has a comparatively high number of mandated holidays. But when Germans go to work, they don’t muck about. On average, they put in some of the shortest hours in the OECD: about 1360 hours a year in 2016. Yet German productivity, measured as GDP per hour worked, is about US$105.70.

Compare that with New Zealand, where we clock up a whopping 388 hours more a year than the Germans. Yet New Zealand’s productivity is valued at 50c less than Germany’s. In the US, where people work 31 more hours than those in New Zealand, the value of productivity is significantly lower still.

All of which is why in August in Europe, you can bet Germans will be getting the job done on holiday, leaving towels on sun loungers every­where and not feeling the slightest bit guilty about it.

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

This article was first published in the July 19, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

On a wing and a prayer: The battle to save our native birds
96729 2018-09-26 00:00:00Z Environment

On a wing and a prayer: The battle to save our nat…

by Elisabeth Easther

It’s a thin green line that divides a lush landscape alive with birdsong and the extinction of many of New Zealand's beloved native species.

Read more
Why you should go to Napier's Art Deco Festival
91859 2018-09-26 00:00:00Z Travel

Why you should go to Napier's Art Deco Festival

by Joanna Wane

Joanna Wane joined the crowds putting on the ritz for the 30th annual Art Deco Festival in Napier.

Read more
Metro poll: Best of Auckland 2018
96815 2018-09-26 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Metro poll: Best of Auckland 2018

by Metro

Share your favourite places, people and things in Metro's annual Best of Auckland 2018 poll and be in to win.

Read more
What's happening to New Zealand's recycling after the China import ban?
96784 2018-09-25 13:50:58Z Environment

What's happening to New Zealand's recycling after …

by Nita Blake-Persen

Tracing exactly where New Zealand's plastic goes when it leaves our ports is incredibly difficult.

Read more
Suburban thriller A Simple Favour is all neo and no noir
96782 2018-09-25 13:18:00Z Movies

Suburban thriller A Simple Favour is all neo and n…

by James Robins

Director Paul Feig's A Simple Favour is a thriller that's undercut by comedy.

Read more
How heart surgeon Alan Kerr saved a woman's life twice in three decades
96715 2018-09-25 00:00:00Z Social issues

How heart surgeon Alan Kerr saved a woman's life t…

by Donna Chisholm

Renowned surgeon Alan Kerr saved Donna Lander’s life in 1987. This year – thanks to a Listener story and a three-line email – he saved her again.

Read more
What the principal missed: How truancy is the symptom of a toxic environment
96763 2018-09-25 00:00:00Z Social issues

What the principal missed: How truancy is the symp…

by Aaron Hendry

A principal's controversial speech on truancy dangerously ignored the issues today's young people face, writes youth development worker Aaron Hendry.

Read more
The new Bruce Lee bio questions the official explanation for his death
96713 2018-09-25 00:00:00Z Books

The new Bruce Lee bio questions the official expla…

by Gilbert Wong

Matthew Polly delivers a comprehensive biography of Bruce Lee's action-packed life and death.

Read more