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Germany's unofficial holidays

By Saturday, May 16, 2015 , ,

There's some unspoken rule in Hamburg that some days it's OK to take off without requesting them ahead of time or having them count against the (very generous, I should mention) holidays allotted.

I know being in academia things are a little bit more relaxed. We're not chained to a desk all the time, and if you get your work done it doesn't always matter if you do it in your office, in the library, at a cafe or sitting outside at home.

But many a day I have arrived to the office to find all the lights off and it deserted, and thought: is today a holiday I don't know about? Or there's someone I need to talk to at work who says they'll definitely be there Friday but never shows up.

How to enjoy those few summer in Hamburg - and I just realized, everyone looks really pink in this photo...
For example:

A year and a half ago, when I made the transition from "visiting scholar" to "actual employee who get's health insurance", I had to make an appointment at the central finance office at the university here to turn in and sign some papers. Until this was taken care of, I wouldn't be recognized as an employee or even paid (despite having worked there for a year and a half), so it was a Big Deal.

I made my appointment on a Thursday for the afternoon the next day, so about 24 hours before. By no means far enough in advance that it could be forgotten about, but sure enough, I showed up there and he'd taken the afternoon off, without telling anyone that I'd be coming around. His colleagues didn't seem surprised by this at all, in fact they seemed sort of annoyed with me for making more work for them rather than him for shirking his responsibilities.

I also notice it in the building across from mine. I'm on the 3rd floor (4th floor in the US) and have a pretty good view of the windows across the street, and usually all the lights are on and there are people sitting at computers, but some days there's barely a quarter - they're all taking the day off.

Now I'm not  saying you should feel free to takes these days off, depending on where you work you could get in a whole lot of trouble! But rather, don't be surprised to find your office half empty, no one can make that important meeting and no one responds to your emails on these days:
  • Friday afternoons
  • The first few warm, sunny days of the year
  • Between Mid-December and the end of the first week in January
  • Any day that falls between a public holiday and the weekend. In the US if a national holiday falls on a Thursday, you get the Friday off (and they'll call it Independence Day Observed, or something like that). In Germany, you get the Thursday off and good luck getting anyone to show up that Friday!
  • The day(s) you get back from travel, even if it's from a holiday. I suppose feeling tired from traveling could be considered a sick day rather than a holiday, but I have a colleague who'll stay home for 3 or 4 days after returning from a long work trip.
  • And, if you're at a University, between mid June and mid September. (AKA, whenever semester is not on) Lots of people are working from home, "working from home" and on holiday.
Of course, lots of people take holiday around Christmas as well as those days that turn a holiday and a weekend into a four day weekend, I just can't imagine any employer would approve 4/5ths of the office to be out at once like here!

A colleague of mine suggested I join some of the grad students at the Christmas Market for a beer or gluhwein after colloquium - which ends at noon, meaning they were skiving off work to go day drinking.
Part of me loves the flexibility to being able to enjoy the rare sunny afternoons here, but part of me wishes it was a bit more official - everyone should get the afternoon off. What if I've been missing out on sunny afternoons sitting by the canal? Or sleeping in late on wintery mornings near Christmas?

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