Expat Essentials

Laura Kaye in Berlin: Celebrating the sheer chaos of Silvester in the German capital

The annual New Year’s chaos in Berlin began on Friday, when I noted that the whole of the “random middle aisle section” of Lidl had been given over to pyrotechnics, as well as a frenzy of shoppers trying to get them before they all sold out.

I watched in amazement as a smartly dressed, middle-aged woman “nudged” a pair of younger guys out of the way with her trolley to get at the last of a particular kind of mega box with 135 fireworks. She added it to her stash, next to a dozen other packages and boxes of varying sizes.

Germans are internationally renowned as being sensible, serious and straight-laced. But for one night per year, utter chaos descends upon German cities as they celebrate ‘Silvester’ with several thousand bangs, that are enough to leave your ears quite literally ringing in the New Year.

You may have recently read about a 23-year-old man in Hamburg having had 850 kilograms of fireworks confiscated by police, that he had crammed into his apartment, cellar, and two vans. Whilst most people might understandably jump to the conclusions about his motives here, after almost five years in Germany, my immediate response upon reading about this was: “Sounds about right”.

Germans spent a whopping 137 million euros on fireworks last year Almost all of this was in the last few days of the year when restrictions on the sales of fireworks by general retailers are lifted. Save for a few rockets that are squirreled away for celebrating German goals in big international football games, almost all of these will be launched overnight.

The constant chorus of bangs, crackles and pops doesn’t let up until sunrise. Whilst Berlin does host some really spectacular publicly organised firework displays, many would argue that the true spectacle to behold is the sheer chaos that emerges across the city. Fireworks are launched from the streets, courtyards, rooftops and balconies; Live firecrackers are thrown at people and beneath moving cars; Apartment buildings shake and windows rattle.

Anyone visiting the city for the first time on the 31st of December would be forgiven for thinking that they had ventured into some kind of war zone. The city essentially turns into one giant New Year’s Eve party, and everyone is invited … whether they want to attend or not.

But of course, like every good party, Berlin will wake with somewhat of a hangover tomorrow morning. As in previous years, there will sadly be people filling hospital A&E departments with far worse than a dry mouth and a headache. The remnants of bottle rockets and firecrackers will litter the streets, and the air will feel thick with dust.

The German environmental agency recently stated that fireworks on New Year’s Eve emit approximately 4,500 tonnes of fine dust into the air in Germany alone. This corresponds to around 15.5 percent of the soot emitted by the country’s road traffic in an entire year! But hey, what a party! Right?

If you’re not of a nervous disposition, celebrating New Year in Berlin at least once is something that should definitely be on your bucket list. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it, and we will definitely be watching the fireworks this evening … from a safe(ish) distance, wearing fire retardant clothing.

But if you don’t fancy spending the first of January with tinnitus and the possibility of mild PTSD, check out Dispatches guide to the best New Year’s Eve parties across Europe.

Happy New Year everyone! Guten Rutsch!

About the author:

Laura Kaye is a freelance writer, researcher and editor. Her work focuses on social and development issues, parenting and family life.

Originally from the Wirral in the United Kingdom, she is a serial expat now happily living in Berlin, Germany.

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