Over the last few days, firecrackers and rockets have been filling the air with smoke and the smell of gunpowder. As usual, the Germans have been getting warmed up for New Year’s Eve — the one night of the year when they go completely crazy.
After my first New Year’s Eve in Berlin, I bought my first ever fire extinguisher — and I have been the proud owner of one ever since. For there is only one word for what takes place here on New Year’s Eve: Carnage.
People ignite batteries on the streets, throw rockets off balconies and firecrackers into bins and trams. This recording of a New Year’s Eve drive through Berlin that went viral last year illustrates the madness:
Amidst all the noise and confusion, you’ll sometimes hear a dog barking its head off as if trying to figure out what on earth possessed the humans. I, too, ponder a similar question every year: What happens to the Germans on New Year’s Eve?
Among expats, the common joke is of course that the Germans haven’t started a war in a while, so they need to blow things up once a year. I don’t buy that explanation, but maybe someone from Germany’s Ministry of Economy should look into it, because it might just be cheaper to have an actual war than to carry on like this. This year, the Germans spent 15o million on explosives. New Year’s celebrations usually result in around 12,000 fires and more than 30 million euros worth of damage to cars, houses and other property. Last year, in Berlin alone, the fire brigade responded to 1500 emergency calls. The night always ends in countless injuries and even deaths.
Just recently, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) proposed banning fireworks in Stuttgart altogether. Clearly, we have a problem when even the far right party of Germany thinks that things have gone too far. Another attempt to get things under control came from Klinikum Dortmund, a German hospital that publicised an image of a mangled hand resulting from a firecracker accident on Wednesday. I doubt this will change anything, however, because New Year’s Eve is to Germans what the full moon is to werewolves.
For most of the year, the Germans are busy wearing sensible shoes, putting their rubbish into the correct bins and following rules and regulations. Everyone is just so efficient and responsible and good. And then, on New Year’s Eve, they completely transform.
Take for example, the environment – something the Germans are usually very concerned about. On New Year’s Eve, the sheer number of fireworks let off makes January 1st is the most polluted day of the year. Or safety — if you try crossing the road when the pedestrian light is red, about ten people will point out your error and tell you that you are setting a bad example for children. But on New Year’s Eve, drunk parents will hold lit fireworks in their hands while standing next to their children without a second thought for safety.
Clearly, the Germans repress their wild sides for the entire year to such an extent that it eventually has to break out in a terrible way. They are like those children with very strict parents who at some point go completely wild. The best solution would be for everyone to just let loose a little at regular intervals throughout 2017…maybe go out in the rain without a waterproof coat, be a few minutes late for an appointment, chuck some brown glass in the white glass bin, jaywalk, go crazy.
The Bavarian and I have split up so for the first time ever, I am open explore Berlin’s modern dating scene. This can be summed up in one word: Tinder.
For those of you who have been trapped underground or in a relationship for the last few years, Tinder is an app that almost everyone who is single (and a quite a few who are not) is on. It’s like flicking through a catalogue of men in your vicinity on your phone – swipe left for no, thanks, and right for yes, please.
If it weren’t for Tinder, I have no idea how the Germans would hook up. They all either meet in school and stick to each other for life, or through friends later on, which is a pretty limited model. German men, unlike the British men, would never dare chat you up in a bar, or club, or hell, even on the street. As a woman, this is kind of nice because it means you never get bothered or objectified. On the other hand, it makes meeting new people difficult.
There is one subtle thing the Germans do do – so subtle, in fact, it took me years to notice: they look at you. Yes, that’s it. They look. And what the hell are you supposed to do with that? The German government should probably throw Tinder some support, because the app might just help raise the population’s happiness as well as poor birthrate.
Anyway, all this to say, in this exciting new world, I’ve noticed 5 curious things about Tinder in Berlin.
Almost every guy on German Tinder specifies his height in centimetres. Apparently, it’s something they get constantly asked about by women, which why they list it.
Conclusion: height is pretty important to the Germans.
If you were to believe everything you read on Tinder, you might conclude that there are a disproportionate amount of CEOs residing in Berlin. Curious, since Berlin is hardly a business or financial capital. Even more curious; these CEOs are often in their 20s, kinda scruffy-looking, and incapable of writing a sentence without using emojis. The only possible explanation is that we are a city of start-ups, and these men with their over-inflated egos and sense of accomplishment think they can call themselves CEOs because they secured enough funding to spend on ping-pong tables or whatever.
3. Open Relationships
A lot of men list themselves as being in open relationships. In real life, I interact with many different types of people, but I don’t know anyone an open relationship. So either a disproportionate number of Tinder users are in open relationships, or they are lying. In more than a few photos, you can glimpse wedding rings or the cropped off body of a partner. Come on, people.
4. Bathroom Selfies
Why oh why are so many photos taken in bathroom mirrors? What is attractive about that? And it’s not even private bathrooms. Most of them are taken in public bathrooms. How does that work? So you’re out for dinner, or in a bar with your friends, and all of a sudden you decide to go to the toilet, take a photo of yourself in the mirror and post it on Tinder. Why don’t you use literally any other photo of you in the world? Can someone please explain this to me?
5. Sebastians and Christophs
There are a lot of white men in Berlin, and most of them are called Sebastian and Christoph. From the point of view of someone who has had it with German men, this is kind of disappointing. I would love a little more diversity, which I would get in another city such as (my hometown) London. To be fair, of all the cities in Germany, Berlin is probably the most diverse, but it’s still pretty hard to find someone who is not called Sebastian or Christoph, 190cm tall, a CEO in an open relationship and likes taking selfies in random bathroom mirrors…
Here’s to hoping.
I am loath to say anything critical about Daniel Sloss because he started yesterday night’s show at Berlin’s Quatsch Comedy Club by reading out the last letter of complaint he received.
In fact, I’ll take a leaf out of his book and critique of the audience instead. It was mostly German, with a smattering of ex-pats. The Germans were very efficient with their laughter. They laughed in short bursts, then fell silent in anticipation of the next joke to keep things moving along swiftly. I’m glad, because the girl sitting next to me hee-hawed like a donkey. It’s one of the things you notice at comedy clubs – the weird and varied nature of other people’s laughter.
The German audience were also not very well informed – when asked whether we have free healthcare in Germany, they all shouted ‘yes’ when really (especially if you are a freelancer) it is more complicated than that. So either the audience didn’t care to go into the ins and outs of how the German healthcare system, or they were ignorant.
As for myself, I laughed most during the latter half of the show, when Sloss’s routine turned more personal. Disability is not funny, he said. Then went on disprove the statement by talking about his disabled sister. He also had some life tips, like how to help friends deal with bereavement. The trick is to be consistent. If you are always a prick, don’t stop making jokes or treat people differently because someone close to them has died – continue to be a prick.
Although all this seems irreverent, Sloss’s show is actually quite sweet (especially his banter with his friend and fellow comedian Kai Humphries, which I would have liked to see more of), because it shows that no matter how tragic, difficult or absurd life gets, there is always laughter to be had.
This is the funniest video I’ve seen in a while – who says the Germans have no sense of humor?
The Bavarian and I recently visited his hometown (well, village) to attend his nephew’s christening.
During the service, he dug a sweet wrapper out of his coat pocket and tossed it onto the pew, hissed into my ear about how fat the priest was (the priest was thin), complained about how stingy the Catholics were (the church was not heated) and muttered “useless little beggars” as he passed the priest’s helpers on his way out (they were holding contribution baskets).
Clearly, The Bavarian has issues with the church. Rather than attributing this to his usual irrational eccentricity, I’m putting it down to the unique relationship between the German state and the church.
In fact, if Turkey were as non-secular as Germany, there would be no question of it even being considered for EU membership.
The German State currently pays about half-a-billion euros per year to the church as a result of 200-year-old contracts drawn up during German mediatisation – a series of property transfers from the church to the state that took place between 1795 and 1814. That’s half a billion euros of everyone’s taxes – whether they are Catholics, Protestants, atheists or Jedi, at a time when Europe is in financial crisis and Germany is pushing for austerity and a balanced budget.
On top of that, the German state subsidises bishops wages, priest’s salaries, events such as Kirchentage (church congresses), church-run kindergartens, schools, hospitals, care homes, the maintenance of religious buildings – the list goes on, and it adds up to billions.
The church runs so many institutions (schools, hospitals etc) in Germany that it is the country’s second largest employer after the public sector.
As if all this wasn’t enough, when you register yourself as a resident in Germany, you are asked to state your religion. If you answer with ‘Catholic’ or ‘Protestant’, you are promptly charged again in the form of church-tax (Kirchensteuer). In classic German form, when an American friend said he was ‘Southern Baptist’, the box marked ‘cult’ was ticked. He was offended, until he realised that this exempted him from paying the additional tax.
Church-tax is calculated at 8% or 9% of your income tax (depending on what state you live in) – no small amount – thereby provoking many people to leave the church upon receiving their first pay cheque – a privilege for which they must of course pay an administration fee.
In July 2008, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany ruled that charging a fee for leaving the church was an infringement of religious liberty – but most German states still charge (between €10-60). In Berlin, it’s free, causing the church to complain that the city is positively urging members to drop like flies.
If anything is making people leave though, it’s this whole church-tax business itself. When you see a significant amount of your pay being taken away, you start questioning your beliefs and whether you really want to belong to the church.
Also, the binding of money with religion seems crude. After all, wasn’t it the Catholics trying to sell places in heaven that incensed Luther to nail his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg church door, causing one of the biggest schisms in Western Christianity? Have they learned nothing?!
And on a spiritual level, can one really leave the church via bureaucratic means? I thought Catholics had to be ex-communicated by the pope himself, like Henry VIII.
I know a woman in Ireland who wanted to officially leave the church to demonstrate her outrage following the child-abuse scandal – she was still writing letters to Brussels a year later. It’s almost impossible for the Irish to leave the church (she eventually did it), unless they move to Germany, in which case they just need to fill out some paperwork.
The Bavarian was the first person in his family to leave the church. He waited till he was far away from his village so as not to embarrass his mother. However, his glee was cut short, because soon afterwards, the Protestants started charging him church-tax. He was practically foaming at the mouth when he wrote to them saying that he was not nor ever had been a Protestant. The response he received said he had to prove it. This would have been tricky if he hadn’t recently left the Catholics, which was proof enough that he would never go near the Protestants – but the system does sometimes prove Kafkaesque.
What is especially opaque is the question of where all the money goes. Despite being financed by German taxpayers, the church is not obliged to disclose its spending – and it doesn’t. The bureaucracy is clueless as to how much real estate the church owns in this country, even though it’s one of Germany’s biggest property owners. For any other individual, corporation or body, this would be unthinkable.
What was revealed earlier this year is that the Bishop of Limburg spent over 10 million euros on his private residence alone – who knows what other skeletons are clacking around in the church’s walk-in wardrobe.
Despite all this, people are still christening their children in the alpine villages of Bavaria. One aspect of this is faith, although I suspect The Bavarian’s sister does not really believe in the prospect of her child languishing in purgatory in the after-life. It didn’t seem like the right time to survey the congregation about the strength of their belief, but I suspect the conversation would have gone something like this:
So why the christening? Tradition. What The Bavarian’s wrath blinded him from was the warm sight of children lighting their Taufkerzen (baptismal candles) together. The ceremony was the chance for the family to unite in good faith, and then eat cake.
On the other hand, the desire to protect tradition supports a deep-rooted conservatism; a system in which doctors and nurses are afraid to leave the church or re-marry because it affects their job prospects in church-run hospitals, a patriarchal system (it was only yesterday that the first female bishop for the Church of England was named, which indicates just how behind they are – not to mention the Catholics), an unaccountable system (how is the money being spent?), a system under which The Bavarian was taught ‘religion’ in school by a priest who only covered Christianity (in London, we were taught about the five major religions by a person who had a degree in the subject), and a system which allowed the abuse of thousands of children.
The New Yorker’s recent, brilliant profile of Merkel pointed out that the current trend of German conservatism is keeping her in power (Merkel, as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, does not support any change regarding the relationship between church and state).
The need to keep status quo and fear of what will replace the Christian tradition prevails, but there are still other European traditions – enlightenment, humanism, democracy – to build on. Maybe it’s time more people left their crumpled sweet wrappers on the pews and walked away.
Wetten, dass..? is Germany’s biggest Saturday night entertainment show, attracting around 10 million viewers (at its high point, it drew 23 million – in terms of figures, it remains Europe’s most successful show). It’s been on air since 1981, runs from between 2 and 4 hours, and centres around celebrities betting on outrageous stunts performed by ordinary people.
The first time I saw it, I thought, “The Germans are crazy.” I remember the show – it was this one, in which one of the bets was whether these lovely people could guess the animal by smelling its faeces:
So when I stumbled across this clip of Will Arnett talking about his recent experience on Wetten, dass..?, I could sympathise:
Wetten, dass..? is due to come off the air soon, due to a number of reasons, among which is falling ratings since the show’s popular long-term host Thomas Gottschalk resigned.