Shop selling fireworks in Berlin for New Year's Eve
Berlin, Germany, Humour, Life in Berlin

Why the Germans turn into werewolves on New Year’s Eve

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.

Shop selling fireworks in Berlin for New Year's Eve
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.

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Berlin, Humour, Life in Berlin

Happy New Year

Berlin New Year 2011Well, frankly I’m glad it’s over; Christmas, New Year, the whole lot…

Yesterday, we decided to have a quiet night in. Fat chance. Fireworks were going off all over the place before it even got dark. (The Germans have a mad love of fireworks, as Deutsche Welle’s Dan Bishton recently commented.)

This is my first New Year’s in Berlin; last year we were in India, which was an altogether more civilised affair that at least respected basic health and safety precautions. After a short walk down Schönhauser Allee at about 6 pm, which was teeming with drunkards setting explosives shooting off down the road and banging in the bins, we decided not to venture out again. It’s no wonder that last night, between 19.00 and 06.00, Berlin’s fire brigade responded to no less than 1568 calls.

The Bavarian and I divided the evening between watching TV and standing at the window, fire-extinguisher at hand (don’t ask why we have a fire extinguisher; the Bavarian ordered it off Amazon just after Christmas), commenting on the idiocy of those setting fireworks off on the pavement below just a few metres away from themselves and their children, and the woman who decided to take her dog for a walk at midnight.

The worst, however, were the people on the ‘show-off balcony’, which is what we call the balcony opposite ours. They have been annoying us all year – in the summer they decorated their balcony with an almost indecent array of flowers and LED lights that changed from pink to blue to green, in the autumn they put a covering over it so they could still use it despite the falling leaves, rain and wind, and in winter, streams of fairy lights like celestial snowflakes fell gracefully down the sides of their balcony – and yesterday was no exception. They waved sparklers about with their friends at midnight and thoughtlessly threw lighted rockets off the balcony and onto the parked cars below.

“Next New Year’s, we should fire some rockets straight across at that balcony,” I say, seeing the opportunism that such chaotic New Year‘s celebrations can offer. In between keeping an eye on the trouble-makers outside, we fought over the remote control, switching between the obituaries on BBC World (my choice), Naked Gun (his choice), Mr Bean (my choice), Dinner for One (his choice) and the coverage of the New Year‘s celebrations at the Brandenburg Gate (both our choices).

More than a million people welcomed in 2011 at Brandenburg Gate last night, making it the biggest open air New Year‘s Party in the world. We didn’t go because a) everyone knows that it’s for tourists, b) it’s too damn cold and c) judging by the line-up I’d have to agree with my father-in-law, who says that instead of throwing a party, Berlin should spend the money on a proper method of clearing the snow off the streets (as they do in Bavaria).

They’re not kidding when they say that Berlin has no money, because most of the acts (Paul Potts, the English pop opera tenor who won the first series of “Britain’s Got Talent”, girl group Big Soul, who came second in Germany’s X-Factor, and Leslie Mandoki and The Soulmates, who…well, I don’t know who they are), would have appeared in exchange for just travel and accommodation expenses. David Hasselhoff, as always the highlight of the night, would have been happy with just a bottle of vodka.

Here he is, singing his little heart out:

Anyway, my new year’s resolution is to post more often, so watch this space and A Very Happy New Year and Best Wishes to everyone who reads this blog!