New Year's Eve in Germany starts out quiet enough! One of the New Year's traditions here is watching "Dinner for One" A delightful short, black and white film in British English. (But, language is not required to understand the humor) Then, Germans spend their evenings with family and friends enjoying raclette, fondu, cake, cookies, conversation and drinks. During the course of the entire day, there are fireworks in the streets, but nothing out of the ordinary form the average Fourth of July Celebration in The States. After the sun goes down and the evening turns into night, Germans continue to celebrate with their friends and families or head out to one of the numerous parties and celebrations throughout their city! At this time, however, you will notice that the amount of fireworks being set off in the streets has gone from an average celebration to what appears to be a frenzy of chaos!
As midnight approaches, Germans celebrate just as Americans do... with one exception. No matter how I explain this, no matter which adjectives, superlatives I use, there is no way to properly express in words what happens next. The average, normally reserved, polite Germans turns into a crazed, insane pyromaniac, setting off (what look like military grade) explosives in the middle of the street! And, just when you think things can't get any crazier, the countdown ends and the entire country goes absolutely berserk! Just a few minutes after midnight, and the streets are so filled with smoke that one cannot see 10 meters in front of their face! Rockets are streaking through the air at a rate far too numerous to count, the noise from their firecrackers (what we call M80s in The United States) becomes deafening, the streets and sidewalks are lit ablaze with numerous pyrotechnic displays and almost anything can become a target in need of destruction. Mailboxes, trash containers, paint cans (full of paint, of course) street signs, trees are all strapped with explosives and ignited. This frenzied chaos lasts forever... Actually, things start calming down a coupe of hours after Midnight! Again, and I can't stress this enough, there is nothing said that can prepare one for a German New Years Celebration until they have experienced it for themselves. To be fair, my wife and I celebrated our New Years in Neukolln, which is supposedly one of the loudest areas in Berlin. But even a celebration half as loud as what we experienced was many times crazier than anything in The States done on The Fourth of July.
The following morning, the streets are littered with spent fireworks, trash and a thin layer of red dust from literally raining sulphur, ash and the sticks from bottle rockets the night before! Clean up is difficult in some areas and next to impossible in others as anything that even remotely resembled a garbage container has been destroyed! There is even extra trash on the streets as not all the garbage containers were empty before they were obliterated. There are also delays with mail service as German postal employees must cautiously check mail boxes for undetonated munitions. There may also be slight delays with transportation depending on how many street signs were targeted and successfully destroyed. In some areas, the sidewalks are almost unusable from all the packages, cartons, boxes and bottles used to fire projectiles. In some areas, broken glass bottles that exploded after their rockets failed to launch!
If you decide to celebrate New Years in Germany, especially in Berlin, I do have a few recommendations to help make your celebrations fun and memorable:
1) Before leaving the house/apartment/hotel remove everything from the balcony and close windows.
2) Do not wear anything flammable! (seriously)
3) Avoid autos, especially cabs, from 3 hours before to 2 hours after Midnight!
4) If you need a car or cab, keep the windows rolled up at all times!
5) Walk fast, be aware but don't stare at anyone!
6) Do not mail anything, or even go near mailboxes!
7) Do not trash anything, or even go near trash containers!
8) Never assume that anyone is actually sober enough to know where they're aiming!
9) Do not stand next to, under, or around trees, balconies, mailboxes and and sort of trash container!
10) If a German tells you he has some really good illegal fireworks, you can expect to see him atop an old unexploded WWII bomb smashing the nose with a sledgehammer!
NOTE: While watching the news in Berlin the following morning, it was reported that there were over a thousand fires, hundreds of injuries and three people killed... Yet, it had been one of the mildest celebrations the city of Berlin had seen in years! WOW!