Features

Why Berlin Is The Craziest Place To Spend New Year’s Eve

For one night only there are no civilians. Only firework operators.

The countdown is on and a new year is almost here – but where will you be spending your first minutes of 2019? There’ll be parties and celebrations across the globe, but none as crazed as the ecstatic New Year’s celebrations in Germany’s capital.

The people of Berlin take their fireworks very seriously – so much so that the city lifts its ban on the illicit items for one week only, in the lead up to the end of year festivities. CHARLIE LAWRY was caught up in the craziness that is Berlin’s New Year’s celebrations and recounts his brush with sparkling fireworks across this bustling city.

I hear the firework before I see it. The hiss of a lit fuse and scampering footsteps of its lighters. I freeze. “Watch your step,” has been the advice all week. “No, seriously. You don’t want to get hurt.” Such is the joy of New Year’s Eve in Berlin. ‘Stay hydrated’ comes in a little further down the list of priorities. ‘Enjoy yourself’ further still.

In any case, the pavement is wet with yesterday’s snow and my shoes lack the traction for a quick getaway. I flinch a few seconds early, then relax – also too early.

KA-BOOM!!!

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(Photo: kingary/Flickr)

The cracker flashes and ricochets through the surrounding streets. There was no real colour or flight to that one. No entertaining quality to distinguish it as a firework. It was basically just a loud noise, but apparently that’s fine. I seem to be the only one shaken as more things start to boom and pop and fizz all around now, encouraged by the initial firework.

Children laugh around me. I want to yell something like “Where are all of your parents?!” But I’m an English-speaker and outnumbered. Plus, the answer to my question is: also lighting fireworks.

I keep walking. I’ve already showered and deliberated over shirt choice. I’m not wasting that kind of effort to turn back and sit at home. I just need to make it to the station. They can’t light fireworks on the train. Probably.

I suppose there was fair warning. The sale of fireworks is illegal in Germany except for the brief window between Christmas and New Year’s – and they really make it count. In the past few days, every retail outlet in Berlin (regardless of its regular function) was transformed into a pop-up fireworks dealership.

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Waiting in line at the supermarket, children picked out their crackers of choice. And it’s not like begging for chocolate bars where the parents resist until finally consenting to “Alright, just one”. These kids were being green-lit to seemingly stock up for eternity. I’ve also heard that the connoisseurs source their stuff from Poland in advance, where regulations are a little more lax and the fireworks are far more powerful.

For one night only there are no civilians. Only firework operators.

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Off the train and I’m back into a brisk stride, shoulders hunched, eyes darting around. I exit a Späti, my backpack leaden with beers as cracks and pops erupt around me. I soon find refuge with friends. We drink. We play Mariokart. We have dinner at a Sri Lankan restaurant.

The chosen vantage point for midnight is Warschauer Brücke. From here we’re treated to sweeping vistas of train tracks and the city. The crowds are packed in tight. Berlin is generally considered a law unto itself within Germany – a kind of playground for vagrants and scenesters – but New Year’s is something altogether disorienting. Thousands of people get involved in the throng each year, all keen to make it a night to remember.

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(Photo: Zeitfixierer/Flickr)

As the countdown begins, people begin to get overwhelmed with excitement. The crowd is buzzing on the swell of pleasure they’ve created. More fuses are lit. Zehn…Neun…Acht…and so on. The clock strikes 12.

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(Photo: Juska Wendland/Flickr)

And it’s bananas. Shells and bangers and blossoms and flares pepper the ground and sky. It’s a full-blown cacophony. Of course, none of us have any fireworks. Or room to move. We just keep ducking helplessly, shouting, and laughing at each other.

I close my eyes and rattle through some resolutions. I rarely give credence to the practice but I welcome the distraction. Get fit. Easy. Do more (any) charitable work. Sure. Probably.

Try to establish a consistent work ethicStop being rude to strangers…Don’t sabotage meaningful relationships…

It quickly descends into moral bargaining in exchange for my ears to stop ringing. It doesn’t work. I am in the middle of it all, and it’s wild.

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(Photo: Sascha Kohlmann/Flickr)

The next day, scorch marks scar the pavement. I squint as the morning sun brands my retinas. On the streets, it’s calmer. Not so much an armistice as an exhaustion of fireworks. A few things still boom and pop and fizz but by now it’s mercifully intermittent and without the same intent as before.

In the end, it was a good time. During the big event you get by on adrenalin alone, then the real pleasure comes later when you realise you’ve made it through to the other side. As an Australian not used to civilian fireworks, my nerves are a little shaky. Still, I’ve streamlined my resolutions down to one: to definitely do that again some time.

(Lead image: Marco Förster/Flickr)