While Christmas in Berlin was magical, New Year’s Eve was both crazy and scary.
In the past my New Year’s Eve celebrations have been rather quiet. I’ve never seen the attraction in standing for hours in the cold in huge crowds waiting to greet the New Year, which explains why, despite having lived close to New York City for sixteen years, I’ve never ventured into Times Square to see the ball drop. But this year we were in Berlin and it seemed a shame not to go out and experience how another nation rings in the New Year.
In Berlin they don't wait for midnight. As soon as darkness fell (around 4pm) the fireworks started. Not official ones but, in a city where fireworks are available even in supermarkets, who needs to wait for organized events when you can have your own private display in the street right outside your apartment building.
As we returned from a day’s sightseeing, the city was already beginning to sound like a war zone with crackers being set off on every corner (or so it seemed) and the screech of rockets before they burst into color overhead. Walking along the street became a nerve-wracking experience as we watched in amazement as people tossed fireworks around without apparent care for who might be nearby.
By eight o’clock we had already seen numerous displays from the windows of our daughter’s apartment. Given the plummeting temperatures we began to wonder whether it was worth braving the elements just to see more of the same.
The main firework display was to be held in the area near the Brandenburger Tor. It’s estimated that one million people attend, which was way too many for us, so we decided to head to the river near Friedrichstraβe in the hope that we would see some of the fireworks, but in a calmer location. Of course, many others had the same idea. Some of the streets were barely passable and, as midnight drew close, we were joined by throngs of people coming out of nearby bars and restaurants.
As the clock struck twelve, the place went wild. The noise was deafening, the air so smoky it stung your eyes, and the smell of sulfur overpowering. Not only could we see some of the fireworks from the Tor, but there were smaller displays going off all along the river including some very close to where we were standing.
As we welcomed the New Year in with beer (brought from home) and Gluwein (from a nearby stall) – it's legal to drink alcohol anywhere in Berlin - the atmosphere and sense of excitement more than made up for the cold. We left as soon as the official firework displays had finished but, judging by the noise, the unofficial displays continued until dawn.
On New Year’s Day we woke to streets littered with the remains of the evening’s celebrations. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much debris: spent fireworks, discarded cartons, broken bottles – debris which in many cases was still there forty-eight hours later.
The sense of danger wasn’t over either. We saw young children throwing crackers off balconies and adults randomly setting off crackers wherever we went. Apparently there are between 350 and 500 reported injuries from fireworks every New Year in Berlin and at least half of these are not self-inflicted but a result of others’ stupidity.
Fortunately for us, we had a safe and wonderful evening, one that will remain in our memories for years to come but, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to New Year’s Eve in Berlin - once is definitely enough.