New Year's Eve In Germany: Chaos Embraced, For One Night Only
Germany is often seen from outside as being a well-organised, orderly country. Doing anything which may be considered risky or dangerous is usually well off the agenda.
Except for New Year’s Eve.
New Year's Eve in Germany is known as Silvester, and is the one of the few times of the year where Germans seem to throw caution to the wind and have a massive party. And by massive I mean with lots of fireworks, let off in the street, in a completely uncoordinated fashion.
If you’re an anxious person who doesn’t like being in a noisy environment, then New Year celebrations in Germany probably aren’t for you…but I have to admit, it’s one celebration which I absolutely love. Why? Exactly because it is so chaotic and a little bit edgy!
But before we get into what you can expect on a night out, let’s first look at some strange customs which you’ll probably experience, especially if you are with German friends or family.
Random, Weird Traditions
Firstly, there is bleigießen (lead pouring), which involves melting small pieces of lead and pouring them into a bowl of water. As the metal solidifies, you then try to guess the hidden meaning contained in the shape of the metal and foresee what that could mean for your fortune in the coming year.
Secondly, there is Dinner For One. If you’re spending the evening at home with German family or friends, you can guarantee this will make an appearance. It’s aired on pretty much every terrestrial German TV channel at least once on New Year’s Eve. Dinner For One is an old British comedy sketch, first aired on German TV in the 1960s, where a lonely, senile old lady forces her long-suffering butler to pretend they have a full set of guests for dinner.
It’s worth watching so as you know what your German colleagues or friends are talking about!
But for those of you who aren’t planning to have a night in….good news!
You Don’t Need To Reserve Somewhere Months In Advance
If you’re going to a major, organised event, then yes, of course it has to be booked in advance. In my home city of Wiesbaden, the posh annual New Year’s Eve dinner and dance in the elegant Kurhaus in the centre of town is booked out weeks in advance.
Restaurants and bistro type places will also often put on a 3-course sit-down meal including wine, which has to be reserved ahead of time. Music and dancing then is usually laid on after the meal when all of the tables have been cleared away.
But this aside, if you’re planning to just go to a bar or a club to celebrate New Year's Eve in Germany, some places don’t even require a reservation. Others will sell tickets but they are usually reasonably priced at around €10 – €20, if they are not serving any food or putting on any special event. It’s usually possible, outside of the major tourist destinations, to get tickets to a New Year event at a bar or club a few days in advance if you are not a large group.
In Germany, fireworks are only permitted for sale once a year during the few days leading up to New Year’s Eve. A quick trip down to my local Aldi results in a big pack of rockets for about €10. Perhaps it’s the inner child in me, but I love being able to loose off rockets from an empty wine bottle, stood on the main thoroughfare (closed to traffic on New Year's Eve) in the heart of the city.
Yes, it’s annoying when groups of teenagers fire off bangers for what seems like the whole day, but it’s a small price to pay for a bit of good old pandemonium which only happens once a year.
For more info on ensuring what you buy are legitimate, safe fireworks, check out this English summary from German customs.
Public Transport Runs From The Early Hours
Typically the public transport network New Year’s Eve in Germany shuts down from around 9 or 10 pm. Who would begrudge the bus and tram drivers a beer or two? Don’t worry though, because from about 4 am the next day, it’s up and running again. Meaning that just as you crawl out of the bar or club where you’ve been ringing in the new year, it’s usually possible to get the bus, tram or S-Bahn home. Result.
Sekt is German sparkling wine, similar to Cava and Prosecco. On New Year, it is tradition to drink a glass at midnight. Sounds great, which I’m sure it is under normal circumstances. But if you’ve had beers, interspersed with the odd shot of Jägermeister beforehand, not even a late night stop for a döner kebab on the way home is going to save you from a huge New Year’s Day hangover.
Taxis Don’t Charge Triple
Anyone used to spending a New Year’s Eve in the UK will be happy to know that it’s not actually that difficult to get a taxi during the early hours of New Year's Day, especially if you book one before you go out. What’s more, they don’t charge triple the normal rate, meaning you can get home relatively cheaply after a late night out.
There Aren’t Many Fights
Despite all of the drunken antics and inebriated revellers, there are very few fights and assaults. Yes, I know, there is the infamous night of New Year 2015-2016 in Cologne, where groups of mostly North African migrants sexually assaulted women outside the main train station. However, this was such a major news event exactly because it is such a rarity. New Year celebrations in Germany, considering the amount of alcohol consumed and fireworks being let off, are usually remarkably peaceful.
I find it a good indicator that my adopted home country is not full of morons, based on their ability to drink copious amounts of alcohol, let off fireworks in the street without injuring themselves, and not fight each other in the process.
It Takes Them A Week To Clean Up
Because on New Year's Eve in Germany they don’t have everything cleaned up just hours after the event, it kind of makes the Germans seem more human.
Anyone who has seen how fast and methodically all of the stands for the summer festivals and the Christmas markets are erected and then subsequently demolished, and how all of the mess is cleared up after city marathons and such events, can only marvel at how well organised the Germans can sometimes be.
After New Year though, the firework carcasses and broken glass seem to line the streets for a week afterwards. Which brings a little bit of Latin “whatever” or “mañana” type attitude to an otherwise very orderly place, and I have to admit that every now and again I do quite like that.